Paul Grayson on the Cloud

I managed to get Paul Grayson, Founder and CEO of Alibre, to go public on his views on CAD on the cloud. With his permission I am reproducing an email he sent to me a short while ago:

Hi Deelip,

I have been following all of the coverage that cloud computing has gotten lately on the blogs. I have especially enjoyed yours, Ralph’s, and Matt Lombard’s coverage. The comments have been very interesting as well.

As you know, I have a long history with “Cloud Computing” beginning with the founding of Alibre in 1997. My co-founder, Steve Emmons, and I filed for a US Patent in 1999 for an Internet / distributed computing based “System and Method for Solid Modeling”. We were granted US Patent #6,748,419 on June 8, 2004. The abstract of this patent follows:

“Modeling three-dimensional objects on a computer system via a high bandwidth distributed network, facilitating the computing of intensive computer-aided design (CAD) tasks to take place on a series of servers. A multi-tiered distributed processing architecture, which separates client user interface, multiple application servers and database servers is employed, resulting in the separation of server computing and data storage from the client control device. Computing for CAD tasks is directed to the client device or to an application server, as is appropriate for the complexity of tasks being performed.”

We began shipping Alibre Design in 2000 in which our invention was embodied and consisted of three components: a design application, a design server and a data server. The multi-tiered architecture separated the CAD application’s user interface from its core modeling engine, or design server, and data storage, facilitating the computing of intensive 3D CAD tasks on a series of servers.

Alibre Design contained a broad set of online functionality that relied on this and other Internet-centric technology including:

  1. Contact management
  2. Instant Messaging
  3. Private email
  4. Integrated online and local data sharing and management with check-in, check-out and version control
  5. Real-time collaboration including mark-up, arrow pointers, and the ability to pass control of the session to different team members
  6. Real-time team modeling, enabling design engineers, regardless of their locations, to work on the same model together

We successfully upgraded and sold Alibre Design with this technology for 8 years, but decided to begin phasing it out in 2008. Alibre Design V10 was the last version to ship with this technology. We decided to remove it because similar functionality had become pervasively available in mass market operating systems and applications. At the time only about 5% of our customer base used the online capabilities. Most customers were already using mass market chat, email, and collaboration software such as NetMeeting and GoToMeeting (both of which allow screen sharing and passing of control in applications). We decided that our customers would benefit more from a tighter focus on core features and improvements than from a continued investment in what we considered to be generic operating systems and mass-market applications technology.

SolidWorks’ recent demonstration seems to further validate this decision and confirm that even complex distributed computing capabilities will be provided via technology that applies equally to all vendors. According to Ralph Grabowski, it was OTOY technology that powered the SolidWorks-in-the-cloud demo. OTOY, along with their partner AMD, have publicly stated their desire to make this technology equally applicable to all robust graphical applications.

Dassault must have been pretty taken back by the visceral reaction that their demonstration of SolidWorks running via OTOY generated. So much has already been written that it is doubtful that I add much to it, except perhaps my observation that it was a serious strategic and tactical mistake for them to have done so. They took credit for a “Cloud Computing” breakthrough when in fact a similar demo could be given by any other CAD vendor using OTOY technology. In doing so they have frightened customers and put them on notice that Dassault is now fully in charge and what Dassault wants customers to buy is what customers will have to buy. I believe that the SolidWorks World 2010 Cloud demonstration, along with Dassault’s heavy handed control of the event, marks the end of an era of independence for SolidWorks USA and the beginning of dominance and dictation by Dassault France. This was further confirmed with your photographs showing the demonstration software to be SolidWorks V6, an apparent merger of SolidWorks and CATIA V6 code. Given Dassault’s history of releasing incompatible versions of CATIA, V5 to V6 for example, it is truly frightening to think what customers are likely to go through in attempting to migrate to a V6 based SolidWorks that also abandons the Parasolid kernel.

Based on our experience, I can tell you that mechanical design engineers are:

  1. Very conservative
  2. Late adapters of new technology
  3. Do not like change
  4. Insist on owning and controlling their software
  5. Insist on owning and controlling their data
  6. Do not trust CAD vendors, especially those that promise dramatic new technology

If in fact, the entire software business migrates to the Cloud, mechanical CAD customers will be the last ones to do so. By the time it happens, all of the technology infrastructure will be in place, and it will be easy for any software company to offer their products on the Cloud.



  • shyamalroy

    Deelip, I wholeheartedly agree with Paul. He has made the most insightful observations I have seen on this subject.

    While major CAD companies may be having a technical orgasm with “cloud computing” most mechanical engineers are conservative by nature.

    Only time will tell!

  • The “SolidWorks V6” label was apparently left in by mistake by the SW employee making the slide. OTOH, execs refused to answer questions regarding the infiltration of DS tech into SW, so may “V6” was not an error after all!

  • I'm eagerly awaiting an update by Paul to the Alibre blog reiterating these comments.

    I know from the general buzz in the Solid Edge user community that very few vocal users are hyped about the cloud. Most stand firm that “upgrading” to the cloud platform will not happen. Some, if not many by my unscientific count, will even change vendors in order to avoid the cloud.

    I think there are too many unanswered questions to: privacy, security, stability, etc. that need to be resolved for MCAD users adopt cloud computing. I would guess that adoption is decades away and with the speed of technology, the next best thing may be invented before cloud computing is accepted as mainstream.

  • I wrote in another blog about how it was interesting CAD/Business software is often compared with consumables good and how incorrect, and far from the truth, this comparison is; so it is with the generalization often applied to groups of people.
    For all his adventurous and ‘ground braking’ background maybe Paul would like to rethink his points and final comment, distilling them down to a more sensible and realistic view.
    Paul said;
    “Based on our experience, I can tell you that mechanical design engineers are:
    1. Very conservative
    2. Late adapters of new technology
    3. Do not like change
    4. Insist on owning and controlling their software
    5. Insist on owning and controlling their data
    6. Do not trust CAD vendors, especially those that promise dramatic new technology”
    Tell me what might be tragically wrong, backward – or more importantly incorrect, if a design/engineering person has these traits.
    Late adapters/adopters – for heavens sake guys get with it; designers are never ‘late’. Designers and draftys are constantly looking into new ‘things/processes’ etc. and improving those that already exist. So, some use new things later than others, so what? When I was on the ‘board’ I owned and used drawing instruments that some draughtsmen have gone thru’ their entire career not owning – but it did/does not diminish their skill or output and they were not criticized either.
    Who does like change – Paul. What does that mean anyway?
    Owning is personal, but has many advantages and disadvantages: but control is imperative in many instances. Particularly when vendors are not fully transparent in their dealings and choose not to discuss – openly- issue on licencing and still want to have THEIR controls in place. One set of rules for us and another for you eh?
    Our data is our data!. Problem: our intellectual property is ‘hidden’ in your intellectual property. We only continue to get access to ours for as long as your give us access to yours. Want to TALK ABOUT CONTOL?
    About transparency: Alibre answered a number of questions for me relating to product etc. But they have NEVER answered the questions I asked relating to their licencing! Again who’s into CONTROL?

    And so to TRUST: don’t answer questions relating to issues that are important for customers to know to make sensible business decisions. Make statements that are false and misleading about productivity and usability etc, etc etc. Consider ‘bugs’ are apart of life and we should get used to it; but if the wheels fell off your car, then that would be a problem. Faulty fancy phones would be a problem to a software vendor; but the same ‘person’ does not pass a second thought about the amount of money their faulty software ‘steals’ for their customers! Show us WHY WE SHOULD TRUST a software vendor.
    Software developers can be likened to little boys eating sherbet: you write a piece of code and get instant gratification; the fizz soon passes and you’re on to the next thing, the next fizz. But for many of us we spend long hours, months and years bringing products, machinery and production lines to life and it is both enjoyable and satisfying – but we have to be patient and diligent and keep our focus over long periods, and when we have finished one we more on to the next – better – one; sometime years after starting the first.
    So we do know something about the ‘development of things’, actually. Constantly look at and use ‘new’ and, understand the value in having stable and reliable development tools in preference to flakey fashion items!
    So next time you want to take a generalized swipe at CAD users just remember there is not a single thing a software developer uses, owns or travels in that has not had considerable input by your ‘customers’. CAD software developers seem to think they are the only people who actually understand design and documentations; they have forgotten that we are the guys that make it possible for them to have their daily FIZZ.
    Learn to be satisfied and know when you on a good thing!

  • matt

    CAD is a TOOL. We use tools to create. The user of the tool should specify its parameters. CAD needs to improve, yes, but does running it across the web really improve it? No. Does random change improve it? Probably not. It is a TOOL. You use tools to create other stuff.

    A change that primarily benefits the maker of the tool does not make the tool itself more attractive to users. CAD companies have apparently mistaken CAD users for bulemic models on a runway in Paris. We will NOT wear any trussed up thing that you put in front of us. We are smart enough to understand the difference between practicality and hype. Maybe the reason engineers are slow to change is that of all things, we are practical people, and a change must prove practical rather than just shiny.

    Cloud will work for some percentage of people involved in product design, but my guess is that it will not work for the majority.

  • I have to admit, I'm baffled at the strong push back people have to this “cloud” concept. I was at SWWorld and was probably one of the few people that can look through the conspiracy theory of big bad DS pushing the cloud in my face for their own profit and see it for what its worth- a modern day, way of getting my job done a million light years faster than what I have seen 100s of engineers struggling with because they are stuck in a cave.

    I applaud SW for ballsing up and showing some CONCEPTUAL FUTURISTIC ways they COULD take the technology. What do they get for finally opening up and letting the world into their secret society? Grief!

