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The Rising Resistance to Cloud-Based CAD

21 Jul, 2015 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager Column: It’s in software vendors’ best interest to retain control of their customers’ CAD software and data — but what about the users that rely on that software?

CAD managers are frequently forced to cope with technological change, because it impacts the CAD tools we support. And for the past few years, cloud-based CAD has been pitched as change that will revolutionize CAD workflows, so CAD managers clearly have reason to be concerned about how this technology will alter the CAD ecosystem. However, in the past year I’ve noticed a trend among my clients — increasingly, they’re perceiving cloud-based CAD not as the answer to their workplace challenges, but as a source of problems.

In this edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll start my discussion of why resistance to cloud-based CAD technology is growing, and explore some key business trends that are limiting cloud adoption. Here goes.

The Push for Centralization of CAD

Think about the following highly touted technology trends for a moment:

  • CAD software rental (the software is on your machine but the license is turned on/off via the cloud)
  • Hosted applications (the software is not installed on your machine; it is located at the software vendor’s data center instead)
  • Design data stored in cloud data repositories.

Can you spot the common thread in these trends? It can be summarized in one word: centralization.

In this new world of CAD proposed by vendors, less and less software and data will be under your control, and the software and data storage companies will become more and more powerful. The idea is that your software won’t be yours anymore, and your data won’t even reside on your company server.

Who Benefits from This Change?

This centralized model of CAD use obviously benefits the software and cloud vendors greatly (because it allows them to charge for their software and servers on an ongoing basis), but it also gives them ultimate control over your CAD system — they can disconnect you from your applications and data unless you keep paying them.

On the customer side, however, the CAD managers, users, and company executives I talk with are growing ever more skeptical of this centralized CAD concept, and market data shows that movement toward cloud storage and software rental is proceeding much, much more slowly than analysts had predicted (for examples, see “Despite Marketing Hype, CAD Users Adopt New Technologies Cautiously”). Furthermore, recent moves by software companies (such as Microsoft, Intuit, and Autodesk, to name a few) to phase out perpetual licenses (those that continue to run on the installed machine indefinitely) in favor of annual subscription rental models show they are trying to force the issue.

So the question becomes: If having all our software and data on the cloud is really the best way to do things, why aren’t companies stampeding to adopt that methodology? After all, software companies wouldn’t have to push us towards centralization if it is the best business option.

Resisting Cloud Centralization

Over the past year, I’ve noticed that more and more of the CAD-using companies that I talk to are becoming “anti-cloud.” Why the resistance? The reasons I hear from my clients focus on one or more of the following concerns:

  • Cost containment. If a company continues to run its current software on its own servers, it doesn’t have to face new monthly costs. If the software and the data storage are rented instead, the costs add up quickly.
  • The benefits of ownership. If a CAD-using company already owns their software, they can typically maintain that software at annual support rates that are cheaper than renting. And if they ever stop paying the annual support, they can keep running the software without fear of being shut down by a cloud vendor. In the field, I see a lot of 7- to 10-year-old software that is no longer supported by the software vendor, but it still functions effectively.
  • Network security. No matter what anyone predicts, it’s indisputable that there have been profound network security problems in recent years. You’ve surely heard the stories of credit card account hacking, Department of Defense records being exposed, file sharing sites being compromised — the list goes on and on. You don’t have to be an IT expert to see that as more of your company design processes and data are moved to cloud-based tools, your company becomes more vulnerable. The potential of losing design data to a foreign company not subject to patent and intellectual property laws is a huge incentive to keep data off a public domain cloud. This is especially true when the cloud servers could be located in other countries.
  • Prioritizing risk reduction over cost reduction. Several years ago, my discussions with senior management teams often started with, “Should we be moving to the cloud to cut IT and hardware costs?” Today those discussions often begin with someone asking, “How can we keep our software and data resources internal so we don’t get hacked?”

While advances in IT technology will likely overcome some of these issues in the long run, the trend toward companies being more guarded in how they manage their applications and data is clear. Given all the valid objections presented above, it is hard to envision a stampede toward a centralized cloud-based CAD environment.

