The Promise and Reality of CAD on the Cloud

22 Jul, 2014 By: Robert Green

How has the cloud materialized for CAD users and managers?

It's been about five years since we started being bombarded with "CAD on the cloud" messaging from CAD software developers and vendors, so it's a good time to review what we've been promised and evaluate how the reality is working out for CAD managers, users, and companies.

To frame the discussion, I'll present some topics that I've found key for many of my clients, cover some questions I get from senior management, and explain my conclusions along the way. The cloud remains a nebulous concept, but breaking it down into its components will make its impact on your CAD management plans much more obvious, so we'll start by doing just that. Here goes.

What Is the Cloud?


It's funny, but even after five years people still have a variety of definitions of "the cloud." I've always thought of it as a network of storage devices that is located somewhere other than my building, owned by someone other than me. However, a couple of increasingly prevalent new technologies have made me rethink my traditional definition of the cloud:

Private clouds. Increasingly, companies are creating their own private clouds in centralized data centers to service their own users across their own virtual private networks (VPNs). Private clouds can serve branch offices or mobile workers alike without the security risk of using an outside provider.

Application clouds. In this case, application software actually resides on a remote machine and the user runs the software via remote access. The data that is produced typically resides on the application cloud as well.

So after considering these factors, I'll broaden my definition of the cloud: It's a place that my data, and maybe my software, resides that is not on my own desktop or local-area network (LAN). What hasn't changed is that "the cloud" is simply a nickname for a global network of computers that can talk to each other via the Internet or VPN. I continue to be amazed at how such a simple concept can spawn so much marketing hype — but so be it.

Now that we've defined the cloud, let's examine some of the trends and changes that the cloud was supposed to bring us.

Cloud-Based CAD (SAAS)

One of the concepts most frequently advocated by cloud software companies is running your software as a service (SAAS) — essentially, renting software. The idea is that you'll no longer be burdened with installing and supporting software, since the software vendor will handle all those nasty tasks. In my observation, this model of selling software has largely not materialized for the following reasons:

  • You don't control your own software. Decisions like when to upgrade, which plugins to use, custom configurations, etc, are up to the vendor, not you.
  • No cloud means no work. In a pure SAAS architecture, you must have an open connection to the cloud to use your software — a model that has been incrementally adopted by Microsoft and Adobe in recent years. If your Internet goes down, you have no way to get work done.
  • Vendor vagaries can have an immediate impact on your productivity. You don't own the software — so if the vendor goes out of business, your software access goes away with it.

When talking to senior management groups about SAAS strategies, I hear the same concerns again and again, such as: "No way will we trust our business software to a vendor that may or may not be here in the long run, and there's no way in the world we'll depend on our Internet connection to get work done!"

Conclusion: Until the business and technical issues around renting cloud-based CAD software are 100% resolved, this option will continue to be rejected by most of the market.

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About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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