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.