SolidWorks As A Service – Jon Hirschtick

A reader commented on Part 1 of my SolidWorks As A Service series suggesting that I talk to Jon Hirschtick, a man with one of the most impressive titles that I have ever met – Co-Founder, Board Member and Group Executive at SolidWorks Corporation. He mentioned that Jon spoke of looking into SaaS at SolidWorks World 2009 during his keynote. I found this to be excellent advice and sent Jon an email. I asked him to take a look at my series when he found the time and let me know how far I was from the truth, especially since my earlier quest to find out what SaaS at SolidWorks really meant landed me with PR people who ended up giving me no useful information whatsoever.

Jon’s “quick reaction” was that I was over-reacting and was being a little short-sighted and narrow-minded. However, he went on to say:

But, I HAVE NO IDEA WHEN OR WHETHER CAD WILL MOVE TO SAAS/CLOUD. REALLY. I like to talk about the potential of “CAD in the Cloud” because I think it is interesting. And I get paid to think about new, interesting, and usually crazy concepts. But CAD, and SolidWorks in particular, is an installed app business and that is likely not to change for a long while. However SaaS/Cloud CAD is much more interesting than you think.  I have presented my thoughts on this publicly (including last year’s SolidWorks World).

Jon has promised to send me a more detailed response later when he gets the chance. And I definitely look forward to it.

Here is the thing. I use this blog to write my thoughts. I call things as I see them. At times I get it right, others I get it wrong. And quite frankly I don’t care which way it goes. The point is to encourage discussion and debate, the outcome of which is always something good. In fact Jon started out his reply to me by saying:

Thanks for writing and thinking and stimulating discussion about yet another interesting topic for the CAD industry.

I wish SolidWorks PR would not be so paranoid about disclosing information that helps in better understanding the statements that their own executives make. It really goes to serve no purpose other than confusing their users and everybody else.

  • Dave Ault

    Jon is right about the cloud being primarily of academic interest only and for a ton of reasons. http://blogs.zdnet.com/perlow/?p=11306
    This link will take you to a current example of how wonderfull the cloud is and will be for the rest of my life I am sure and I am 56. It appeals to those who like to disseminate buzzwords as a sign of being cutting edge and tech savy but in reality it is more dot com type hype looking for cash cows.

  • Dave Ault

    Jon is right about the cloud being primarily of academic interest only and for a ton of reasons. http://blogs.zdnet.com/perlow/?p=11306
    This link will take you to a current example of how wonderfull the cloud is and will be for the rest of my life I am sure and I am 56. It appeals to those who like to disseminate buzzwords as a sign of being cutting edge and tech savy but in reality it is more dot com type hype looking for cash cows.

  • Karldino

    Dear Deelip. i’ve encountered this website: ” http://www.zwcadclub.com ” so called zwcad club. and i noticed that it cited some of your articles in its blog. thus i was wondering if the professional CAD bloggers like you would approve this citation.

  • Karldino

    Dear Deelip. i’ve encountered this website: ” http://www.zwcadclub.com ” so called zwcad club. and i noticed that it cited some of your articles in its blog. thus i was wondering if the professional CAD bloggers like you would approve this citation.

  • Karldino,

    Thanks for the link. I see that they not simply linking to my RSS feed, but are re-posting my articles. Some consider re-posting offensive, even if you give adequate credit to the original author and make it clear to your readers that the content is not original. Actually I am not sure where I stand on this. However, it would have been nice if they asked me before re-posting though.

    I see that the first re-post (“IntelliCAD 7.0 Released”) made no mention of the original author but subsequent re-posts do. I think their intention is good.

    I appreciate you bringing this to my notice. I actually chuckled when you referred to me as a “professional CAD blogger”, because by that logic I should have been making money off this thing. Till date that has not happened. But neither am I working towards it.

    This blog is actually a hobby that has gone way out of hand 😉

  • Karldino,

    Thanks for the link. I see that they not simply linking to my RSS feed, but are re-posting my articles. Some consider re-posting offensive, even if you give adequate credit to the original author and make it clear to your readers that the content is not original. Actually I am not sure where I stand on this. However, it would have been nice if they asked me before re-posting though.

    I see that the first re-post (“IntelliCAD 7.0 Released”) made no mention of the original author but subsequent re-posts do. I think their intention is good.

    I appreciate you bringing this to my notice. I actually chuckled when you referred to me as a “professional CAD blogger”, because by that logic I should have been making money off this thing. Till date that has not happened. But neither am I working towards it.

    This blog is actually a hobby that has gone way out of hand 😉

  • Neil

    Not to be unkind but I think Jon lost sight of the big picture some while ago so I wouldnt pay too much attention to what he thinks and says.

