Cloud-Based CAD

Whose CAD Is It, Anyway? Part 2

22 Jul, 2020 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager Column: Readers share their opinions about proprietary data formats, the move toward cloud-based CAD tools, and more.

In the previous edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I posed several questions about how our CAD tools and data are managed, with the core debate being whether the cloud is a good idea or not. I then opened the floor to debate via e-mail and my CAD Managers Unite! Facebook group. It turns out there is still a lot of healthy skepticism regarding the cloud, and for some CAD managers, a genuine lack of trust in CAD vendors.

In this follow-up to those questions, I’ll share some great feedback I received, and draw a few conclusions to clarify the debate over cloud vs. local CAD. Here goes.

Cloud Security First and Foremost

One of the more pointed responses I received came from Facebook group member S.L., who said:

"I still work in an industry where it is forbidden to have mission-critical drawings on the cloud. The logical reason is that if it's up on the cloud, someone else will have access. I have to agree with that philosophy, as pushing everything to the cloud seems to benefit mostly the software companies and not the end users."

Although this reader didn’t specify the industry in their post, the fact is that military and health-care industries are not allowed to utilize any form of cloud storage for application or data storage. And since these industries are major government-regulated CAD users, how will they be treated by the CAD software industry moving forward?

Another interesting perspective on security was voiced on Facebook by R.M., who said:

“I feel like the average CAD manager, unless they are a stakeholder in the company, doesn't really care about ‘control and security.’ Not with a flippant ‘I don’t care’ attitude, but they are just doing our job of making sure the guys and girls in the trenches can do their CAD work, and leaving the ‘control and security’ up to the IT department and Board of Directors.”

R.M. makes a valid point here that we should unpack: CAD managers are indeed trying to survive and keep things running, but are we supporting a complex cloud structure of products for our own good, or simply because CAD vendors push it on management teams who buy into the hype? Whose responsibility should it be to think about security — is it IT or the Board of Directors, or should CAD managers be considering these issues as well? My thinking is that CAD managers should be engaged and thinking about these issues, if for no other reason than to avoid pointless work.

Open vs. Proprietary Data Formats

A topic that I see discussed more and more often is the idea that when CAD companies make their data format proprietary, there is no way to exit that CAD application later. Or, as R.C. from Facebook writes:

“As long as the file format stays some kind of drawing format, then hopefully there will always at least be a local copy. In virtually any organization that uses CAD for production, the CAD files are critical pieces of operational data. A lot of organizations still don't recognize that, but think of the nightmare scenario if you lost them all. How would it affect the organization? My worry is that Autodesk is going to update the DWG file (and other formats) to databases rather than file formats. I'm sure it will be a good reason, but it will really put organizations in a dependent position.”

R.C. drives home two key points in my mind:

  1. Total dependence on cloud storage without robust local backups invites disaster in case a cloud service experiences problems.
  2. Unless CAD information is stored in some sort of universally supported open standard, the CAD vendor can simply change or encrypt the data to make it inaccessible unless you keep using their software.

The very first IT manager I ever worked with always told me, “Before you recommend any software solution, you must tell me how we can get out of it if something goes wrong.” Ask yourself this question about every software tool — cloud or local — that you use.


The Futility Argument

I received several e-mail comments that were very similar to an opinion voiced by M.P. via Facebook:

“I don't think there really is an option about whether it (CAD) all moves to the cloud or not. There will be varying degrees of how much is moved there and how quickly based on different companies’ culture, business practices, etc. But barring a full-scale collapse of our society and we all go back to the Stone Age, we will be forced in that direction. We all know cell phones have unknown ways of tracking us, but it's doubtful anyone is jumping up and down at the chance to go back to strictly landlines. LOL. I just think when push comes to shove, we don't really have a choice.”

I find much to agree with in M.P.’s post: At times, it really does seem like market forces are conspiring to take us into the cloud whether we like it or not. There are, however, some points I’d like to make from a business owner’s point of view:

The “there isn’t really an option” and “we don’t have a choice” arguments. Well, if customers don’t spend money with companies that force them down a path toward cloud applications and proprietary formats, then there will be options. If you want to stay with a locally installed CAD application, you can keep running your old software or move to something else and deny software companies your money for the time being. I believe the CAD companies wanted us to become all cloud five years ago, but it hasn’t happened yet — and that is because customers haven’t let it happen.

The “cell phone” and closely related “electronic banking” arguments. Sure, my smartphone can track me, but I don’t store gigabytes of project data that could be stolen on my phone, so mobility doesn’t yet equate to data theft. The argument that we’ve all been using electronic banking is valid, but largely nullified by the fact that your bank stores data in your country, with full data protection regulations that are well understood, and they are liable for any loss you incur in case of hacking. If all your design data was hacked and downloaded to an offshore location, would Dropbox be liable? Would they pay you back for any loss of intellectual property you incur?

As I think through M.P.’s comments, the core conclusions I arrive at are:

  1. My company is in control of the software we purchase, so if we don’t like a vendor policy, we can look elsewhere. Software vendors may try to steer us in a certain direction, but we ultimately vote with our wallets and can choose to refuse. If enough companies do this, the software companies will have to listen.
  2. Until cloud CAD/data sources are as secure, geographically protected, and insured against loss as my electronic banking is, I will remain skeptical and will continue to prefer data-sharing solutions that reside behind my own firewall.

The Internet Varies

D.K. sent me an e-mail where he pointed out that running a business outside a big metro area can lead to slower connections that make cloud work methodologies a problem:

“We have a WAN to connect the offices, but we’re always having connection issues or throttled bandwidth at some location along the way. This costs thousands of dollars in wasted man-hours, as engineers ($76/hr) could not access files on the server so answers were not given to the builders ($30 to $60/hr plus overtime each) on the floor, and they had to wait until the server or connection would come back. Now I see the software vendors wanting us to switch to cloud-based storage and apps? I see this making the issues we already have (for rural companies, and there are a lot of us) grow exponentially as files and software will be both in the same situation. Until the Internet catches up (security, speed, and reliability wise) with the demands of rural America, I can't see cloud-based anything catching on anytime soon.”

D.K. points out what I call “big-city bias,” which pervades the discussion of cloud- and Internet-based work methods. As he correctly points out, the cloud is only as good as your connection to it. And as D.K.’s case in rural America illustrates, if your Internet pipeline is slow, it is far more productive to simply maintain your CAD applications and storage on your own network.

Summing Up

There is a wide divergence of thought on how the cloud affects CAD usage, and I appreciate everyone taking time to contribute. In the next CAD Manager’s Newsletter, we’ll explore some practical ways to use cloud technology in combination with localized tools to achieve the best of both worlds.

What are your thoughts on cloud CAD topics, or on mixing cloud and local CAD components? I welcome your e-mail at, or you can drop a comment at the CAD Managers Unite! Facebook group post here. Until next time.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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