Cloud concerns – tie-in

One of the major attractions of the Cloud for vendors is that it ties in customers, providing a reasonably consistent revenue stream. It is an effective anti-competitive strategy. There are various technical and other methods that can be used to ensure that it’s difficult or even impossible for customers to jump ship. While that’s all very nice for vendors, it’s not such a wonderful thing for customers. Let’s say you’re a CAD Manager who persuades your company to use a great new SaaS service and Cloud storage. Let’s assume it performs well, is secure, has 100% uptime and offers functionality that is not available with standalone software. Your company is pleased with all this and uses it increasingly over several years, eventually moving completely into the Cloud. A good news story, right? Well, maybe. There are a few things that could go wrong. Very wrong. Wrong enough to get you fired. Most of these things have multiple precedents, some of them quite recent. They are realistic concerns and it’s not really plausible for anyone with any knowledge of the past to argue that they won’t happen in the future. I have grouped these concerns into five categories: Impermanence. The vendor stops providing the service. There are many possible reasons for this happening. Computing is full of product failures and withdrawals. Autodesk alone has such a long history of dead products and orphaned customers, that it would be a major undertaking just to document them all. If the product’s not making money, it’s unlikely to have a future. The vendor itself could go down the tubes. Computing history is littered with the corpses of once-dominant companies. Because there is a chain of dependencies in a typical Cloud solution, there are several potential points of corporate failure. Maybe Autodesk doesn’t go down, but Amazon does, or…

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(so (long (and (thanks (for (all (the (parentheses))))))))

A few days ago, John McCarthy died at the age of 84. He didn’t make a fortune selling gadgets, he just profoundly affected the world of computing. He will be remembered mainly as the father of LISP, without which it is quite possible that AutoCAD and Autodesk would not have survived beyond the 80s. However, his original thinking went well beyond the development of a language. For example, 50 years ago he came up with an idea that is very relevant to what we are actively discussing today: In 1961, he was the first to publicly suggest (in a speech given to celebrate MIT’s centennial) that computer time-sharing technology might lead to a future in which computing power and even specific applications could be sold through the utility business model (like water or electricity). This idea of a computer or information utility was very popular in the late 1960s, but faded by the mid-1990s. However, since 2000, the idea has resurfaced in new forms (see application service provider, grid computing, and cloud computing.) (Credit: Wikipedia) Back to LISP, I still use John’s antique language today. It’s still the best language choice for the vast majority of the development I do. Thanks, John.

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Cloud benefits – collaboration, with Autodesk’s Tal Weiss

In May 2010 I took part in a phone conference with several Autodesk people about the Cloud. Part of that discussion was in the form of an interview, which I will publish in later posts. Another part was in the form of a verbal presentation from Autodesk’s Tal Weiss, concentrating on what was then Project Butterfly, Autodesk’s then Labs-based Cloudy CAD offering. This product had been called Visual Tao and was later renamed again to AutoCAD WS. As this presentation was largely based on the benefits of the Cloud for CAD collaboration, I think it is worthwhile reproducing it here. Obviously, it represents Tal’s view rather than my own. First, a little background. Project Butterfly started with an Autodesk acquisition in November 2009 of a company called Visual Tao, based in Tel Aviv, Israel. This is now an Autodesk development office led by Tal Weiss, former CEO and co-founder of Visual Tao. Here is what Tal had to say: Butterfly is a web application to enable users to edit, share and collaborate on AutoCAD drawings, on line using any web browser. One way to describe it in just a single sentence is, “Google Docs to AutoCAD”, meaning a web application to which you can upload your desktop content to then be immediately able to view and to edit that content using just your web browser with no desktop software necessary, and to share that content very easily with other users without them having to have any kind of software to download and install on the local machine. The way that we look at it is that Butterfly extends AutoCAD to the web, meaning turning AutoCAD from a best-in-breed software experience for drawing, drafting and modelling on the desktop and extending that over to the web; putting the power of the…

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Cloud concerns – security

OK, this one’s a biggie. For many, security is the biggest Cloud turn-off. Drawings are valuable property, and the thought of putting them up on the Internet is enough to give some people nervous twitches. I see two major worries: Is my property safe from destruction? Is it safe from unauthorised access (copying, modification, theft)? There are at least a couple of ways of looking at this: If you’re worried about data destruction, back up! You should be doing that anyway, regardless of where you store your stuff. Most people are comfortable enough with Internet banking, or at least using a credit card to make Internet purchases. The security of a major Cloud infrastructure provider is likely to be better than that of your own in-house infrastructure. It’s certainly a lot better than email, and almost everybody emails drawings about the place without even thinking about it. Plus, you can use Cloud security features to restrict access to your drawings in ways that you have no hope of doing if you’re emailing your drawings to other parties. So what are you worried about? Isn’t one of the supposed benefits of Cloud storage that backups are all taken care of for me? Putting my designs in the Cloud doesn’t remove any risk if I also need to store my own backups. However, it adds extra and unnecessary risk. Amazon (Autodesk’s Cloud infrastructure provider) irretrievably lost some of its customers’ Cloud data just a few months ago. There are many, many instances of supposedly secure sites being infiltrated by hackers. You’d have to be very unlucky to have somebody that wants your designs intercept your email, but a static site that is known to contain millions of dollars worth of drawings is a huge and tempting target. Putting your designs on the…

