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Issue #716 | December 13, 2011
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In This Issue
1. FirstTrace's Take on Taking the Cloud Private
2. What the Cloud Really Means
3. Out of the Inbox, and other regular columns.
This is the last issue before the annual Christmas break. Look for the next issue of upFront.eZine on January 9, 2012.
FirstTrace's Take on Taking the Cloud Private
FirstTrace is a company that looks at the cloud differently. Rather than handing your valuable design data off to some far away server, they figure it makes more sense to house the server locally -- solving the two primary problems that plague the cloud, security and latency. Their primary software offering today is KinnosaONE, which is specialized in EDM [engineering document management], but the platform also does records management, forms management, and so on. It handles office documents and even blank documents that only carry metadata.
(I was going to write a brief history of the product's lineage, but it got too complex for the short time I have this morning. Names include WorkCenter, Autodesk, Motiva, Empress Software, eChange, Entrada Software, Kinnosa, and FirstTrace.com.)
The company hosted a Webinar in early November titled "Lightning in the Cloud," which I tweeted live at the time. Here are some of the notes I took back then:
Product marketing manager Kyle Blair noticed I signed up for the Webinar, and so arranged a conference call with the company's chief technology officer, Brian Williamson.
Mr Williamson started by saying, "We like the fact that people are talking about the cloud. At FirstTrace, we have our document management system targeting at engineering formats, like CAD, office files, emails, data files, any of that stuff."
His firm is trying to leverage the cloud as a new deployment option for customers. They have found that some 80% of their customers have virtualized projects. "We figured out pretty early on that certain architectural components are needed. For CAD, you need specialized products that run mostly on PCs, because most work is done at the local level. We can enable sharing data and publishing release drawings and managing markups.
"Our concept is that every node in the configuration has its own workspace. When we put an envelope around it, we can have collaboration. Using client-server between local machine and the cloud is not viable at all. The final destination is where you decide to deploy your infrastructure." The idea is to have local files with local data; projects point to file locations for libraries and so on the local computer and other machines. In this way, running on a local machine is optimal; when starting up, you just copy files to the local computer, and then save them to the network when done.
The problem with the cloud is that sending data back and forth is slow (latency). But data doesn't always have to be moved back and forth; just move what is necessary. An "intelligent workspace" knows when things have changed. "We maintain a catalog of changes, technology that's been around for 30 years: there is a whole layer of data that describes itself. This is 7x to 10x more efficient than moving 100% of the data each time."
He sees the primary customers as power and energy utilities, design and architecture firms, custom fabricators, and firms with complex documentation. Usually, adoption of KinnosaONE starts in the CAD department, and then spread to other areas of the firm. The customer says, "I can do this on my expense budget, rather than in a capital expenditure."
Green IT means that running a cloud environment causes the local utility bill goes down; old servers can be recycled to be pooled together, and so continue to be used. Another meaning for Green IT is that there is no money for IT budgets
"Data needs to be portable, as well as the devices," he continued. You need to have a process that compares the data that comes back from users with what is in the repository. It has to deals with the issue where users cannot be connected to the network all the time. As for portable devices, he sees application Web services, such as using Java on Android. Customer writes the app that runs on the portable device, using the APIs provided by FirstTrace, or else contracts someone to write it. "The cloud is just another extension to this," he added.
Then he told me that he is seeing "a lot of CAD customers unconvinced that the [cloud] strategy is in their best interest going forward. We try to mitigate the risk; regardless of what CAD vendors want, the technology is going to the point where the installation is public or private. Either way, you're going to the cloud -- whether you call it a cloud or not."
On the programming side of things, he says that COM [common object model] on Windows is relatively stable, but cannot be ported to a multi-platform environment. You'd have to use a wrapper around the data, or else convert COM to Web services. The software industry is going towards a unified architecture at the application design level, such as Web services APIs.
