CAD Manager's Newsletter (#386)

27 Jun, 2017 By: Robert Green

Get a Grip on the Cloud

If you're trying to make smart choices about cloud technologies for your company, don't base your decisions on hype and hearsay — start by understanding real-world benefits and liabilities.

Editor's Note: This column kicks off Cadalyst's Summer on the Cloud, during which we'll explore some of the benefits and challenges of cloud technology for CAD. Over the next few months, you'll find more cloud coverage in future installments from Robert Green, in Alex Herrera's Herrera on Hardware column, in the Cadalyst Library, and more!

Summer on the Cloud

Believe it or not, the term the cloud has been bandied about in information technology circles for nearly 10 years now, and the idea of CAD running on the cloud has been discussed for almost as long. During this cloudy decade, we've heard plenty of hype from the cloud hardware and software companies, but specifics have often been lacking. It's no wonder that the cloud remains such a confusing concept.

In this edition of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, we'll explore a general framework for what CAD in the cloud might mean for different types of companies, define some terms, and explore what the relative benefits and limitations might be. Here goes.

What Is the Cloud?

A good question — that has multiple answers. Perhaps the simplest answer is to say that the cloud is a collection of computing resources that are located somewhere other than your desktop, and are accessed via an Internet or virtual private network (VPN) connection. Practically speaking, cloud-based resources can include any of the following:

Network storage. Think applications like Dropbox or OneDrive that provide storage for your files on a remote server. Costs are typically computed in terms of terabytes per year, per user.

Dedicated servers. More than just network storage, a dedicated server can host company-specific SQL databases that require special server configurations without being located at your company's offices. Costs typically depend on the number of users connected to the server and total amount of storage, and are computed on a per-year basis.

Software as a Service (SaaS). Any software application that is centrally hosted on a remote server and subscribed to (rented) for a fixed period of time can be described as SaaS. The user never owns the software, and no usage rights remain after the subscription period ends. Costs are typically based on the number of users and computed on monthly or annual rental periods.

Licensing servers. Not exactly like SaaS, but similar. In this case, software tools are installed on the user's machine, but the right to run the software is validated by a licensing server maintained at the software company's offices.

Remote workstations. Rather than having a powerful CAD workstation at the user's desk, a low-powered computer with basic graphics connects to a workstation that resides in a remote data center. These remote workstations could be owned and housed by the user's company, or they could be leased from a workstation provider who maintains them at their location.

Don't be confused by the term private cloud; it simply indicates an ecosystem of these components that's hosted in a home office (instead of a public cloud service) and accessed from a remote office of the same company. The company has ownership over the ecosystem — but the problems of bandwidth and latency remain.

The CAD Ecosystem

If you think about it, the types of cloud resources listed above (workstations, software, servers, and storage) are the same resources we've always used to run and control our CAD environments. The difference with the cloud is that these resources aren't usually located at, or owned by, our company. I like to think of it as hardware and/or software outsourcing. Read more »

Tools and Resources

Cadalyst Updates Guide to CAD Freebies
The editors of Cadalyst, with help from our contributing editors and readers who are in the CAD trenches day in and day out, have compiled this guide to more than 100 software tools and resources that don't cost a cent. Available for free download with registration.

MecSoft Launches Beta Program for Onshape CAM Add-On
MecSoft, a developer of computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) software solutions, is launching a Beta program for VisualCAMc, its cloud-hosted, fully integrated CAM add-on application for Onshape. Interested parties can sign up for this free program on MecSoft's site.

What's New at

AutoCAD Video Tips: Zoom In on AutoCAD Objects with the View Cube — Even in 2D!
If you want to zoom in on an object with maximum speed, then be sure to check out this super-speedy tip from Cadalyst and Autodesk Evangelist Lynn Allen! Who would have guessed the View Cube could come in so handy in 2D as well? Watch the video »

Sponsored: Immersive Visualization for AEC Delivers Interactive Realism Without a Headset
From Autodesk: Architects and contractors can reset expectations with clients and project stakeholders by providing a way to step inside the design to experience it in a different way. Read more »

Sponsored: Collaboration is Key to BIM Success — and the Cloud is Key to Collaboration
From Autodesk: The nature of building projects is changing, requiring greater interaction among geographically dispersed specialists. Read more »

Miniature Workstation Movement Takes Small Step Forward with Lenovo ThinkStation P320 Tiny
Pressures such as shrinking office spaces push vendors to think small, packaging professional-level computing power into pocket-sized chassis. Read more »

Will Integrated CAM Yield More Manufacturable SOLIDWORKS Designs?
Sandesh Joshi, a former member of the SOLIDWORKS R&D team, expects the coordination of CAD and CAM in the upcoming 2018 release to have a significant effect on product design. Read more »

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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