upFront . eZine
t h e b u s i n e s s o f c a d
Issue #715 | December 6, 2011
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In This Issue
1. What the Cloud Really Means
- What is the Cloud?
- Virtualized Software is A Next Generation
- Meanwhile, Back in the CAD World
- What Needs to Be Done
2. Out of the Inbox, and other regular columns.
What the Cloud Really Means
When Netscape announced its plan to make the Web browser the OS [operating system], it freaked out Microsoft sufficiently that the monopolist integrated a browser (licensed from SpyGlass) into the WIndows operating system, and then screwed everyone badly by making it hard for user to know whether they were working on the relatively safe desktop or the dangerous Internet. ActiveX, anyone?
Netscape knew what the cloud was; Microsoft didn't.
When I provoked reaction with my "The Cloud is Dead" title, a few readers not only misunderstood the point I made (deploy appropriate technology appropriately), but also didn't understand the concept. Some thought it was amusing that the discussion of its death was taking place on the cloud; it wasn't.
What Is the Cloud?
So then, what is the cloud? It's the virtualization of all aspects of software. First, though, let's overview what a software program consists of:
a. Core code that carries out the calculations.
b. Reading input from the user interface (mouse, keyboard, etc) and sending output to the user interface (screen, printer, etc).
c. Accessing and writing data stored in files.
All traditional programs rely on the operating system to handle parts b and c. As for the core code, a, it often consists of these sub-sections:
a. i. Proprietary code written by the software company.
a. ii. Libraries of code licensed from others, such as Lightworks or Spatial.
a. iii. Programming interfaces, either proprietary (like ARX and Diesel) or licensed from others (like VBA or VSTA).
Dipping briefly into history: People as old as me learned top-down programming with FORTRAN, BASIC, and/or PASCAL, where we wrote a main program that called dumb subroutines; the subroutines relied on the main code. A big change occurred in the mid-1990s when many companies re-coded their software to object-oriented software, because Windows was object-oriented. Here, chunks of code ("modules" = old subroutines) and objects (like CAD entities) operate somewhat independently, often called by triggers, such as the click of a mouse.
Following top-down and object-oriented programming, virtualized software is a next generation. (Another is software native to portable devices, primarily Android.)
Virtualized Software is A Next Generation
The reason a company would want to virtualize software is so that it can run anywhere, across multiple computers, transparently. The cloud consists of software that is independent of the operating system (Microsoft's Netscapian fear) and the hardware. It is also independent of the location, but that's something we've been doing for decades using networking.
Just as companies had to decide whether to switch to Windows, companies today need to decide whether to switch to virtualization. Because of the massive rewrite involved, it is easier for a new company than a legacy company to go cloud. This has been illustrated most graphically by the great war between Oracle (founded in 1977) and Salesforce.com (1999). Customers run traditional software from Oracle, while Salesforce.com was one of the very first companies to be highly successful on the cloud. Other non-CAD companies have also fond success in the office area, such as Zoho and Hotmail (bought by Microsoft).
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Meanwhile, Back In the CAD World
In the CAD world, it is not as easy, because we deal with huge files, vector graphics, and 3D illusions -- not simple text, as does most office software, like from Salesforce.com.
For instance, Alibre launched in 1997 as the first kind of CAD-on-the-cloud effort, but that didn't work out well, and so it became a traditional desktop CAD package, which it still is, to this day.
For instance, DS SolidWorks showed a prototype of SolidWorks V6 three years ago running on the cloud and multiple hardware platforms, but then flubbed the preview by (a) explaining poorly to users what was going on, and (b) being largely silent since then -- and not shipping. A smaller effort, N!Fuse (simple data management on the cloud), was release to lackluster acceptance.
For instance, Autodesk first tried the brute force method, literally running AutoCAD on servers whose I/O [input, output] was sent to and from the screen of distant users, but latency [the delay experienced by users due to the distance] was the killer. Currently, it is limited to AutoCAD LT for an online demo type of operation.
