Event Report: Autodesk University 2008, Part 2

9 Dec, 2008

Cloud computing in the forecast for desktop-dominated CAD market.

If the migration from super computers to personal computers was the giant leap of the high-tech era, then the shift from desktop computing to cloud computing might be the next big jump. At last week's Autodesk University (AU) 2008 conference in Las Vegas, the topic was part of the keynote addresses by Autodesk CEO Carl Bass and Autodesk CTO Jeff Kowalski.

Analyst Gartner defines cloud computing as "a style of computing where massively scalable IT-related capabilities are provided 'as a service' using Internet technologies to multiple external customers" ("Cloud Computing Confusion Leads to Opportunity," June 2008). Hence, the term Software as a Service (SaaS) to describe the delivery method.

Bass called this computing model "a natural progression." Kowalski said, "Through cloud computing, we can do things that require enormous processing power without having to own the processors."

Putting Showrooms and Projects in the Cloud
You can test drive an Autodesk SaaS deployment called Project Showroom, a technology preview currently available in Autodesk Labs. Showroom is as an online rendering environment, accessible via a normal web browser. The drag-and-drop interface lets you configure a room by switching fixtures and materials. With this technology you can, for example, let a buyer preview what the kitchen would look like with a single-handle faucet instead of a pull-down model, a stainless-steel oven instead of a black oven, or porcelain tiles instead of oak planks. Neither you nor the buyer would need any special software or plug-in, except a standard browser.

Autodesk's Project Showroom, an online rendering environment, exemplifies how cloud computing might transform the visualization market.

For the most part, computing-intensive rendering functions are performed on a server set up elsewhere, so your desktop machine (known as "the client" in network computing lingo) doesn't have to endure the burden.

Other cloud computing examples at Autodesk Labs included Project Draw, an online diagram and schematic authoring tool, and Project Freewheel, an online 2D/3D publishing and viewing tool.

On the exhibit floor, Clarizen, an online project management software vendor, showcased its SaaS offerings. Priced from $24.95 per user, per month, Clarizen lets subscribers set up project folders, establish deadlines and milestones, assign tasks, and track project progress. The product is now available as an AutoCAD plug-in, allowing subscribers to access project data directly from the AutoCAD interface (for more, read Cadalyst's MCAD Tech News #255).

Clarizen, an on-demand project management software, is now integrated with AutoCAD, allowing AutoCAD users to manage and track their projects directly from the drafting environment.

Who's in the Cloud?
Though the SaaS model has its critics, pioneers such as Arena Solutions and have been able to cultivate a fan base for it among small and midsize businesses (SMBs). Adobe is venturing into the cloud with, an online photo-editing portal (free for basic membership, $49.99 per year for Plus membership with online storage and extras). Oracle offers a slew of its products under the Oracle On Demand brand. Even SAP, a vendor that thrives on on-premise solutions, doesn't want to be left behind. Two years ago, it began offering on-demand, customer-relationship management solutions for $75 per user, per month. The company positioned them as "low-cost, low-risk tools for quickly improving sales, service, and marketing effectiveness," hoping subscribers would eventually switch to on-premise SAP solutions.

Anticipating the rise of cloud computing, HP began bundling Remote Graphics Software (RGS) with many of its workstations. The software is, in HP's words, "an advanced utility that allows you to remotely access and share your graphics workstation desktop." Because you can relegate the heaviest computing workload to remote workstations, RGS makes it possible for you to generate and display photorealistic renderings from a client machine with limited memory and CPU power.

In 2005, commenting on solutions for SMBs, Andrew Anagnost, Autodesk vice-president of CAD/CAM solutions, said, "In my opinion, [hosted solutions] function like viable extranets, where a company can make sure its suppliers get the most updated info, have a way to access it, the data is controlled and the system manages itself for the most part." He cautioned, however, "There are pieces that [SMBs] want to control internally, and then there are other tactical components. Hosted solutions may be an interesting possibility for these components," (see "SMB Serenade," November 2005).

At AU this year, when asked to comment on the gloomy economy, Bass told the media that Autodesk finds that problems vary by geography. "Things are generally great in Europe, for example, but terrible in the U.K.," he said. "Much of the downturn in our markets is due to a lack of available financing; therefore, businesses are not operating at 100%."

Because SaaS solutions cost significantly less than on-premise software installation, you can also expect large companies looking to reduce IT costs to begin experimenting with cloud computing.

Related content:Cadalyst's AU 2008 event coverage