Data portability is a primary issue of customers with existing applications. If you build self-describing data, then converting it to other formats becomes trivial. You can use this to translate between published standards. XML is for structuring data, but then use DSD to describe what is in the XML file, plus extensions that do the transformation.
The concept of the monolithic application is over, because the CAD data needs to be shared with other departments, yet need to be able to protect the IP [intellectual property]. Web services have to be very careful about the kinds of data being shared, because VM [virtual machines] are not virus-free. All data should to be encrypted when necessary, but encryption slows down things, so avoid it in safe areas.
Mr Blair concluded, "IT and financial are driving the cloud thing. 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."
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What the Cloud Really Means
"Like most changes to the way we do work, we don't always see the forest because of the trees that block our view. I remember a few years ago at AU getting a demonstration of 'virtual' remote computing on an HP Blade server. I was told that I could be located anywhere on the Internet and run a local version of my software remotely. There were expensive pieces to put in place to do so, but it seemed to work. No sale.
"Today, I log into my office computer from my home computer (using a browser with enhanced plugins) or someone else's computer, or even my iPad (although the interface is limited; I still have trouble getting window content to scroll with gestures), and do real work -- CAD, BIM, documents, spreadsheets, ftp, email with attachments, etc. on my office desktop using Go-To-My-PC.
"Not exactly 'cloud', but I am getting used to having access to my desktop from other places. And I am willing to pay $10 a month for the utility of it. It can only get better as kinks are worked out or I get used to them. I can see a time when I will rent a 'desktop' that I don't have to have an office to house, where I will be allowed to 'install' my licensed software on a virtual computer that is at least as reliable as my physical desktop. (It does occasionally start dragging and need rebooting to clean up artifacts or even crash.) There will probably be a virtual reset button.
"A good example of 'cloud' computing that is working is Evernote ($0-$5/month) that helps me remember and retrieve things from any browser, and Dropbox which lets me access my files from any browser. I have had enough local hardware failures over the years to appreciate offsite storage and resources that are more reliable than what is on my desk.
"The thought that local storage and computing is 'safer' reminds me of the idea that driving your car cross-country is 'safer' than flying. Cloud failures are more spectacular than local failures, but they are getting more rare while local failures seem to happen regularly. Even with 'airbags,' local failures are dangerous and do happen.
"Local still works, but virtual is working too. And I like it and will pay for it."
- John S. Brunt, AIA, LEED AP
"Thanks for the excellent summary of the cloud. Now it makes sense to me. Still, I wouldn't use it for anything I do, both personally and for work, primarily b/c of security reasons."
"Every issue of upFront.eZine is always a welcoming arrival. Your recent comments about the cloud overlapped a comment I recently read by a well-informed security guy, Paul Kocher of Cryptography Research, Inc: 'It's kind of embarrassing, at the end of the day, the most reliable thing is to just cut the wires and word in isolation.' His quote appears in the Nov/Dec 2011 issues of Standford."
- Tom Savage
The editor replies: "To ensure security of the design data, some firms block their drafters from accessing the Internet, and even remove all USB ports from computers."
"Thanks for keeping the cloud thread alive. I find it very informative.
"Seems what is old is new again. Every time a business strategy that looks good on paper but becomes unwieldy gets renamed, a new buzz word. Computer industry has no shortage of them. We had clusters of computers way back in the 80s and dumb terminals. The server(s) did the work. It worked, but in busy times wait times were atrocious. The IT guys found they could raise their priority of tasks, much to the backlash from managers when we were taking their production time.
"So enter the PC world: let's use the processor on our personal system and keep network traffic down. Simply save the files to the network drive when done. This, in effect, is a good idea.
"ActiveX is a wonderful technology, but got a bad name. So we tried signing controls, but the signing authorities demanded big bucks every year for the right to do so. I did sign controls, but I no longer do. It is simply too expensive, unless you are big corporation.
