The Continuing Value of Local, Customized CAD, Part 221 Aug, 2018 By: Robert Green
CAD Manager Column: Readers share their opinions on the local CAD vs. cloud CAD debate.
In the previous edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I made the case that local, customized CAD is still a better software management strategy than non-customized, cloud-based tools. I asked my readers to share their opinions on this debate, and, boy, did they ever!
In this follow-up, I’ll share a sampling of those reader comments, note some trends, and provide additional conclusions on several aspects of the local vs. cloud CAD debate. Here goes.
The Case for Local Software
When I made my case for locally installed software, I posed these questions about working with cloud-based alternatives:
- How can I work through an Internet outage?
- How slow will my Internet become with all the new cloud CAD traffic?
- What happens if a cloud software tool experiences an outage or is hacked?
- How often will I have to update mobile apps?
- How can I be sure all my cloud and mobile data is secured?
The feedback I received was in the form of conversational threads in my Facebook group, called CAD Managers Unite! I can categorize the responses into the following groups:
- Cloud won’t work for us (52%)
- Cloud works for a few things (27%)
- Cloud will probably work in the future (5%)
- Cloud is mostly working for us (16%).
Interestingly enough, my point about having customized software was never refuted — the entire debate focused on cloud or non-cloud topologies. I’m not sure if this means the support for customization is universal, or if the cloud debate is simply a greater concern.
Now let’s look at some of the interesting comments for each group of responses.
Cloud Is Mostly Working for Us
In order to kick off the conversation, it is best to start with those who have the most positive views of cloud CAD installations, as their responses also allow for some interesting conclusions. Have a look at these:
“I'm not suggesting ‘cloud’ is the answer, just saying that it has a place. How many corporations (that purchase enterprise-quality Internet service!) have notable Internet outages? I assure you that we have far more power outages than we do Internet outages, and unless you have a building-wide UPS [uninterruptible power supply], you're not working through a significant power outage. Cloud-based technologies such as VDI [virtual desktop infrastructure] are huge because your employees can go sit at Starbucks or at home and work. Will they be 100% productive? Probably not, but most anything is better than 0%.”
“I'm a big fan of the cloud until I lose access to the web. Then I need an alternative to work offline.”
“Unlike many people, I have had the privilege of working on multiple virtual machines that were hosted by our own firm, but actually ran over 1,000 miles away from my office location. I currently have a desktop machine I can log into at work from my laptop, anywhere I can get Internet service. Also, I use services such as Dropbox, Gmail, and Trello on a daily basis, and most of my projects are on the BIM 360 cloud. For most companies, being online is not the problem — it’s not being adequately prepared in hardware, infrastructure, processes, training, financial investment, and a wide variety of other factors that are the major problems. Yes, this means that resource requirements put cloud services out of reach for many, but an argument can be made that online services DO have advantages if you are set up organizationally to leverage them properly.”
A few conclusions I’d like to offer about these responses:
- All three comments acknowledge remote work and outages as a reality.
- All three commenters reside in major metropolitan areas where great Internet bandwidth and service are available.
- Two of the three advocate software installed on a local machine as being desirable to work through problem scenarios.
- Two of the three admit that enterprise grade Internet connectivity and top-notch IT infrastructure is required to run cloud-based solutions reliably.
What I take away from these conversational threads is that big companies in major city areas that spend big on the connectivity and technology required can be successful at cloud-based CAD, but smaller companies with fewer resources are likely to experience problems. And it even seems that cloud advocates agree with my assessment here.
Cloud Won’t Work for Us
The main focus of comment in this category was infrastructure outages that would render cloud tools unusable. Have a look at the following:
“Funny, I was thinking of that very same issue during an Internet outage yesterday. Thankful that we hadn’t turned to cloud-based CAD yet, as our Internet was out for almost an entire day.”
“I'm all about the local CAD. Question #1 is a solid deal-breaker for me, in regards to cloud CAD. I live in an area where we we have Internet problems almost weekly, so I see the potential issues that could arise from not being able to connect to that cloud CAD.”