Autodesk then tried the "unAutoCAD" approach, last year buying a new company (VisualTau) whose software could efficiently simulate graphics over the Internet, such as for GIS and CAD. It is now known as the 2D-only AutoCAD WS, although Autodesk announced only last week (but not yet shipped) the ability to view (not edit) 3D models.
And that's about it. DS SolidWorks and Autodesk are trying to virtualize their desktop CAD software, but it's hard work and takes a long time, with plenty missteps along the way -- and might not even work out. All the other major CAD vendors are looking on, waiting for the two to figure out the way; maybe then they'll jump in -- if they think it's necessary...
...which it probably isn't. Can you see a firm using NX/Teamcenter switching to Catia V6/Enovia, just because NX doesn't run on the cloud? Me, neither.
What Needs to Be Done
The cloud means software virtualization, and for existing software to be virtualized, nearly all its code needs to be rewritten:
a. ii. Libraries of code licensed from others.
a. iii. Programming interfaces licensed from others, and the OS-dependent portions of proprietary APIs.
b. Reading and writing from and to the user interface.
c. Accessing and writing data stored in files.
About the only part that can be left as-is is the proprietary core code, and perhaps even that needs to be rewritten in some cases. Hence, the lack of enthusiasm by most CAD vendors to covert their software to operate on the cloud.
Once the code is rewritten for the cloud, software vendors and customers can run software with the ability to run on any virtualization platform, such as Amazon EC2 or in-house servers; run the software on several servers, or on part of one server; dynamically expand the software to run on larger or smaller numbers of servers; and so on.
Once the software is virtualized, it can do virtually anything, computing-wise. Which then leads excited marketing departments to claim virtually anything, including nonsense phrases like "infinite computing."
For instance, you may have noticed in a recent issue of upFront.eZine (Maximus for MCAD) that nVidia found examples of corporations limiting the number of models that can be FEA'ed on the cloud: designers are told to do most of the analysis on desktop computers (with the help of nVidia hardware, naturally) and then send only final designs for evaluation on the cloud -- to avoid plugging the pipes. Computing is not infinite.
Anyhow, you can get an taste of what this is like by running virtualization software, such as VirtualBox from (ironically) Oracle or Player software from VmWare. These programs virtualize the OS and hardware so that you can run any operating system on your Windows desktop -- except forthe Apple-locked OS X. (Right now, Sunday night at 10:11pm, I have Android v4 running in Windows; see Figure 1.)
Figure 1: Android 4 (aka Ice Cream Sandwich) running in a virtualized environment in Windows 7.
In conclusion, there are some interesting things that can be done with virtualized software (a.k.a. the cloud) but it's not necessarily right for core CAD activities. Next week: "In 7 to 10 years, the cloud won't be as hot as it is now; there will be a new thing on the plate." I interview First Trace's chief technical officer Brian Williamson and product marketing manager Kyle Blair.
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TFTLABS S.A.S is a new company aiming to provide 3D open solutions for cloud computing in MCAD. CEO is Francois Chretien and COO is Jean Luc Brocard -- both formerly with TTF and Adobe. Their "revolutionary Web-based paradigm that is for all the desktop viewing and interoperability software, what is Google Docs for Microsoft Office." Whitepaper on their plans at http://www.tftlabs.com
It's the last month of the year, and some CAD vendors are going nuts with discount offers. There's an 80% discount offered by an advertiser elsewhere in this issue, and here is ProStep with a 25% year-end discount on PDF Generator 3D + free upgrade to v3. The catch: you have to get the 50-user Entry Version. http://www.prostep.com
Luxion's got "Native Support" for its KeyShot rendering software with Autodesk's software. Turns out this means that KeyShot 3 now has a translator that reads native files from 3ds Max, Inventor, Alias, and AutoCAD. Works on Windows and OS X. http://www.keyshot.com
Vladimira Grosmanova -- my pick for the most impressive-looking name in the CAD industry -- writes to tell us about VariCAD 2012-1.03's improvements: UI updated for large monitors, new 2D dimensions and editing of dimensions, improved DWG/DXF and STEP interface, new batch printing module, and improvements in 3D modeling kernel. Thirty-day trial version available for download from www.varicad.com/en/home/products/download. Also available in German and Portuguese.
