Cloud-Based CAD

An Open Letter to IT from the CAD Manager

8 Aug, 2017 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager Column: Before your IT staff rushes to move tools and resources onto the cloud, make sure they understand the possible impact on CAD users.

As Summer on the Cloud continues, it’s time to ponder a scenario I see far too often: Corporate or IT decision makers move to adopt cloud technology, without first considering how CAD tools could be impacted. In many cases, CAD users struggle as ill-advised cloud storage implementations, sluggish wide-area networks (WANs), or poorly thought-out licensing schemes disrupt proven workflows — and CAD managers are left to pick up the pieces.

In this edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll share a sample letter to IT that you can use to head off cloud-based mistakes before they happen. Feel free to edit this letter to suit your situation, or just use the topics as conversation starters. Here goes.

Dear IT Department,

It’s me, the CAD manager. I know our company is eager to reduce IT costs and move things onto the cloud these days, but I’d like to request that we all consider some of the potential problems our CAD users could encounter before we jump into anything. Our CAD work processes are an integral part of getting our projects done, so I take a keen interest in anything that might disrupt them.

Please know that I mean no disrespect to anyone, and that I want to be part of the solution. I’d like to list some of my concerns in hopes that we can have a productive conversation about cloud technology as it relates to CAD.

Concern 1: Don’t Rush to Replace Things That Work

I realize that the CAD companies are pushing you to license cloud-based applications rather than continuing with existing tools. I know they may even be offering special sales and subscription discounts for cloud products, but before considering any of those offers, we must ask the following questions:

  • Do the tools we use today still work?
  • Will the new cloud tools work any better (or worse)?
  • Is there a compelling productivity reason to switch?

I would argue that switching from what we have installed already to a cloud-based alternative only merits consideration if we solve existing problems by doing so, or boost productivity substantially. Switching just to switch opens us up to all sorts of potential implementation problems, bugs, and workflow changes. In short, if what we have isn’t broken, why would we try to “fix it” with new cloud components?

Concern 2: Bandwidth is Everything

In the past ten years, we’ve moved from simple 2D CAD to complex 3D tools, and we’ve experienced a huge increase — up to tenfold — in file sizes. Yet as file sizes have gone through the roof, our office Internet speeds haven’t gone up much at all.

CAD users operate in a world where 200-MB aerial images for civil backgrounds are common, gigabytes of point-cloud reality-capture data move through our departments each day, and huge renderings, videos, and animations are routine parts of our workflows. In short, we work on huge files, and lots of them — way more than most other office computer users. And guess how fast those huge files will move on cloud connections to our branch offices? Slow doesn’t begin to describe the situation; unworkable is more like it.

For CAD work to get done, we need to have local access to files on fast servers with fast network speeds. It simply isn’t an option to wait 20 minutes for a model to load up or a background xref to resolve across a cloud connection.

Concern 3: Building Infrastructure

To continue the thought thread from the bandwidth concern expressed above: The only way we’ll be able to support huge file workflows in the cloud is to invest in super-fast connections and data synchronization tools that allow our users to work on files locally while master files are continuously — and transparently — updated to a file master location.

Since you’re an IT expert, you know a lot more about these concepts than I do, so I implore you to consider the infrastructure we’ll need for cloud-based CAD carefully. The workflow disruption of a glacially slow cloud environment could cause serious project delivery problems — and plenty of user frustration. If we’re going to move to the cloud, our cloud infrastructure must be lightning-fast.

Concern 4: Administration

What happens if we move away from software we know how to administer to a cloud-based tool that has totally different licensing and security mechanisms? Well, chances are we’ll have problems getting everything set up, and users will experience problems accessing files or applications.

Who will have the authority to administer these new CAD tools? If it isn’t the CAD manager, then it’ll be your department — IT — that must do it. Either way, one of us will have a new set of headaches.

Project schedules and deliverables depend on my being able to make software, file libraries, and peripherals work, and project managers won’t quit yelling at me just because we’ve moved to the cloud. Therefore, please be aware:

  • I will need administrative-level permissions for any cloud technology we implement.
  • I must be able to access all files in any cloud storage system at all times.
  • I must be able to manage all peripherals that link to cloud tools.

The long and short of it is, I must be sure I can support any cloud tools just as easily as I can manage local tools. If we create a cloud CAD environment that is totally dependent on IT for CAD support, projects and schedules could be adversely impacted.

Concern 5: Getting Me Involved

I truly believe that by involving me, the CAD manager, in any cloud decision making processes, we can prevent expensive errors before they happen. So, if you have any questions about how a potential move to cloud technology could impact our CAD productivity, please let me help you! I work with the users who tax our networks the most, so I can easily field-test any new cloud application we might be considering.

I understand CAD isn’t your primary area of expertise, and I’m certainly not an IT expert, but it seems to me that we can help each other. Let’s make sure that any cloud tools we may consider will actually work for all of us. I stand ready to help you do so.

Let’s Do This

I realize this letter might read like an extended rant, but it is really just my request to be part of our company’s cloud policies. I hope you’ll take this letter as my attempt to help navigate a path toward cloud technology that’ll help us, not hinder us, and serve my CAD users’ needs at the same time.


Your CAD Manager

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

Add comment


Re: An Open Letter to IT from the CAD Manager
by: jmaeding
August 9, 2017 - 6:03pm
Hi Robert, I think it might be useful to make a list of items that could transition, and what to watch out for. Things like renting adesk software, means the license is through the internet (or cloud some might say). Then there is virtual cad stations, but there is no big true cloud based software transition I can think of. You can store data external, and that is another item on the list. But things like Acad, ustn, 3dsmax, civil3d, and so on are all still desktop progs not run on a server like a web page might be. Anyway, a list would be useful because I am totally in tune with some tools, then not with others and they are getting all mixed in discussions which the software vendors then use to their advantage. Excellent points on not changing just because sales people say you should. thx
Re: An Open Letter to IT from the CAD Manager
by: markjk
August 11, 2017 - 5:36pm
As an IT Manager, I once had a business owner tell me to push all data to the cloud with little regard to its impact on his business or the Design staff that tried to work on the systems he refused to upgrade. Luckily a manager was able to convince the owner that the department needed local storage. Owners force systems to the cloud because they're dumb and cheap. IT pushes services to the cloud for themselves as much as for the business. They want to keep up with the technology, and they know the only way they can do that is by implementing the new technology. If IT moves services to the cloud, they must change the design of their networks to ensure stable bandwidth and enough bandwidth for production. Testing technology changes must happen before implementation. Design Application Managers must have the ability to say no to IT changes that adversely impact production. Owners need to listen to the people who produce the product. It's not IT vs. Design Apps Management it's IT and Design Apps Management working as a team.
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