    It is definitely a nuts idea and it shows just how far SW has decayed since the corporate mentality set in that they would seriously evaluate it.

    Further I strongly disapprove of subs $ being used to sponsor this silly pursuit.

    There are things that SW really do need to do but gazing at clouds is not one of them.

  • Neil

    Not to be unkind but I think Jon lost sight of the big picture some while ago so I wouldnt pay too much attention to what he thinks and says.

    It is definitely a nuts idea and it shows just how far SW has decayed since the corporate mentality set in that they would seriously evaluate it.

    Further I strongly disapprove of subs $ being used to sponsor this silly pursuit.

    There are things that SW really do need to do but gazing at clouds is not one of them.

  • To be truthfull I do not know if this idea of SolidWorks as a service is nut. But I would like to point to you that I once heard an IBM employee saying that he could not see why anybody would ever want more than 16 mBytes on a pc. that was when they came up with the ps2.

    Now nobody would want to try working on a ps2. Only the future will tell if the idea of “CAD in the cloud” is crazy!

  • To be truthfull I do not know if this idea of SolidWorks as a service is nut. But I would like to point to you that I once heard an IBM employee saying that he could not see why anybody would ever want more than 16 mBytes on a pc. that was when they came up with the ps2.

    Now nobody would want to try working on a ps2. Only the future will tell if the idea of “CAD in the cloud” is crazy!

  • The idea of an application like SolidWorks working in the cloud is nuts in the present day and the near future. The far future is anybody’s guess.

  • The idea of an application like SolidWorks working in the cloud is nuts in the present day and the near future. The far future is anybody’s guess.

  • Deelip I have a lot of respect for you but you are all wrong about SaaS for CAD. Please use some imagination and vision for all the good this could mean for the customer. Here are a few rebuttals to the arguments you make. Quote me on anything you like.

    Please remember that I DO NOT KNOW IF OR WHEN CAD WILL EVER BE ABLE TO RUN AS SAAS / Cloud. But what I ask is that you DON”T RULE SAAS OUT, and that you apply your considerable talents to envisioning the future creatively, with customer benefit in mind.

    1) You rule out running CAD on a Server Farm. It is absolutely possible. Sure not in the narrow-minded way that you are talking about (i.e. thousands of SolidWorks sessions running in the cloud — are you kidding?). Instead think about a modern, multi-user architecture.

    Think SalesForce.com, or Google Apps. I know, those are much simpler applications. That’s what people said about Windows applications when I was proposing SolidWorks…”Windows is ok for simple apps but you could never run something like a 3D CAD system on it”. Now you and others say that about SaaS. Open your eyes and imagine building a CAD app specifically to run in the cloud.

    2) You talk about bandwidth/availability of Internet connections. Where I live Internet is more reliable than electricity. Also if reliability is that important you can buy redundant broadband connections for small money (i.e. subscribe to 2 different ISP’s). And in the case of a hardware crash, or you-spill-coffee-on-your-laptop-keyboard sort of problem…in the installed apps world it’s time to build a new PC — ugh. In the SaaS world it’s move over to any other PC and you are up-and-running right where you left off.

    There is no way you can convince me that you will have more downtime overall with SaaS, whatever Internet reliability you believe, than with installed applications.

    3) You talk about security. Please get real here. Do you really believe your data is safer on your own servers than in the cloud? Come on. Your own machines are getting attacked by viruses all the time. Can you defend servers as well as Amazon or Google?

    The big data security risk is employees, suppliers and other authorized users illicitly copying information. With installed apps on PCs and laptops that is very hard, virtually impossible to prevent. With SaaS, data always stays on the cloud so you never really have a copy in the average employee or supplier’s hands — much safer.

    Deelip I think you should keep your money under your mattress instead of a bank, because after all banks get robbed but you can protect your assets better right? 🙂

    4) Yes the Microsoft/Danger data loss story is scaring everyone. But I would argue there would have been much greater overall data loss in the same set of users if the users were responsible for their own backup plans. The fact that there are so FEW data loss stories in hosted apps tells me that it’s a better bet.

    And a thoughtful hosted app allows for getting backup copies of data on tapes or external hard disks (Amazon cloud services now offers that option by the way). So you compulsive have-the-data-in-my-hand types can still be accomodated.

    5) Data Exchange. Deelip think for a minute please: you would need a whole lot less data exchange in this world if the data was available to anyone, anywhere via a web browser. That would eliminate a whole bunch of data exchange need right off the bat.

    In the case that data needs to be translated and sent via files, it should work as well or better than existing installed software.

    6) Third-party Apps. Deelip please think of the user here. Wouldn’t they enjoy being able to try apps more easily, with a standardized uniform licensing system? Without the need for multiple installs and licensing.

