CAD Cloudfusion (Part 1)

say-what-again-i-dare-youCloud this.  Cloud that.  Cloud applications, cloud delivery, cloud sharing, cloud processing, cloud in your pocket, cloud at your company, cloud in your breakfast cereal.  These days the momentum of The Amazon Cloud is overwhelming.  Yet, the avalanche of cloud solutions is only just beginning for  Computer Aided Design (CAD).  The wide range of future possibilities have some people very, very excited.  Others are not quite so keen to cheer, concerned about intellectual property protection and costly licensing models, among other conundrums about control, ownership, and obsolescence.  Despite all the excitement and dread, there’s a more prevalent reaction that overwhelms both the enthusiastic early adopters and the despondent naysayers: confusion.  With the relentless bombardment of cloud marketing for just about everything, it’s easy to mistake the cloud as one monolithic approach.  There’s a horrendous amount of confusion that everything deemed cloud must necessarily be a subscription based, remotely-hosted, platform independent, socially collaborative, virtualized elastic computing platform dependent on the internet.  It’s all cloud, right?  Cloud, cloud, cloud.    Just say cloud one more time.  I double dare you.

For example, let’s take Siemens recent announcement that NX will now be available in the cloud.  Is this the same thing as Solid Edge subscriptions, or Autodesk 360 Cloud Services, or Local Motors’ Forge, or GrabCAD, or AfterCAD Online, or SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual?  All of these are different flavors of cloud, and in the case of Solid Edge subscriptions, it’s not cloud at all.  AfterCAD is straight up Software as a Service (SaaS).  How about the NX cloud?  That solution is virtualization in a private cloud with an elastic computing solution for graphical display and rendering.  Mechanical Conceptual?  Another SaaS solution that supposedly can integrate with desktop SolidWorks.  Not to be confused with the virtualization solution for SolidWorks, which might also work.  Well, provided they are all under the ENOVIA V6 umbrella which might be on premise… or in the cloud.  Ready to shoot someone yet?

But what does it all mean?  Comparing and ultimately understanding what differentiates these solutions from each other starts to get rather technical, hence the confusion.  The tendency is to classify them all under the same cloud moniker and accordingly assign identical perceived features and caveats.  Cloudfusion.  Cloudception?  OK, that was terrible.  No refunds.

Although it’s not CAD specifically,  Adobe’s harsh transition to Creative Suite Cloud and the abandonment of perpetual licensing is nonetheless the perfect example of how confusing things can get even when they are very simple.  That transition announcement rightfully upset quite a few people (including myself) but while most users should have been complaining and overturning dumpsters about the economics of the subscription model, many were instead lamenting about being forced to used web apps, requiring continuous connectivity,  or storing their files online.  As egregious as each of these could be, Adobe technically was only guilty of the first offense.  Each CAD cloud announcement meets a similar reaction, with either concerns or assurances that are both real and projected.  Bottom line: people are really confused.  Discombobulated.  They are searching for real answers, and not fancy marketing about how many dimensions their experience should have.

Citrix has long understood there’s been quite a bit of confusion over The Cloud, as this survey suggests.  However, considering some of the survey respondents reportedly had trouble differentiating cloud computing from the weather and toilet paper you just have to wonder a bit, yes?  If you’re reading this post, I’m quite certain you can tell cloud computing and meteorology apart.  But the problem remains. In the thick marketing fog of war, we can’t tell our clouds apart.