    I'm a mad proponent of the cloud, whatever that means. Do I want to drive my MCAD system 9hours a day connected to the internet? Not sure- would depend on the performance and a 1000 other things. Those things need to be worked out before it will become a reality.

    But do I sit in my office today and have a need/want to not have my data sitting on my laptop because I want to do an FEA simulation or maybe share the model with a colleague that is remote or open a collaborative session to discuss some design challenge or shoot a link to a vendor and not have to upload/download in an ftp nightmare. YES! to all of the above and a million other things that a web enabled environment allows me to do.

    Come on, guys, look outside of your dark cube, there is an entire world out there that is flying by you. Today's mechanical engineers may be conservative, but tomorrow's engineering “kids” won't know any different than to expect their world to live in the clouds- at least to some extent!

  • Name

    I fully agree

  • dmckee101

    R.Paul – “Late adapters of new technology”? I'm not and you're not, but you can't deny Paul's observation of his own data. I mean what could be more empirical? His unique position to witness users' use of new technology do give his “opinion” some weight.

  • matt

    I think your characterization of people who are reluctant to depend on the web to deliver CAD tools as backwards is incorrect. I think you need to use a little imagination and be able to think about life outside of your corner of the world.

    I use “the cloud” for many things. I'm a blogger, and that is fully a cloud function. Most of my banking is online. I use some PC utilities on line.

    On the other hand, I've made a conscious choice NOT to do some activities online, like my email. Email is vulnerable enough without leaving it online. Plus, when I use it online, I don't have the choice of what tool I use to read/search/sort it. And if I get email from different sources, I have to use different tools, and I don't see any advantage in any of that. When I travel, I use web mail, and I find it cumbersome and lacking in functionality.

    FEA is one of those areas that stands to benefit from distributed computing, which stands to benefit from the cloud. It's easy to see where your niche might benefit, but you can't assume everyone is in the same situation as you. I did at least close my previous comment with the realization that some people are going to find this useful, but not everyone, and not by a long shot. Get out to user groups and talk to real users without giving your opinion first, and you will find a new world open up to you. People will not avoid CAD in the cloud because they are backwards, they will avoid it because of practical reasons. Do you have any idea how many people do work where they are by law and/or by contract they are not allowed to put data outside of a secure network? Local server farms will work for them, and I fully support that kind of thing, it remains to be seen if that is part of the plan from DS. To me, that would solve the entire issue.

    But why would you depend on the web to deliver that kind of application unless you had to? You give up all control, with no real way to guarantee anything.

    Anyway, you might consider painting people and situations somewhat less broadly.

  • dmckee101: “His [Paul Grayson's] unique position to witness users' use of new technology does give his “opinion” some weight.”

    And that is precisely the reason why I asked him and other captains of industry to comment on the cloud issue. These people will ultimately decide what software we use and in what form.

  • daveault

    Very happy to see this public opinion by an industry leader and I would like to see a statement by an officer with SE regarding this also. I am totaly baffled by those few who see an advantage for cad on the web. The insurmountable problems from communication bottlenecks to security and data ownership etc etc etc etc should have brought a halt to this before this ugly creature was ever shown to the public..

    What can this cloud possibly offer me anyway? With the advance of powerfull, personal and CHEAP computing power and dramatic improvements around the corner what more could I need?

    Lost the PC in my shop last week. I need it to do cam, various cad changes and dnc code to the mill. So I dig the old Dell Dimension 8200 out that has my old but still valid programs on it and go. I archive all the time so I never lose much work related files when these problems happen. But you see I owned all this and it was in my total control and it had a predictable and ASSURED outcome. I did not have to rely for one second on a penny pinching, truth of what we can actualy deliver distorting CAD CEO.

    The astounding thing here was that the 8200 when I bought it as a refurb was a little over $1,500.00, just like the 490 was 8 years later. So even thinking of the nonsense of savings to me by reduced computing needs touted by cloud advocates makes me laugh.

    It was an eye opener to as to the speed of todays workstations to the pc's of the recent past. It took about 8 minutes for each rampdown cam plan to finish with the Dell 8200. It takes my Dell Precision 490 about 12 seconds. With the newer CPU's out there I literally have all the power I need. And independence and security and longevity and cheaper operating bugets and on and on.

    So I ask once again, what can there possibly be for me that I NEED on the cloud? This is nothing more than trying to stroke the income levels of SWDS in a forcible and permanent way with the benefits acruing to anyone but the end users. DOT COM bubble hype V2 coming to a theatre near you if you care to buy a ticket. Or you could buy a DVD from another company and replay your movie over and over. I know where I will be.

  • “These people will ultimately decide what software we use and in what form.” ??????????

  • Sorry. That came out wrong. I meant these people will decide how their software (that we use) looks and works and in what form it is delivered (permanent license, cloud, rented, etc.)