I recently created an article on the “Top 5 Reasons to Use the Cloud for 3D CAD.” And in true engineer fashion, I made a list of pros and cons and wanted to follow it up with the top five reasons to avoid the cloud when working with CAD. The cloud is great for design and there are substantial benefits, however, there are some drawbacks and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention them as well.
1. Connection Timeout/Reliability
The first reason to avoid the cloud would be connection timeouts and connection reliability. When looking at the connection, we really need to break it into two parts as there are two main methods of dealing with the problem of CAD in the cloud: thin and thick clients. A thin client runs in the cloud and only transfers graphics and interactions to a local computer, typically through a web browser. Thick clients install locally on a computer and then save the data across a connection into the cloud. Think of each save as a save and upload which adds time and can be a drawback. You’re uploading vast amounts of CAD data with every save. Then add in the fact that a lot of providers have far faster download than upload speeds, it can make each save a chance to refill your coffee cup. As a result, we tend to save less often, taking a risk of losing our hard work. Thin clients do not have the same issue, as saves are happening in the cloud. It can actually be on the same performance level as a locally installed system. However, the connection to the entire CAD system can timeout. You work for a while, get a phone call in the middle of a sketch, turn back around after the call and the connection has timed out, leaving you to wonder what was saved, and what wasn’t. It's a scary experience to return to your hard work only to see the alert, “Connection to the server reset.”
2. Data Storage
Data storage made both the pro and con lists in my opinion. In the previous blog, I stated it is great to have your files at your fingertips whenever you need them but, there are some drawbacks as well. One flaw is space. On the cloud, storage space comes at a premium and when you run out of space you have to pay for more. At first, this may not seem like an issue, but over time, project by project, it can add up. It reminded me of my old cell phone plan where I was limited on minutes and texts cost $0.10 each. I was continuously checking how many minutes I’d used and trying to decide how long to talk. This isn’t something I’d want to do with my CAD data, trying to determine what data is worth the webspace, and what isn’t. A second issue is archiving. When a project is completed on a server, it's easy to archive a folder and store it wherever needed. The same isn’t true with online data. There is no simple way to copy an entire project and archive the data. It can be done, but not with the efficiency of a locally stored set.
3. Mandatory Upgrades
The third reason to avoid the cloud for CAD is mandatory upgrading. When a new version is released, it's updated and pushed out to all users. This is great for limiting IT overhead, but not so great when you're almost completed with a project. When using the CAD system locally, you have control over when and where upgrades are performed and can wait until the completion of a critical project before making the change. When working in the cloud, it is upgraded regularly without regard to any project schedule. You may need to work over a weekend but not be able to because an upgrade is running. You may also come in on a Monday morning eager to complete a design before your review meeting only to find out the software has to update before you can continue. There is no real time to test designs in the latest release, nor in most cases run a sandbox environment to get used to changes. They just appear one day whether we are ready for them or not.
Licensing is reason number four to avoid the cloud because cloud software has changed how products are licensed. With a desktop seat, we have a perpetual license, which means we can install and run the software for as long as we need. The licenses are also per seat, which allows for network licenses to serve multiple users across an organization. Most cloud software is a “per user” license, and not perpetual. This means two things: one, you have to buy a seat for each and every user who will log into the system, and two, when you stop paying, your access to the software disappears. This can be addressed with budgeting and planning but that would be a change to our current process. It can also take away some of the benefits we obtain with network licenses. A pre-seat license allows the software to run on one computer at a time, no matter which user is accessing. With a network license, we can purchase five seats for ten users, as long as only five people are using at once. Per-user licenses require ten seats to be purchased. Now, I’ve seen online software listed as “free” to use but even here you have to be careful. The licensing for the free software opens your designs up to the public domain. So, when using CAD on the cloud, be certain to understand the license agreement.
5. Depth of Product
The final downfall and I feel the most critical, is the depth of the product. I have been using SOLIDWORKS for more than 20 years and have seen it grow substantially during those years. I now have access to CAM, PDM, Rendering, Electrical design, Circuit design and Simulation, all in the same interface I’ve grown to enjoy. There are more ways to start a sketch than I can count and the ability to do more with configurations than I’d ever dreamed of ten years ago. This level of development hasn’t reached the cloud CAD platforms quite yet. Sure, some of it is there, but the programs are still pretty early in development. I may be able to create a configuration or branch a design, but I don’t have the efficiency of being able to create a configuration at an assembly and push the same configuration into all my parts. Don’t get me wrong, all the core modeling functionality is there, but some of the things that have been added over the years to make our designing lives that much easier have yet to be introduced.
Those are all reasons to keep in mind when looking at whether CAD in the cloud or on the desktop is correct for you. For some companies, cloud-based CAD is the way to go, others still need desktop-based CAD.
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