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“The Cloud is Dead” is not what I said

I guess most of this blog’s readers also read WorldCAD Access and upFront.eZine, so it probably hasn’t escaped your notice that in the latest upFront.eZine, Ralph had procalimed “The Cloud is Dead” and referred to some of my recent posts here as supporting evidence. I’d just like to point out that it’s Ralph announcing the death of the Cloud, and not me. Personally, while I agree with some of Ralph’s points, I think there’s life in the Cloud yet and the obituary is somewhat premature. My own attitude toward the cloud matches that of most of you, judging by the poll results here. I see pros and cons, and have strong concerns about many of the cons. However, I intend to cover both sides objectively. Look out for more coverage soon.

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Is a CAD in the Cloud takeover inevitable?

One argument that CAD in the Cloud supporters sometimes make is that the Cloud is taking over regardless of what anybody thinks, so we might as well just embrace it and reap the benefits. Nice try, Nostradamus, but I’ve been around computers long enough to see many Next Big Things come to nothing and am thoroughly unconvinced by such attempts at self-fulfilling prophecy. How inevitable is a CAD in the Cloud takeover, in terms of Cloud-based applications replacing traditional software? I’ve added a poll with a specific question about that, so it’s your turn to play soothsayer. What are the chances of you using a public Cloud-based application as your primary CAD software in 5 years? Please vote, and as always, your comments are welcome.

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Cloud benefits – processing power

A frequently stated advantage of CAD on the Cloud is the access to large amounts of processing power. Instead of relying on your lowly local processor to perform complex tasks, you can instead zap the job up to the Cloud where vast numbers of processors churn away in massively parallel fashion and then zap the results back to you before you’ve even had time to head for the coffee machine. This is a scenario that applies only for certain types of very complex tasks that are suited to subdividing the calculations among many processors. Autodesk already has a big toe in the waters in several of those areas. The recent Autodesk Cloud changes made available Inventor Optimization, Cloud Rendering, Green Building Studio and Conceptual Energy Analysis to a small subset of Subscription customers. It’s safe to assume that these services will be improved and expanded over the next few years. (Is there anybody out there using Autodesk Cloud services for these processor-intensive tasks? Let’s hear about your real-world experiences.) What this doesn’t mean is that it makes sense for us all to be using CAD on the Cloud, all the time. The processing time gained by using the Cloud is offset by the communication time spent passing the data back and forth, so any processing gain has to be substantial to make it worthwhile. Twenty years ago, when every zoom extents was followed by a looooong wait, a big swag of extra processing power would have come in very handy. These days, processors are ridiculously fast in comparison. They are also very cheap and getting cheaper. Even low-end PCs have had multiple cores for some years, and these days seeing eight almost unused cores on your performance monitor is pretty normal. The performance of today’s CPUs and the variable performance of today’s Internet, mean that…

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Any AutoCAD WS users out there?

In the post Cloud benefits – collaboration, I asked for people’s real-life experiences using, or attempting to use AutoCAD WS. In particular, I’d like to hear about you using its features to collaborate with others, which is a major selling point of the Cloud. As the other post hasn’t seen any replies yet, I’ve added this one to better attract the attention of AutoCAD WS users. Autodesk has put a lot of effort into this and it’s been out for a while, surely somebody’s using it for real work? If so, I encourage you to comment on the other post.

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Cloud concerns – downtime

One concern with any SaaS (Software as a Service) product is the potential for downtime. Is this really an issue? After all, big Cloud vendors have multiple server farms as part of their huge infrastructure investment. This provides redundancy to keep things going even in the event of a major local disaster or two. Cloud vendors have a lot of experience handling things such as power outages, hackers, denial-of-service attacks and the like. Amazon, the vendor currently used by Autodesk, promises an annual uptime of 99.95%.  That’s got to be good enough, surely? Maybe not. The Amazon cloud service has had some noticeable failures, in some cases affecting customers for several days. Amazon may promise a certain average uptime figure, but it provides only credits if it fails to meet its targets. Amazon has been known to be slippery about using fine print to avoid paying those credits, which in any case would go to Autodesk. Joe Drafter, who relies on a Cloud application to do his work and who suffers a significant loss of income and business reputation from a 4-day outage, probably shouldn’t hold his breath while waiting for a big fat compensation check to turn up. But is a Cloud solution really going to be less reliable than what you have now? Nothing’s 100% reliable, including a standalone PC, so what’s the problem? The problem is that with the Cloud, the potential for downtime is in addition to that you currently experience. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of the sort of things that could stop you producing a design using traditional software: Power failure at your office Your hardware fails Your operating system fails Your CAD software has problems bad enough to prevent you working Here’s an equivalent similarly non-exhaustive list for a SaaS CAD application: Power failure at your office Your…