HP's released its ePrint & Share a year ago, and now a mobile version works on iOS devices, like iPhone and iPad. The app send print jobs via WiFi to an HP server, which then directs it to the specified HP ePrinter, which has a unique email address. https://h30510.www3.hp.com/?jumpid=re_R10931_go/eprintandshare
NVIDIA and Autodesk are beta testing Project Pandora to bring 3ds Max and NVIDIA iray rendering to the cloud.
ZWSOFT is the first Chinese CAD vendor to license Lightworks Artisan rendering software, which is be added to a new release of ZW3D (formerly VX). http://www.lightworkdesign.com
QuadriSpace ships Publisher3D 2011 service pack 2 for generating illustrations, animations, and 3D PDF documents from 3D CAD models. Trial version from http://ttp//www.quadrispace.com/downloads/trial.htm
Krupa CADD Solutions releases version 2 of its Steel Beams for AEC module for AutoCAD Architecture. New are sloped beams and extensions, Hip/Valley input dialog, and all AISC steel shapes. Thirty-day demo from http://www.krupacadd.com/prod_SteelBeams.htm
Even though 90% of 532 IT administrators say their firms use tablets in pilots or production, 54% said that "preventing access to sensitive data from unauthorized users is the top concern slowing adoption smartphones and tablets for enterprises." The primary concern: lost tablets. Currently, 6% of employees use tablets. http://www.enterprisedevicealliance.org/resources
Signing a memorandum of understanding, over the next three years, Graphisoft will assist North China Municipal Engineering Design & Research Institute with implementing BIM on design, collaboration, sustainability, and create BIM specifications.
Letters to the Editor
Re: The Cloud is Dead? I Respond
"I am a rathercautious fan of the CAD cloud. While agreeing with some points of the naysayers, I disagree with two claims given below:
1. Why should CAD cloud have more legal issues and difficulties than the healthcare, insurance, or CRM businesses? All of them already use cloud technologt.
2. 'Autodesk promoting the promise of the cloud for 3 years.' I think that Autodesk has done more than that, they have delivered solid, functional a popular cloud tools during that time, for example Homestyler or Photofly.
"I fully agree with the 'trust.' You have to trust your attorney, your bank and your cloud vendor. See also http://budweiser.cadstudio.cz/2011/11/cloud-question-of-trust.html "
- Vladimír Michl, business development
CAD Studio, Czech Republic
"(That's the whole joke.) We are in a branch office of 50 engineers. Our 400-person main office is 1,000 miles away, and we run Revit MEP 2011 and 2012. When a project is hosted in the main office, updates and saves can take 5 to 45 minutes. The infrastructure does not yet exist for any type of cloud to be fast enough or reliable enough for today's business needs."
- Peter Lawton
"Thanks for the good piece on 'defending your position' regarding the cloud. You just said what I keep saying, yet in very polite/factual terms: The promoters of the new technology have no morals in their grab for power and $. There's a term in the NT that describes them well: 'idle babblers'."
"I have enjoyed following your cloud articles and the many responses as comments it has triggered. I believe you can expand the discussion by adding tablet/iPad users to the future of the cloud, as they are locked into that system, whether they trust it or not. I have observed many corporate IT departments struggle with them, trying to transform them into working platforms for the executives that wish to justify that expense card purchase, and failing.
"Cloud technology has many fronts to conquer and a lot of trust to establish before it can be truly useful. I'm not a denier, I just don't want to lose any content I generate or lose control over it. And I want access to it at any time: my customers and my deadlines don't change because some ISP somewhere had a bad day and I lost access to the cloud."
- Dean Saadallah
"Keep up the excellent work."
- Marc B.Sauro
"World's latest endangered species: our private lives."
- Bill Ray
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Entire contents copyright 2011 by upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd. All rights reserved worldwide. Letters sent to the editor are subject to publication. Article reprint fee: $250 and up. All trademarks belong to their respective holders. "upFront.eZine," "The Business of CAD," and "WorldCAD Access" are trademarks of upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd. Letters to the editor may be edited for clarity and brevity. Translations and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd.