As a long time soaring enthusiast (Hang Gliding, etc.) I have a love affair with clouds – silently gliding from cloud to cloud unfettered by the burdens of the world below – to me this is the ultimate high!
Clouds, of course can be beautiful and even freeing. Consider soaring birds (or hang gliders) gracefully climbing, freeing themselves from the bonds of earth and gravity, gliding effortlessly from cloud to cloud under a beautiful lazy summer day. Clouds can also be downright frightening, as witnessed when Cumulous-nimbus thunderheads make their dramatic appearance, which not only can take down virtually any flying object, but wreak all kinds of other havoc… And in the context of cloud based CAD and file sharing, clouds may even can take on an “Orwellian nature” - consider the recent disclosures about our NSA surveillance! But I digress; let’s look at the recent offerings from both CAD and other collaboration-driven companies and what their cloud offerings may mean to you and me. I wonder, are we about to experience a time of openness, unfettered access to share data with our clients using the tools of our choice, all which could make us more effective than ever? Or are we looking at the creation of more exclusive clubs with restrictive membership rules and policies?
Clearly high speed internet/web performance and improvements in sharing applications have enhanced the experience and potential for design collaboration in real-time and perhaps has made design data more accessible – or has it? Cloud-based CAD applications and related technology promise a number of benefits: simplicity of deployment and maintenance of software and unique opportunities to collaborate and share our designs, both visually and in real time to name a few. Cloud-based CAD is being embraced by several of the larger companies and of course some smaller/newer players, as well as companies who are focusing more on crowd-sourcing/sharing/collaboration vs. the CAD app itself. Others are choosing to offer a new/old idea of subscription services for the use of their software as an alternative to purchasing. Simply download, install, commit to a year and pay the monthly rental fee via a web store and off you go… (Hmm, is this really saving us money? Read the fine print!)
But in spite of all the potential benefits, is the cloud being used as just another way for software vendors to lock users into their private communities and solutions, while selling the privileges and benefits of renting time on their respective clouds? The idea being you can more effectively collaborate and perform at least some editing of shared designs – assuming the host allows you and only if you belong to their particular cloud… Instead of providing a true open door policy where companies and users are truly free to use a broader selection of tools, isn’t this just another way to ensure you stay in a given vendor’s world?
At Kubotek, we have this odd notion that one of the true benefits of direct modeling and cloud-based apps is the potential for companies, their customers and suppliers to truly engage in a mutually beneficial community – a community where design-through-manufacturing projects could be best addressed by allowing members to bring not only their considerable domain expertise, but to also use the tools of their choice.
So wouldn’t a truly effective, cloud-based design and manufacturing community best be served by an open-door policy where all data, regardless of source could be shared, viewed, interrogated and editing by project members regardless of the tools they wish to use? I have to think such an open community could really expand our potential for collaboration, design crowd sourcing, etc. while helping individual contributors to be more effective…
And as for the tools used in the cloud, Direct CAD modeling software is still the best option for open sharing and collaboration; history methods simply do not lend themselves to sharing and working with CAD models and assemblies effectively, particularly if members are working off of neutral file formats [STEP, etc.] or even mutually agreed upon “native” CAD formats. Sharing history-based CAD data, regardless of whether it is based on web-hosting, subscription or simple file sharing, is still rife with cumbersome, difficult to understand editing tools prone to a variety of rebuild failures – and that is assuming everyone is on the same software and version!
Yet it seems doubtful the larger CAD/CAM/CAE vendors would want to offer such an open community where anyone could join and still be allowed to use the tools of their choice. No, quite the contrary, the message so far seems to be join us or, as the Rolling Stones song said, “get off of my cloud…”
Now before I am accused of communism (or worse), I fully acknowledge we all want to keep our customers and grow our businesses. The question is how we go about doing this? Do we continue to strong-arm customers into using only our solutions in whatever way we deem appropriate, or by pushing what is most popular, by virtue of company size – or should we be allowing people to choose solutions simply based on what will make them most effective?