A Cloudy Conversation with Mike Payne

Yesterday I had an interesting exchange of emails with Mike Payne, Founder and Chairman of the Board of Directors of SpaceClaim Corporation. What started as an innocent chat quickly turned out to be quite an interesting email conversation. We were talking about CAD on the cloud and I wanted to know where he and/or SpaceClaim stood on the issue. So far, to my knowledge, only Autodesk and SolidWorks/Dassault have disclosed (to an extent) their plans for taking CAD on the cloud. A lot has been written about CAD on the cloud by the press, bloggers, analysts and end users. But I was curious to know whether other CAD vendors shared the same enthusiasm as Autodesk and SolidWorks/Dassault.

With Mike’s permission, I am sharing this private conversation with you. I had to edit out some parts of our conversation so that I make this public.

Deelip: What do you make of all this CAD on the cloud stuff? Do you or SpaceClaim have a view on this?

Mike: As usual, to quote William Shakespeare, there is much ado about nothing. Well, not quite nothing. Here are a few points about the cloud:

  1. No installation on a client computer – great, but this can be accomplished inside a company as well. The benefit of this is to not have to maintain your own computers with umpteen pieces of software. Thus the IT department will hate it.
  2. Everyone on a project can use the same version of the favorite CAD package. But who decides which version is used? Surely the customer will want to validate versions before they use. This becomes a vendor headache.
  3. It can be the same software operating in the same way. Here is where confusion comes in. There is no magic associated with the cloud.
  4. The pricing will be what the vendor decides, why would usage be any less or any more than the thick client version. There is a misconception that web == cheap. A cloud version of CATIA cheap? I would doubt it!
  5. Pricing can be by usage (gas meter) or by the month or …. But one could do this anyway.
  6. The cloud site is probably more secure and more reliable than ones in-house stuff, but will people believe that. The users of SalesForce did.

In other words, it is another delivery mechanism and maybe a cheaper solution when you fire most of the IT department.

Deelip: Interesting thoughts. Personally, I believe there are two main advantages for the vendors to take their CAD systems on to the cloud:

  1. All customers are forced onto the subscription model.
  2. Software piracy completely disappears.

As a software developer myself, I love the idea of CAD on the cloud just for those two reasons. Which software developer would not want their customers to have to continuously pay them and have zero software piracy in the bargain? In fact that is every software developer’s dream.

Mike: Four quick points:

  1. They are not forced to have a subscription model, they could have any model.
  2. Ask ADSK if piracy was a bad idea.
  3. It makes it harder for add-ons, by the way (though not impossible).
  4. There is no magic. A computer has to run some code somewhere.

Deelip: By subscription I meant every customer has to make ongoing payments to use the software, however much that may be. As opposed to sitting tight with a version years old.

In a recent TV interview Carl Bass called software piracy a double edged sword, explaining that people using pirated software end up getting trained in it, thereby making it easier for them to get legal when the circumstances present themselves.

Yeah, I am a little concerned about plug-ins. But I am pretty sure the vendors will have a nice solution for third party developers when the time comes.

About there being no magic in the cloud, one could argue that users will get access to superior computing power on powerful optimized servers. But then how many users need much more than the most powerful workstations available today. Not everybody does FEA analysis the whole day, right? Moreover the fact that the computing happens remotely leads to a whole set of different problems, which may negate the little magic that the cloud offers.

Mike: My only point really is that it was presented (by some people) as somehow everything would change. It won’t. Some companies will not like the lack of perpetual license, but why does the cloud preclude that?

Deelip: Well, at least from what one CAD vendor is saying, the cloud would eventually preclude perpetual licenses and offline software.

Mike: If they refuse, then that would be an issue. And what about the people who already bought such a license and want to use it that way? One also needs to address the “look at the stuff and work on it on the plane” issue.

Deelip: Regarding people who bought an offline version of a CAD system and want to use it that way, they will be able to. But they will be on their own because the CAD vendor will have already retired the offline version by then. The vendors will continue to provide these customers with product activations, if that is what you mean. But as regards support, I am not so sure.

  • SpaceClaim, I wish them well, but who uses it? In 12 years, 35 clients, not one person has ever said anything about SpaceClaim.

    Devon Sowell

  • To be fair, SpaceClaim is a lot less than 12 years old. 😉

    As far as who is using them, this press release (http://www2.spaceclaim.com/company/news/pressre…) may give you some idea.

    I hope they have fully recovered from their shaky start.

  • Matt Feider

    It is interesting to me that it really hasn't been highlighted that CAD in the cloud is a bit like DRM. What happens when the DRM server gets shutdown just by moving forward with the technology. I feel sorry for the many people who bought DRM'ed music from rapisody and iTunes, and look at the recent Ubisoft issue.

    How often do you have to consider now when you buy a game, how long can I actually play it? Have a atari or playstation at home. Plug it in and go for it no concern there. Think that will be true in another couple of years with any game…maybe.

    Will they figure out some kind of solution, yeah probably. But in the case of DRM the solution was pretty much to eliminate it.

  • rickmcwilliams

    The CAD on the cloud is a bad idea. It is impossible to obtain high bandwidth where I like to work. I like my desert island.

    The CAD vendors all seem to have real problems with bugs in the software that they have been selling for a long time. Users find ways to work around the bugs. The cloud would undermine these solutions by always changing and introducing new bugs. Old CAD models will not rebuild with the new bugs and features. I need to protect my CAD data. I would not put a weeks worth of work at risk on the cloud.

    If I were on the board of directors I would not be happy with this reckless risk in the business model. I am not on the board so I can only vote with my feet.

  • jimquanci

    For folks who think the cloud is a mistake…

    My teenage kids spend most of their time playing on-line “collaborative” games (yes the “C” word is overused – but it really fits here) – primarily on WOW and XBox Live. Do they still use their locally run games? Yes – but maybe 20% of the time they game locally – and 80% of the time they game on-line in collaboration with both friends and strangers.

    Is design a highly collaborative process – or a process done primarily by “loners”? I believe its both – and I would love both (as there are a number of video games that you can play against your local computer/console or -with a few clicks and an internet connection – with a group of people).

    As my kids get out into the work force, they sure aren't going to accept or tolerate software that doesn't deliver “real time teamwork” as they have been using at home for years.

    But what about where the software and data resides? Again my kids sure don't won't dependence on their laptop. They very much recognize how easy it is to play their games (and read their e-mail) from any machine anywhere (especially after their laptop dies due to picking up a virus or dumping a soda on the keyboard). They view their laptop as not much more then an interface. After my wife's laptop died a few weeks back… she had the same opinion… not wanting to be too reliant on information on her local machine that is all too easily lost.

    The majority of design today is done by people working for small companies. These are the folks that will be the early adopters of cloud based design technology… as they are the adopters of most new technology in general… not the large companies with complex processes, rules and policies. At least in my opinion… which won't buy you a cup of coffee… but will get you a free ride on the Staten Island ferry!