"So Microsoft comes up with managed code. C#, VB.Net. Yes, it works for a lot of applications, but CAD requires heavy lifting. Even Flash Player is an ActiveX control. So when you try to write a major system with .net you will run into bottlenecks. So out comes Win32. Now your code is unsafe again and unsuitable for the general down load population.
"For since the beginning of the computer software industry, you would buy a program, install it, and run with it. It would never expire. You would sell updates to generate new revenue. But what if the product is mature? It does everything you require it to do for your business? Well, you would keep it, and never upgrade.
"So, the bean counters come up with subscription licensing. You pay every year, regardless if there are any new functions that apply to you. Now, technically this is hard to enforce on a PC. But if you run the program on the server, dress it up with 'cloud', you can enjoy a steady revenue stream each year or per use."
- Chris Hannukainen
Pangaea CAD Solutions
"Thanks for elaborating on the software virtualization requirement for any chance at cloud-based design software. The 'cloud' sounds soft, but it is actually all hardware: servers and switches and wiring, oh my! The cloud is the hardware version of a previous marketing fabrication, vaporware –- all promises, no product.
"For this fantasy to come true, Autodesk will either have to make the software 1,000 times smaller, or make the cloud pipelines (a nationwide network of IT infrastructure) 1,000 times larger. Make no mistake whatsoever: Autodesk's motivation for promoting the cloud is elimination of software piracy, along with closer control of sales and subscription fees -– period."
- Peter Lawton
"I thoroughly enjoyed the historical perspective you provided in this issue (#715), the section under the sub-head 'What is the Cloud?' I particularly like how you broke out the broad components of a software program and then demonstrated how the traditional program relates to the 'cloud', giving some specific examples as you did so. One of the things I like about this article is that facts are presented as facts."
- Name withheld by request
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An aim for software development is to make programs independent of OS. Google's answer is to run software in its Chrome browser, porting C, C++, or C# code to its 'Native Client' [NaCl] facility and Pepper API, which now support hardware-accelerated 3D graphics on OpenGL. More info at http://blog.chromium.org/2011/12/games-apps-and-runtimes-come-to-native.html
From Jay Vleeschhouwer of Griffin Securities we learn that "...starting at the beginning of FY13 in February 2012, Autodesk will modify and unify its channel compensation globally, with the idea being to reward those resellers who are increasingly successful." He estimates that the company has three million [not the 1,250,000 previously reported incorrectly here] seats on subscription. http://www.griffinsecurities.com
More end-of-year price cuts: ARES Commander Edition is half-price at $395 – for Linux, Macintosh, or Windows. https://secure.graebert.com/index.php?=0&cartReset=N&redirected=1&option=com_virtuemart&Itemid=62
Rory Vance of KnowledgeSmart writes, "Thought you might like to see a summary of the AUGI Top DAUG contest, from this year's Autodesk University. 3 days, 305 contestants, 7 Autodesk tracks. Some exceptional performances! Here's the link: http://the-knowledgesmart-blog.blogspot.com/2011/12/augi-top-daug-2011-results.html . Best wishes for a happy Christmas & NY."
Print Audit releases version 6 of its Print Audit software for tracking printer usage, such as figuring out how much to charge clients for printing costs. The company says the software's been installed on 600,000 workstations. http://www.printaudit.com/software-updates.asp
Randall Newton reports in his GraphicSpeak newsletter that Autodesk was the lead investor in $10 million worth of Series B financing for Gehry Technologies, along with Dassault Systems and unnamed private investors. http://gfxspeak.com/2011/12/06/update-gehry-technologies-says-october-funding-was-10-million/
CCE updates its CAT5Works bi-directional SolidWorks/CATIA data translator, and runs inside SolidWorks 2009 through 2012. http://www.cadcam-e.com/products/cat5works/
ANSYS 14.0 automates user-intensive operations, simulates complex systems, and works with high-performance computing systems. http://www.ansys.com
The USA's Patriot Act is perhaps why Dassault plans cloud servers in each country: so that USA government can't snoop through the data of foreign firms. And there is another reason: to reduce latency, the time it takes to move data between you and the server, which we see as a delay. http://www.wired.com/cloudline/2011/12/us-cloud/
Docupoint now has a 32/64-bit version of its server-based DrawingSearcher that's compatible with AutoCAD 2012. The software does instant full-text search through as many as tens of thousands of DWG, DWF, PDF, raster and office files. http://www.docupoint.com
There's a pretty interesting discussion over at Matt Lombard's http://www.dezignstuff.com/blog/?p=6689 on whether DS SolidWorks should concentrate on core CAD functions or add features of interest to non-CAD users: "What problems should your CAD vendor be solving for you?"
