What CAD Cloud?

8 Nov, 2011 By: Robert Green

Latest CAD Manager’s Survey verifies that CAD in the cloud, for the most part, isn’t happening yet.

In "Your Own Private CAD Cloud" in the last installment of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I discussed the option of building your own cloud to share resources within your organization instead of leasing Internet-based cloud resources. I hope you had a chance to ponder the concept of a private cloud and draw a few conclusions of your own.

In this edition, I will examine the issue of Internet-based cloud use from a statistical point of view, using recently obtained data from my 2011 CAD Manager's Survey. In addition to the survey data, I'll include a few conclusions and further refine the case for a private cloud, as opposed to the Internet cloud model.

Survey Says

The feedback I've been getting from CAD managers over the past year or so with respect to cloud use for CAD applications has been lukewarm at best. Many are skeptical about security, provider stability, and even version control of cloud-supported CAD systems. To quantify these concerns (and not simply rely on my gut feeling), I included a number of questions about the cloud in my CAD Manager's Survey this year.

I started by simply asking, "Do you run CAD software in the cloud?" I figured that cloud use might be low, based on my aforementioned impressions, but I was surprised by how low. Of the 276 unique responses, here's how the data breaks down:

No: 85%
We're interested, but not yet: 9%
We're testing it now: 4%
Yes: 2%

Or, put another way, those not using the cloud for their CAD implementations outnumber those who do by 16 to 1! Not exactly a ringing endorsement of cloud adoption, is it?

Now, of course, one could argue that 276 responses is a small sample size to draw conclusions from — that's a valid point about any survey sample — but the results here mirror what I see at client offices and hear from CAD managers at speaking events. I've also tracked comments on my CAD Managers Unite! page on Facebook and observed the same lack of enthusiasm for cloud implementations.

One could also argue that there aren't that many "cloud CAD" applications out there to work with but the majority of CAD cloud deployments I've been involved with use conventional software (think BIM, rendering and analysis tools) deployed in a cloud topology.

Simply put, there just aren't that many people who are actually working with "clouded CAD" of any sort at present.

Why Use the Cloud?

Those few CAD managers who did report adopting a cloud-based solution for their CAD implementations gave the following reasons:

Save money on servers/licenses: 17%
Share data among multiple locations: 74%
Speed data access on a wide-area network (WAN): 9%

It is fairly easy to conclude from the data that the majority of cloud adopters need to move data around branch offices more easily and with greater speed. Therefore it seems reasonable to say that the cloud isn't being adopted because it is cool or new; rather, it's being adopted to solve the problem of shared, slow data access! And where the cloud is in use, it isn't because it brings radically new capabilities to bear; it is simply a possible solution to existing networking problems.

Cloud Alternatives

Over the past seven years, I've seen companies try various other methods to solve the problem of slow data access over corporate WANs. Those solutions have essentially fallen into three categories:

  • Synchronizing software. These sever-based software utilities copy key files and folders to multiple servers automatically, so everyone has the latest data no matter what their location. And because the synchronized data resides on a local server, the problem of WAN speed is solved once the data has time to synchronize. This approach is not perfect — synchronization always takes some amount of time to complete and software synchronizers consume server resources — but at a few thousand dollars per server, the cost is typically low enough to give management reason to try this option first.
  • Synchronizing hardware. This is similar to a software solution, but uses network appliance boxes to keep copied files cached at each server where an appliance is installed. This approach typically offers faster synchronization and no server resource consumption, but requires a minimum of several thousand dollars per site to purchase the hardware — or more for larger servers or user counts.
  • Remote access graphics. Rather than synchronizing data around a WAN from server to server, this approach brings remote users to the data by letting them log into servers or workstations where the data is located. In this approach, you're moving only screen graphics rather than huge CAD files over the WAN. The clear advantage to this approach is reduced network volume, but you will need more computing resources at the server's location.

The Results

I was curious to see which of these approaches was gaining more traction in the marketplace. The survey data (see below) clearly shows that every alternative outpaces cloud adoption by approximately 3 to 1.

Are you using software synchronization?

No: 80%
We're interested, but not yet: 2%
We're testing it now: 2%
Yes: 16%

Are you using hardware synchronization?

No: 84%
We're interested, but not yet: 1%
We're testing it now: 2%
Yes: 13%

Are you using remote graphics software?

No: 85%
We're interested, but not yet: 1%
We're testing it now: 1%
Yes: 13%

What Does It All Mean?

To tie all the data together I have to draw some conclusions, which reflect both the data and my own opinions. Here's what I've come up with:

  • The cloud is a flop so far. With adoption rates at a measly 6% (2% in use and 4% in testing) after all the media blitz and marketing efforts we've seen in the past couple of years, I can't find any other way to interpret this.
  • Access speed is the problem. If corporate WANS were able to move CAD data sets at lightning speed, we wouldn't be having the whole cloud conversation. CAD managers have a problem delivering big CAD files to branch offices in a timely manner, which leads them to try various solutions, including the cloud.
  • Data synchronization and remote access are established technologies — much more so than the cloud is, anyway. All these methods speed data access without the worry of cloud security or cloud vendor stability, with the added bonus that you use your own software on your own servers.

Private Cloud Revisited

So if CAD managers aren't using the Internet-based cloud, but are using other mechanisms to speed data access between their offices, what are they building? They are building their own private cloud, that's what!

Private clouds simply use your servers connected by your WAN enabled by data synchronization and remote graphics, as I advocated in the last installment of the CAD Manager's Newsletter. And given the poor adoption rate of the Internet-based cloud, my bet is that we'll see the private cloud model more and more frequently.

Summing Up

In future editions of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, we'll examine various technologies that can facilitate or hinder the construction of your own private cloud, including clustering, remote software access, and licensing issues. Feel free to e-mail me with any suggestions or questions about topics you'd like me to address.

In the next newsletter, however, we'll step away from the cloud and look in depth at the CAD Manager's Survey so you'll know where you stand when compared to your peers. Until next time.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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