Cloud-Based CAD

Is CAD in the Cloud Right for You?

27 Aug, 2019 By: Len Williams

Viewpoint: CAD delivered via the cloud offers many benefits to most users, but poses problems for others. These considerations will help you make the best choice for your needs.


Companies that provide CAD in the cloud may store their customers’ data outside your jurisdiction. What’s more, you may not know who runs and maintains your systems — which is clearly problematic if you’re designing something extremely sensitive, such as a secret weapon or a nuclear power plant! As the graphic above shows, this is the one situation where on-premises CAD is the only feasible option.

Intercompany CAD Collaboration

CAD started as a team tool (with everyone working off a shared directory), then grew into an (internal) enterprise collaboration tool with product lifecycle management (PLM) and building information modeling (BIM). However, it’s still nearly impossible to enable CAD collaboration across company boundaries.

Before the emergence of cloud, intercompany collaboration would require suppliers to either travel between sites or establish a private data connection between locations. Neither option is quick or cost-effective.

A hybrid approach is the best choice here: External employees can work in the cloud from their offices, while internal teams can use on-premises workstations. This makes joint ventures, consortia, and OEM-supplier collaboration dramatically easier and far less complicated.


CAD in the cloud can boost employee morale while solving staffing issues. It lets people work flexibly (so they avoid the commute every single day) and improves work–life balance. At the same time, CAD in the cloud allows for other kinds of staff resourcing options. You can use remote freelancers more easily — and save on expensive bills for consultants.

CAD Functionality

Another major criticism of SaaS CAD is that it simply isn’t as functional as on-premises CAD. It’s fine for lightweight work, some say, but not well suited to more demanding projects. Granted, there is some truth in this criticism. But the technology is improving, and fast, thanks to CAD-in-the-cloud options including OnShape and Autodesk Fusion 360. Siemens’ Connected NX is essentially NX on a PaaS platform, with equivalent functionality to the on-premises version.

There will still be some improvements to be made before CAD in the cloud offers the same functionality as that of existing desktop CAD options. Nonetheless, other compute-heavy programs are now increasingly available on the cloud (think video games), so there’s no reason to assume that CAD won’t catch up.

Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)

When it comes to cost, a SaaS offering in the cloud beats on-premises CAD hands down. A subscription for CAD in the cloud can start at less than $500 per user, per year. Buying a license for a single seat of on-premises CAD software, in contrast, can set you back thousands of dollars. What’s more, you’ll need to upgrade in just a couple of years, instead of benefiting from the updates made continually to the SaaS solution.

All this means that costs are under control, and you never have huge spikes in spending. The most cost-effective of the available options is the SaaS model; the others all have relatively similar price tags.

Broadband Availability

CAD in the cloud is fine … until you have problems connecting to the Internet! This is a very real concern, and if your company’s broadband connection goes down, you do risk a big drop-off in productivity until it is fixed.

What’s more, latency is also an issue; you want to be sure that the software will be promptly responsive to your instructions. If the servers are thousands of miles away from your location, the experience won’t be so smooth.

For CAD in the cloud to function at its best, you will need an Internet connection of 10–15 Mbit, with latency of less than 50 milliseconds. It is smart to test your current Internet speed using tools like SpeedTest and see if the cloud would work for you. It’s also worth contacting the CAD provider to discuss your situation and request a free trial to evaluate the solution you’re considering.

Remember that cloud connections are constantly improving. Microsoft recently announced a big drive for cloud-based gaming, and the expected rollout of 5G in the next few years is only going to make the cloud faster.

The ‘Hotel California Effect’

Just like the Hotel California of the Eagles’ song, the cloud can be a difficult place to leave once you have all your data stored with one provider. Many firms have concerns about storing all their data in cloud environments because they fear that it will be nearly impossible to export if they want to return to an on-premises model, or switch to a better provider.

This is a real and legitimate concern for SaaS offerings. Question how your design data can be exported from a vendor’s cloud for use somewhere else — and get guarantees you’ll be allowed to move it whenever you want.

The Hybrid Evolution?

Perhaps the most appealing thing about the cloud for CAD designers is its flexibility. You can really use it in the way that suits your business best. In some cases, the all-out SaaS model will be the right fit; in other cases, you may just want to dip your toe in the water and use it for intercompany collaboration and not much else.

With this flexibility, it seems likely that CAD design teams will increasingly use a hybrid model with the cloud, fitting it to their needs. This means we’re likely to see an evolution rather than a dramatic revolution.

So, is it time you started thinking about how the cloud could fit around your CAD designs?

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About the Author: Len Williams

Len Williams

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Re: Is CAD in the Cloud Right for You?
by: cadcoke5
August 30, 2019 - 10:58am
In regards to security, on-premise CAD programs are as secure as you want them to be. I am sure it varies a lot, but cloud security is also variable. And cloud-based is always less secure than on-premise if the on-premise system is not on the internet. I also disagree with ranking the cost of on-premise software by assuming subscription. I've worked for companies that did not use subscription, and consequently saved many thousands of dollars in both subscription fees, and also the time investment involved with upgrades and chasing down the new bugs. Many industries do not need the latest software.
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