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These were some of the news items that were posted during the last few weeks at our WorldCAD Access blog <worldcadaccess.typepad.com>:
Letters to the Editor
"My 9-year-old grandson has just introduced me to this LEGO Digital Designers software package. It has a library containing all the Lego components, allows you to build any virtual model in 3D, order all the components you have used on line, and generates a slide sequence showing you piece-by-piece how you built it, in case you have forgotten by the time the components arrive on your doorstep. I have always been very impressed by Lego's online marketing, but this is just brilliant. Is there something some of our main stream 3D software writers can learn from this? If you have never played with it, have some fun over Christmas. http://ldd.lego.com/download. Merry Christmas."
- Philip Hadley
The editor replies: "While visiting the site, I noticed that LEGO is shutting down its custom DesignByMe service for a rather odd reason: it was 'too complex for children'."
"In the last issue, you wrote: '... it freaked out Microsoft sufficiently that the monopolist integrated a browser...'. I don't have strong feelings either way about the question of whether or not Microsoft is a monopolist. The only reason I mention the above sentence is that it is a statement of something as though it were a fact, when it is actually an opinion. You refer to Microsoft as a 'monopolist' in just the same manner as one might write something like, 'Ford, the auto-maker'. I find this method of writing disconcerting because it's hard to tell when you are stating a fact or just writing your opinion in a way that looks like it's fact.
"The world is filled with blogs, forums and discussion groups that consists of people giving their opinions, and often in a manner such as to make those opinions seem like facts. On the other hand, (despite the occasional slip-up as above), I consider UpFront E-zine as actual journalism."
- Name withheld by request
The editor replies: "The company was convicted of monopolist behavior by the case the US federal government brought against it last decade."
The reader responds: "I just went to look this up to remind myself of what happened. As it turns out, there is truth in what you say -- but there is also more to the details of the case that indicate that, in the end, a conviction of 'monopoly' was not the final outcome. Long story short: There was such a conviction by one judge (Judge Jackson), but Judge Jackson's rulings were overturned by a higher court (The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals). Then, later, there was a settlement of the whole case in which Microsoft proposed that it make certain changes and the Department of Justice approved.
"I could agree that this indicates that Microsoft was considered to be acting as a monopoly in certain aspects of what they were doing at that time. But if Microsoft made the changes they agreed to make in a settlement that was approved by the DOJ, then is it fair to make a statement that Microsoft is (present tense) a monopolist, with no qualifiers?"
The editor replies: "The company agreed to be monitored for ten(?) years to ensure it no longer engaged in monopolistic behavior -- instead of being broken up into three divisions. I used the 'monopolistic' word deliberately, for it was the act of integrating the Web browser into the operating system that finally caused the US DOJ to launch an investigation in Microsoft behaviour in the marketplace."
The reader responds: "I think I understand what you meant by that now. Thanks for clarifying it."
"The cloud and security are proving to be somewhat oil and water, or hear no evil, speak no evil."
upFront.eZine is published every Tuesday, except during summer and Christmas vacation. Editor: Ralph Grabowski. This newsletter is read by 11,000 subscribers in 70 countries. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org! Deadline for submissions is every Monday noon.
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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.