Cumulus Computing

Solidworks’ recent tech preview of a future, possible, cloud-based 3D design solution sparked a wave of controversy within the CAD ranks. I was surprised at the sharply negative response from many bloggers, twits, and commentors. My cloud guru, Derek Cooper, points out that most of these people are using cloud based solutions already and just don’t realize it. Anyone using Gmail or Yahoo Mail, for example?

Years ago, I had a hand in helping to move a sales organization from an old-school CRM tool, Goldmine, to a cloud-based beauty, Not everyone wanted to make the move. There were knee-jerk reactions like:

“Yeah, but what if I need my data in an airplane?!?”
“Yeah, but what if the internet goes out?!?”
“Yeah, but what if someone else screws up the data for my account?!?”
“Yeah, but you’re letting some other company control your data?!?”
“Yeah, didn’t Nostradamus predict this to be an end-of-days harbinger?!?”

I don’t think such a move would be so shocking these days. The proliferation of cloud-based applications in use have made the idea comfortable for most folks. So, again, I’m surprised at the outpouring of negativity towards the idea of cloud-based 3D applications.

Maybe if folks explored the many cloud-based tools out there, they’d start to reach the comfort level I have. I guess I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t really care if it’s cloud based or not. I just want it to work quickly and efficiently. If it has some of the advantages inherent with cloud-based technology, even better. Here are some of my favorites:


Spreadsheets, Wordprocessing, etc



Image Editing

Audio Editing

I’m pretty well convinced that any terra-firma-based application you use today has (or will shortly have) a cloud-based alternative. The Aviary and Myna tools above showcase how even processor-intensive, multimedia apps are moving into the cloud.

What are your favorite cloud-based tools out there?
Please comment below on apps for any use or from any category.



  1. good stuff here I've been more than a bit vocal about how I feel on the topic.. clearly need more yoga 🙂 the line that punched me in the face (in a good way) was “..I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t really care if it’s cloud based or not. I just want it to work quickly and efficiently”Couldn't agree more. Call it what you want, I just want results!!!!

  2. You fail to make a real case. Why would you want to put CAD in the cloud? There are a couple of valid reasons, for example for access when you don't have a real workstation, for collaboration with people who don't have CAD, share data with off-site users. Take advantage of distributed server farm operations, expand or reduce licenses quickly…But there are also valid reasons for needing control: low internet connectivity, higher cost for unlimited usage, lack of real security, government contractors who are not allowed to be cavalier with security, the need to use add-ins that are not part of the particular server farm you might use for other applications, (how will you use Microsoft Excel design tables in the cloud? is that licensed separately from MS? is it extra? can you use that Excel for other stuff?)Anyway, I think some companies will need to completely ignore the cloud, and others may be able to fully embrace it. I don't believe that any CAD company will be able to force 100% of their users to it unless that is their only business model and their entire product offering is cloud-based. Of the examples you cite, all of the paid applications are the ones that really make sense to use in the cloud (, and all of the free ones are just utilities for individual users paid for by advertising. You don't give any parallel to CAD. CAD in the cloud mainly makes the most sense for vendors. Much less so for users. Distribution and piracy problems are completely solved, and some tech support burden is reduced. I think it will end up being too expensive for full time CAD users to go cloud full time. Cloud will wind up being a premium niche for convenience.

  3. I've been mostly quiet about expressing an opinion with the cloud technology. I agree it has proven itself in a lot of area already and some of those example above are great (thinks for taking the time to find and link to them). I'd also agree it has the potential to solve a lot of problems that show up in PLM.Still, there is a lot of complexity in CAD/CAM/CAE/PDM that make me cautious. The graphics, the file sizes, the need for fast response, the business needs (like security) all create some obstacles.

  4. Thanks Matt. I was making a point rather than a case. I think my biggest point is simply that if it works quickly and efficiently, I've moved beyond caring if it's cloud-based or not. The lines are blurring so much between the two that I think we'll soon be at a place where you won't immediately be able to tell the difference (with the exception that there's a browser window around it).Security-wise, I believe that there are plenty of companies out there who see customer data as just as important (if not moreso) than CAD data. If, Netsuite, and the like have satisfied those security concerns for such companies, I have to believe this will be easy enough for web-based CAD.In terms of add-ins, I'd point to what's happening with Google Docs and Zoho. If there's a need for integration, it can be developed. Look at all the cross pollination going on (even between those two suites). Not sure I get your point there.It's sounds a little strange to assume the vendors are interested in this for evil reasons. Yeah, there's benefit to the vendors… but I think there are plenty more benefits to the customer. Some you mentioned at the top. How about we add on instant data backup, radically reduced IT and hardware costs, ability to work anywhere anytime, higher quality tech support (“mr. customer, can you allow me to share your session and work through this problem with you?”).The only thing holding this back in my mind for CAD is bandwidth. The US is far behind other parts of the world in terms of internet speeds, and Japanese speeds still probably aren't even fast enough for real-time interaction with complex 3D models. But, Mohr's Law…

  5. Agreed– graphics and files sizes with CAD/CAM/CAE will require much faster internet speeds. I think those fat pipes are coming.

  6. This is a very funny topic and one people have strong feelings about yet they do not understand it. The first thing that seems interesting to me is that SAAS and Cloud have somehow become the same thing to people, yet they are not. The next is how strongly negative people are yet they do online banking and use gmail. And to top it off one of my customers asked their customer to use Vuuch and were told they could not becuase they did not trust these cloud solutions (the customer saying we cannot do this is using ARENA PLM and has my customer checking desingns into ARENA).Today Vuuch is SAAS, not cloud.Below Derrek points out a very powerful element – “I wnat it to work”!

  7. Be leery of linear thinking…

  8. Thanks Chris. Why do you think people in design/engineering are so threatened by cloud/saas? Could you describe the difference between SAAS and Cloud in 1 sentence?

  9. Not sure why there is such a reaction. I guess fear. But don't forget the status quo is comfortable and in general people hate change. Look at the beginning of parametric feature based CAD and you will find that a majority said it was cool but they could never switch. Control of the compute resources.