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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?


The Cloud Is Slow

If the security risks aren’t enough to scare your management teams away from the cloud, then your users will object once they experience how slow it can be. I guarantee that when your users are subjected to the experience of opening huge CAD files across shared low-bandwidth connections, they will not be happy.

The simple fact is that moving CAD files across the Internet is slow, and the cloud is dependent upon that movement. If you think your current wide-area network (WAN) is slow, then what will happen when you add a substantial amount of cloud traffic to your already slow WAN connection? Your network will become even slower.

I should point out that there are new and old WAN acceleration tools from companies such as Riverbed, Peer, and Panzura that can speed up your WAN by placing gatekeeping hardware or software at all your WAN nodes, but they can’t do anything to speed up a cloud storage or software vendor’s speed. So while WANs can be optimized, the cloud really can’t be.

Power to the User

While we’re all supposed to be moving toward the cloud, despite its security and speed limitations, the devices on our desks are becoming speed demons — and for relatively little money. Mobile workstations with quad-core i7 processors, 16 GB of RAM and PCIe-based solid-state drives (SSDs) are now flirting with $2,000 price levels and desktop workstations are even cheaper than that. Multisocket Xeon-based machines with 8 cores, 32 GB of RAM, PCIe, and massive disk arrays can be had in the $5,000 range.

And since the cloud will always be subject to infrastructure limitations, only those in areas with gigabit fiber-based Internet will enjoy fast transfer rates; users in smaller, more remote areas will be forced to limp along on low-bandwidth connections for years to come. Conversely, anybody who can receive a FedEx delivery can have a killer workstation in a few days.

So the question becomes: Why make my users jump through hoops to perform design work on clunky cloud-based software when I can give them a Herculean workstation that’ll perform at warp speed and fit into a laptop bag?

I Am Not a Luddite!

Lest anyone accuse me of being a technophobe, let me assure you I believe that designers will still use Internet-connected tools in certain situations. Those being:

  • Remote access. Using a tablet to remotely access your workstation is a great way to work from home or while traveling. This is also a way to facilitate sharing a high-powered workstation or specialized software application dedicated to rendering amongst several users.
  • Temporary project staff increases. If a company has a big project coming they may want to license CAD software for a few months until the project concludes, then archive the data to their internal servers.
  • Per-file rendering and analysis. In cases of extremely expensive rendering and analysis packages that may not be used frequently, the concept of simply paying per job may be appealing — although the liability of loading CAD models to the rendering/analysis vendor’s servers may dampen enthusiasm for the approach.

Will cloud-based tools make sense in these types of scenarios (and probably some others I haven’t thought of)? Certainly. Will the cloud be the best choice in all scenarios? No.

Summing Up

If your company doesn’t have a clear strategy for how to approach cloud-based CAD tools, now is the time to have the discussion. My hope is you can use the topics in this article as a starting point to open discussion with your senior management and IT staffs.

Do you think that centralized cloud-based CAD sweep the market and do away with local software, servers, and WANs? E-mail me at with your thoughts. I’ll explore this issue further in the coming months.

Editor's Note:  Read Part 2 of this series here.

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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 - 11:48am
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 - 11:51am
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 - 11:51am
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 - 4:38pm
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 - 6:36pm
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 - 1:50am
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 - 11:01am
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 - 2:48pm
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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