New Computing Solutions for CAD Take Fuller Advantage of the Cloud

28 Feb, 2016 By: Alex Herrera

Herrera on Hardware: New tools are needed for efficient CAD collaboration, and the cloud — from workspaces to hosted workstations — is looking like the best place to find them.

The computing landscape is changing as fast as it ever has, particularly when it comes to options for supporting graphics-intensive CAD. For years, IT and procurement managers followed the same standard procedure, outfitting each designer or engineer with a deskside workstation (and perhaps a mobile model for the road).

But that approach is no longer the only one to follow. The option to host graphics-intensive applications on remote virtualized servers is now a reality, and many are heeding the call to leverage the cloud to solve thorny IT problems imposed by an explosion of data, physically dispersed workforces, and an increasing emphasis on security and access anytime, anywhere, and on any device.

Leveraging the Cloud to Share Workspaces

More than a few vendors are staking claims with cloud-based solutions for CAD. Some are already established in the space, and have familiar names — such as Autodesk. Also entering the fray are smaller players, with names you don’t know yet … but you may very well soon. To date, most solutions leveraging the cloud have focused on sharing a workspace for project models and data.

It's not difficult to see why a singular, shared workspace is attracting so much interest: 24/7 access from wherever you want, tapping a secure (or at least securable) database. With a centralized computing model, users don't have to be in their offices — or even on the same continent. By storing models in one place and avoiding costly copying, these solutions render the "big data" problem far less burdensome. And since the source content doesn't leave the pre-defined cloud boundaries, it's far more secure. Upload files to one central, shareable, cloud-based repository. The repository becomes a virtual workspace, where project members can contribute, review, and even mark up and edit others' content.

Another Level: the Hosted Graphics Desktop Cloud

However, leveraging the cloud need not end with shared workspaces. There are those that are looking deeper, providing CAD users and enterprises with an entire computing environment, wholly contained in the cloud. In today's conventional workstation- and PC-centric environments, everything is local to the desktop: the visual content, the rendering of that content, and the resulting pixel stream that shows up on the user's display. But in the cloud-hosted model, the user's virtual machine — the content, the processing, and the storage — resides somewhere in the server of a cloud provider, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS). Startups including Frame and OnShape are betting many will choose to rent the entire computing environment from the cloud, creating a simple, pay-as-you-go infrastructure to support CAD applications, databases, and workloads hosted in a cloud-based framework.

Graphics desktops hosted in the cloud offer access at any time, from any Internet-equipped location. Image courtesy of Teradici and Jon Peddie Research.

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About the Author: Alex Herrera

Alex Herrera

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