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Cloud benefits – collaboration

The “other” C word – collaboration – was super-trendy in a mildly amusing way a couple of years ago, so I hesitate to use it here. But it seems to me that it represents a real potential benefit of CAD on the Cloud. Not just potential, because it’s already here, free for anyone, thanks to AutoCAD WS. The optional ability to put your designs where they can be worked on by those who are contributing to the design, regardless of their location, has to be a good thing, surely? Let’s find out how it’s going in the real world. I’d like to hear from people who have used AutoCAD WS, or tried to use it, in order to collaborate with others. What are the benefits and problems? Does the workflow match your needs, or do issues such as contractual and legal responsibility prevent you from working in this way? Are there practical difficulties in areas such as performance and CAD management? Is AutoCAD WS a good enough CAD tool for this job, or does it have a way to go yet?

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Cloud concerns – terms and conditions

I just used Autodesk Cloud Documents for the first time, and was asked to confirm my acceptance of the Terms of Service. Fair enough. But just what is in those terms, and what do they mean to you if you are dubious about using the Cloud? Will you be reassured by what you find there? Maybe not. Here are a few clauses that might make you go hmmm… The terms applicable to a particular service may vary. Translation: Autodesk can move the goalposts. Autodesk has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor Your usage of the Service to verify compliance with these Terms. Translation: Autodesk can keep its eye on you. You acknowledge and agree that: (a) You will evaluate and bear all risks associated with Your Content; (b) under no circumstances will Autodesk Parties be liable in any way for Your Content, including, but not limited to, any loss or damage, any errors or omissions, or any unauthorized access or use; and (c) You (and not Autodesk) are responsible for backing up and protecting the security and confidentiality of Your Content. Translation: whatever happens, it’s your problem, not Autodesk’s. Third Party Content and services may be made available to You, directly or indirectly, through the Service (including Content shared by other users of the Service, through Forums or by any other means). In some cases, such Content and services may appear to be a feature or function within, or extension of, the Services or the Autodesk Software. Accessing such Content or services may cause Your Computer, without additional notice, to communicate with a third-party website … for example, for purposes of providing You with additional information, features and functionality. Translation: Autodesk and others can use the service to advertise to you. Autodesk reserves the right to delete inactive…

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How do you feel about CAD in the Cloud?

Early last year, I ran a poll to gauge your feelings about CAD in the Cloud. Here are the results of that poll: As you can see, the poll response bell curve was clearly biased toward the frightened end of the spectrum, and there was little in the way of excitement at the Cloudy prospects for CAD. A fair bit has happened since last February (particularly the recent Autodesk Cloud announcement), so I thought I’d see how the ground lies at the moment. Are you feeling more positive about Cloudy CAD than you were 18 months ago?  I’ve just added a poll for you to vote on, identical to last year’s. In addition, I’d love to see your comments on the subject. Is CAD in the Cloud inevitable, or is it not going to fly? If you don’t think it will take off and take over, why not? Is it going to be Heaven, Hell, or somewhere in between? I have my own views, but I’ll keep them to myself for now; the floor is yours.

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This blog is just wonderful, apparently

One of the more interesting things about running a blog that is visited by a reasonable number of people is the fan mail. My immense modesty prevents me from keeping visible the thousands of positive comments that are posted here, but I thought I would give you an idea of the sort of praise I receive (and Akismet hides) on a daily basis. This small sample is all from the past 48 hours, with my comments in blue: My brother recommended I might like this website. He was entirely right. This publish truly made my day. You cann’t believe simply how so much time I had spent for this info! Thanks! Actually, I cann, how so much! Many of my publishes make many people’s days. Please tell your brother I said “Hi!”, and thank him for the massage oil. That is very attention-grabbing, You are an overly professional blogger. I’ve joined your feed and look ahead to in search of more of your great post. Additionally, I’ve shared your web site in my social networks. I look ahead to in search, too. I appreciate the social sharing, because I’m sure you have a lot of friends. Thank you so much for this! I haven’t been this thrilled by a blog post for a long time! Keep up the great job. Keep on inspiring the people! Don’t mention it; inspiration and thrills are all part of the service here. wonderful blog, very well written. I like it very much. I would read your site monthly and recommend it to my classmates. Please keep it updated. Keep on the good work. – A sweet girl Only monthly? I’m hurt. To make amends, send pics of yourself and your classmates to my email at pedowatch@fbi.gov. Such a wonderful analysis! No idea how you were able…

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Best and worst AutoCAD features ever – polls

Using your suggestions and a few of my own, I have added two polls for you to select what are, in your opinion, the best and worst features ever added to AutoCAD. To help us find The Answer, there are 42 items in each poll, from which you can choose up to three. A few items (e.g. Action Recorder) made it into both lists, while several items in the ‘worst’ list (e.g. 2012 Array, Ribbon, Annotative Scaling) were suggested multiple times. It will be interesting to see how the poll results pan out.

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