“Software should be local so that each user has the ability to customize their interface for their specific need and work dynamics. Here where I work, our software is local, but our plans are cloud based. Every now and then we get an Internet outage and sometimes a power outage, and most users can’t do anything unless they have a mobile workstation and leave the building.”
“In my opinion, small to mid-size firms and single-discipline [companies] have limited/no use for cloud. It works well for large organizations with field teams and multiple disciplines, but it has limited VALUE for everyone else. We prefer being able to control connectivity and failure/outage rollover processes. Each site should be able to function as a standalone if there is any type of outage affecting another site. No process is perfect, but we should be able to choose what works best for our organizations.”
“My company ran into an outage recently and we had to shut down operations for a day. This is why I am not totally sold on cloud-based service. I've use it for file hosting to replace FTP servers, but for collaboration or offline work, we need better solutions.”
And a few of the anti-cloud comments were economic in nature, like these:
“Interesting discussion seeing how we were just contacted by [a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) software supplier] about doing a VDI project. I think the customization issue and network connectivity issues would be our biggest concerns. Also maybe price — the VDI solutions aren't cheap!”
“Slowly, but surely, the software companies are setting themselves up as ‘middlemen’ between you and your intellectual property — the ultimate arbiters as to whether you've paid enough to have access to your own data.”
The overarching themes found in these comments can be summarized like this:
- Internet outages are a real concern for many.
- Working through outages requires locally installed and controlled software.
- The cost of implementing cloud-based technology has costs — be it for VDI workstations or beefing up Internet capability — and those costs are hard to swallow for many firms.
- A fear of “losing control of the data” is shown in almost all comments, whether it be due to system failure or by software company design.
There’s an old saying, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.” These comments show that, for many, the devil they know how to manage is locally installed and customized CAD, while the devil they don’t know is cloud-based CAD, which could cause unknown problems.
Cloud Works for a Few Things
Roughly a quarter of the responses said that cloud technology was OK for certain tasks but not compelling enough to totally replace locally installed software. Have a look at these:
“I still believe that local CAD is still better than the cloud for day-to-day operations. Cloud is great for on-site, punch list, field measurements, etc. But at the end of the day, you still need to have tangible access to the software when it starts misbehaving or starts erroring. Until someone can give me a written guarantee of uninterrupted access and no downtime for any reason, cloud is still not a 100% viable option.”
“My firm is currently struggling with bandwidth and cloud issues. While we prefer everything local, collaboration necessitates cloud for some projects. That said, there are still local projects, too. It’s good that the option of one or the other is available to us, at least.”
These types of responses are increasingly common, and almost always contain one or more of the following sentiments:
- Cloud collaboration tools sometimes make sense.
- Some cloud collaboration tools would work well under the right circumstances.
- Our company still has infrastructure problems with running cloud tools.
I find these responses most interesting, because the promise of certain cloud tools is validated, yet frustration about Internet-based infrastructures still runs high.
Cloud May Work in the Future
One response I received posited that cloud processes were problematic now, but would be ready for prime time in the near future. I’ve heard a few CAD managers express similar opinions, but I rarely hear specific predictions of what will change in the coming years to make cloud processes more attractive than they are today. Have a look at this slightly condensed comment:
"I personally like customization, but I also see that there can be gains from adopting web-based design. I'm not personally going to start drafting in a browser, but that's due to company workflows and the current state of that tool. That said, I can see a time when it might happen, and I think it could be within a few years. Security is the big concern, and I think the last real big hurdle. But to the main point, I agree the current state of affairs sees more benefits with a local customized setup, but I'm not sure how long this will be that way."
So even someone who’s optimistic about the cloud’s future still doesn’t know how browser-based tools will become comparable to standalone tools, nor is there confidence in security measures for cloud solutions.
If the opinions of CAD managers foretell anything about cloud-based CAD tools, it is that there is still substantial doubt about the safety, security, and practicality of running entirely in the cloud. Despite the rosy talk we get from CAD marketing departments, the truth seems to be that there is no stampede toward cloud-based CAD tools currently.
Of course, I’ll continue to monitor the situation, and keep you posted in future editions of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter. Thanks to the many of you who took time to respond! Until next time.