The one aspect of cloud that has nothing to do with cloud is the subscription licensing model.  Most cloud software follows a subscription model, an all-you-can eat buffet as long as you keep putting down the coin on a regular basis.  Stop paying and you’re cut-off mafia style – perhaps with loss of data access depending on the particular terms of service.  Could perpetual licensing continue in a cloud future?  Sure.  But don’t hold your breath (unless you happen to like the color blue).  I’ve talked about this before in the RENT-A-CAD future.  It’s rather ironic that the one aspect that pushes software vendors to adopt cloud as fast as possible is not customer centric. The allure of how the subscription model can once and for all normalize license revenue is quite strong.  But it’s not going to stop there.  The holy grail of software licensing is no doubt pay-per-use, such that your software utilization is actively metered just like your water or electricity.  By its very nature such a model is right-sized, though the underlying cost model will no doubt favor some use cases over others.  That could be a good thing or a bad thing.  Either way, expect the market to turn upside-down for awhile – this level of disruption may launch new players and/or sink established ones.

In Part 2 we’ll describe each of the most popular cloud flavors, in a noble attempt to reduce confusion and understand how specific cloud variations aren’t necessarily dependent nor mutually exclusive.  Look for it in the next post middle of next week.  Until then, cloud on.

  • Edward you have said it all….

    The purpose of Cloud CAD: Assuring that the cash flows for the Vendor.

    You show that this will fail, We have more options than could ever be supported, again reducing the interoperability.

    We need a standard! The tools: Web browser, Adobe reader, A neutral CAD format (tested and agreed upon), that is truly it. Throw in Skype and a Gotomeeting type screen sharing tool for communicating.

    As a person with almost 50 years in engineering, I really hate the re-engineering of engineering.

    • I completely understand the way you feel, Joe. The sad part is it doesn’t have to be this way… cloud technologies have much to offer if they are employed in a way that makes sense. But you are right – vendors are currently very focused on using cloud as a platform for normalizing their software licensing revenue. They’re convinced their customers will accept – time in the market will be the judge.

      • I agree Cloud for file sharing may or may not be important and for program access, that can be debated. Most design is in-house. I started Technical Networking Inc. after being introduced to PC based CADKEY. I thought we would all be telecommuting over a modem (ha ha 1985 pre-internet) in two years. I was in the cloud before the “Cloud”.

        I was sending and receiving files with Square D over a phone modem. Lucky the CAD files were not much larger than a couple hundred K at the time.

        But do we need the CAD software to manage that service? We know that SWMC social requires all to have SWMC. It has always been Dassault (Not so much SW) that has tried to isolate their product. Catia could only read/write STEP for years, costing Boeing millions and millions not being compatible with the industry. Imagine a company that uses thousands of outside vendors and suppliers and not able to read the OEM assemblies directly to be utilized for design. Every mid-range program could read virtually every native format.

        Boeing commercial had one fellow using another CAD system that could read all the native parts and assemblies and could export to both Catia 4 and 5. He turned files around in a day. But they eliminated his position because it competed with a special group that was set up do provide this service. sadly it took 2 to 4 weeks for them to get the assemblies into Catia.

        We all know the problem is vested interest. But I suppose there are those in the management of these large companies that are personally benefiting by this arrangement. Cynical, you say!!

  • Chris Williams

    It is very clear CAD (all of our engineering tools will end up in the cloud). But many of the things you mention are NOT cloud solutions. One value of cloud is any computer. Most of the things, if not all, still lock me to an installation, al la a specific computer. Of course there are other values like multi user co-editing of content. Image being able to have 5 people work in an assembly or part design at the sametime. Imagine your supplier being able to comment on the design without you having to email files.

    If the value is only for the vendor it will fail. If the solutions create new values then of course people will use it. This is the way it has always been.

    • Chris, I completely agree! How cloud products provide value will ultimately determine how it is adopted. While cloud doesn’t specifically guarantee device independence, it’s certainly a popular way to implement software services. You would think that subscription pricing would remove barriers to the antiquity of node-lock or device-locked licenses but that doesn’t seem to be the case for CAD so far.

      As for parallel editing Google-Docs style on CAD, that is a bit of a holy grail that no one has cracked yet. I can see such technology being ideal for early concept development – but might have trouble finding the right balance when change management becomes more critical in production environments. If you haven’t already seen it, I wrote about just this topic awhile back:

      Check it out. : )

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