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About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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Re: The Rising Resistance to Cloud-Based CAD
by: rsanders
July 22, 2015 - 12:48pm
Our "secure" CAD workstation laptops, with no WiFi device installed, are only connected to a local LAN that is NOT online, for various security concerns. A move toward any licensing scheme that REQUIRES an online activation or confirmation from a CAD-provider vendor license-server will never be used. Period. We will purchase equivalent software from another provider that reads/writes DWG compliant files before we ever connect our workstations to the internet for any reason. We already do a simple one-time weekly download of updates and patches for software to a file-server by USB dump from the online workstation; everyone's updates automatically grab from there (Windows, Office, Flash, Java, Anti-Virus, whatever). Easy-Peasy. Vendors will have to accept users 1)speed/performance, 2)security, and 3)confidentiality concerns, or lose seats. And online-Cloud-based files stored where a payment/subscription must be maintained and paid for access to your own files? Puh-lease. We already have our own, private, owned, encrypted archiving, thank you very much.
Re: The Rising Resistance to Cloud-Based CAD
by: jmaeding
July 22, 2015 - 12:51pm
It is interesting that the cad vendors want to tell us what we need. They even go so far as to risk losing us as customers to do so. Its working. Bricscad is now being focused on at several civil engineering related companies, and the third party developers are adapting their stuff to it (since its so easy, I am doing it too). We like internet based pool licensing, like Bentley does, but not per user rental like adesk, hope they fix that. The idea of data in Autodesk's hands, or adesk doing automatic software updates is the worst idea I have heard in a while. Like anyone wants to work using WAN, which is what cloud is. Its always last resort, and the compromises are heavy (labor wise and money wise sometimes) to get it to work at all. I've been burned every time I tried WAN on a project, something always goes wrong compared to how it was advertised.
Re: The Rising Resistance to Cloud-Based CAD
by: mikepo
July 22, 2015 - 12:51pm
I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of about CAD in the cloud. I feel the same way, but I often wonder if we're not a dying breed. A lot of younger people I deal with don't even give a second thought to how something "cloud based" can/could affect them. They store pictures, email, do their financials on the cloud. The idea of saving a paper receipt for something is totally foreign to them. Working in a multi-office firm with some offices having slow bandwidth, it's painful just getting the deploy data there to do a simple install. I can't imagine trying to do production work.
Re: The Rising Resistance to Cloud-Based CAD
by: Alibia
July 22, 2015 - 5:38pm
The challenge within the contract furniture industry is that it is expected that all drawing platforms will be supported regardless of release. If the cloud platform finally forces the issues for advancement in production and workflow... why not?
Re: The Rising Resistance to Cloud-Based CAD
by: Tifa
July 22, 2015 - 7:36pm
One more little concern about the Cloud CAD (CCAD!!!) to add is: would we still have the choice of when (and even IF) to migrate to a new release of - say AutoCAD? In the old days, when a "true" new version of AutoCAD was released, we had to hold the excitement should we had a project deadline to meet at this time. Recently, with the "relatively new" annual AutoCAD releases system, the timing of migration is further delayed until all the hot fixes & service packs are available, and meanwhile we simply use the previous release which usually matches the current calendar year anyway (i.e we only started using AutoCAD 2015 by early 2015.
Re: The Rising Resistance to Cloud-Based CAD
by: yatz_57
July 23, 2015 - 2:50am
I'll give them my AutoCAD installation USB stick when they pry it from my cold, dead hand! Or when I switch to BricsCAD. Which, judging by all the rumblings from Autodesk, might have to be quite soon. Not excited about this - we've been using ACAD for 23 years, now - but it feels like, once again, a major software vendor is trying to bully us into a course that is in no way beneficial to us, just to serve their bottom line.
Re: The Rising Resistance to Cloud-Based CAD
by: walterpblack
July 27, 2015 - 12:01pm
By its very nature, CAD files are single items. They can be referenced (XREF'd) or even packaged into archives or Sheet Sets, but they are still individual files. Hence, it is still possible to run files individually. This is not the case for BIMs, as these are huge data repositories that should be shareable across the entire stakeholder world (design team, contractors and owners)--hopefully simultaneously. Since these stakeholders are rarely in one site continuously, this should be a great application for Cloud technology. And even innovative groups like BricsCAD, who have developed the capability to add IFC data to the CAD file have not overcome the single data model of CAD. Robert: Do you find this resistance growing in BIM teams as well?
Re: The Rising Resistance to Cloud-Based CAD
by: MarkatDeeo
August 13, 2015 - 3:48pm
After reading the article and some of the other comments, this page could sound like the Luddites in the 19th-century who feared the end of their trade protesting against things like the Spinning Jenny! Replace the machine with the cloud. I’d like to put a slightly different perspective on things. In a traditional design office – designing products for manufacture, day in and day out – I agree, make the asset (workstation and already purchased software) sweet its worth. If the small design team live local and don’t need to increase then decrease due to project deliveries – stay as you are. However if you are a large company, maybe across multiple sites/offices, requiring large teams of designers and engineers that increase and decrease frequently there are many issues with the traditional model! I know, I have ran many. Things like 1: Get many GOOD designers and engineers to come to YOUR office every day? There is a skills shortage and people are more reluctant to travel due to cost (Fuel/accommodation) that’s why larger companies off-shored work – and found that didn’t turn out as they though it would… 2: Increase / Decrease a traditional Design office Infrastructure – electricity costs money, IT people cost money, and Good workstations cost money… I could go on buy an additional 5 workstations and software to do a 3 month project – your average FD would have a fit… 3: Increase/Decrease office space – renting additional premises to house additional people and then in the quiet times collect dust on the empty desks… not good business I could go on – there are many more. However as I said I agree that in some instances CAD on physical workstations will stay for many years – but so too will drawing boards. When a director is given ALL of the facts of how a cloud based design office could give their company huge advantages, such as: the ability of infinitely scale, empower their design team to work more flexibly from anywhere from one single source of data (no more multiple copies of the same design data on everyone’s laptop in different states!) and harmonising their work life balance = better productivity, from a secure datacentre (yes they do exist) they would think twice before buying a fleet of new workstations, additional software and extending their office. The Cloud is a misunderstood place and definition. Not every dog is evil yet one little girl gets bitten and everyone is up in arms - all dogs are bad! It’s the same with the Cloud. When it comes to a design cloud – you have to be in control. The above is only viable if it is YOUR Cloud and workstation environment in your selected Datacentre. It’s a Design Office in the Cloud – not computers connected to Dropbox! I don’t trust shared clouds either, including the ones the software vendors are pedalling. You have to be in control of your destiny. Remember, CAD is a business tool and it has to be made to earn its keep. We now have choices and not every way – the traditional CAD workstation / Virtual workstations etc work for all. You just need to look from a hire plane and see the actual end cost of every hour a designer completes a design – not many quantify this – all I suppose I though needed to be said is the cloud in some instances makes things better for everyone. Don’t look down – look up too?
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