    Think iPhone App Store for CAD. Or SaleForce.com AppExchange (take a look!). Sure it may not be exactly how you, the old-fashioned app developer, wants to do things. But it would be great for users huh?

    Bottom-line: be a little bit of a visionary and not so short-sighted. Not something that will happen tomorrow, but it would be irresponsible not be looking at cloud/SaaS for CAD.

    Keep up the great blog!

    – Jon

  • Deelip I have a lot of respect for you but you are all wrong about SaaS for CAD. Please use some imagination and vision for all the good this could mean for the customer. Here are a few rebuttals to the arguments you make. Quote me on anything you like.

    Please remember that I DO NOT KNOW IF OR WHEN CAD WILL EVER BE ABLE TO RUN AS SAAS / Cloud. But what I ask is that you DON”T RULE SAAS OUT, and that you apply your considerable talents to envisioning the future creatively, with customer benefit in mind.

    1) You rule out running CAD on a Server Farm. It is absolutely possible. Sure not in the narrow-minded way that you are talking about (i.e. thousands of SolidWorks sessions running in the cloud — are you kidding?). Instead think about a modern, multi-user architecture.

    Think SalesForce.com, or Google Apps. I know, those are much simpler applications. That’s what people said about Windows applications when I was proposing SolidWorks…”Windows is ok for simple apps but you could never run something like a 3D CAD system on it”. Now you and others say that about SaaS. Open your eyes and imagine building a CAD app specifically to run in the cloud.

    2) You talk about bandwidth/availability of Internet connections. Where I live Internet is more reliable than electricity. Also if reliability is that important you can buy redundant broadband connections for small money (i.e. subscribe to 2 different ISP’s). And in the case of a hardware crash, or you-spill-coffee-on-your-laptop-keyboard sort of problem…in the installed apps world it’s time to build a new PC — ugh. In the SaaS world it’s move over to any other PC and you are up-and-running right where you left off.

    There is no way you can convince me that you will have more downtime overall with SaaS, whatever Internet reliability you believe, than with installed applications.

    3) You talk about security. Please get real here. Do you really believe your data is safer on your own servers than in the cloud? Come on. Your own machines are getting attacked by viruses all the time. Can you defend servers as well as Amazon or Google?

    The big data security risk is employees, suppliers and other authorized users illicitly copying information. With installed apps on PCs and laptops that is very hard, virtually impossible to prevent. With SaaS, data always stays on the cloud so you never really have a copy in the average employee or supplier’s hands — much safer.

    Deelip I think you should keep your money under your mattress instead of a bank, because after all banks get robbed but you can protect your assets better right? 🙂

    4) Yes the Microsoft/Danger data loss story is scaring everyone. But I would argue there would have been much greater overall data loss in the same set of users if the users were responsible for their own backup plans. The fact that there are so FEW data loss stories in hosted apps tells me that it’s a better bet.

    And a thoughtful hosted app allows for getting backup copies of data on tapes or external hard disks (Amazon cloud services now offers that option by the way). So you compulsive have-the-data-in-my-hand types can still be accomodated.

    5) Data Exchange. Deelip think for a minute please: you would need a whole lot less data exchange in this world if the data was available to anyone, anywhere via a web browser. That would eliminate a whole bunch of data exchange need right off the bat.

    In the case that data needs to be translated and sent via files, it should work as well or better than existing installed software.

    6) Third-party Apps. Deelip please think of the user here. Wouldn’t they enjoy being able to try apps more easily, with a standardized uniform licensing system? Without the need for multiple installs and licensing.

    Think iPhone App Store for CAD. Or SaleForce.com AppExchange (take a look!). Sure it may not be exactly how you, the old-fashioned app developer, wants to do things. But it would be great for users huh?

    Bottom-line: be a little bit of a visionary and not so short-sighted. Not something that will happen tomorrow, but it would be irresponsible not be looking at cloud/SaaS for CAD.

    Keep up the great blog!

    – Jon

  • Dave Ault

    John,
    With all due respect for your involvement in the cad industry and your recognition of current problems as a cad user there is a MAJOR issue that you have not addressed here and it is one of the biggest reasons besides security in my opinion that would prevent anyone like me from even considering this concept.
    Lets say that I reach a point in time where I do not need any further capabilities from my cad program. Now since I have a perpetual license for this I can use it til I die if I choose to and pay no further fees to anyone. Yes I know the OS support can go away but for the capabilities I NEED I can run on XP Pro and my permanant cad licenses for the next 10 or 15 years which will be the end of my working carreer if I choose to.

    But I OWN all my data and it is here in my factory where I don’t have to pay anyone to use it nor can I be shut off from using it.

    Cloud stuff is great for you guys who want to make money off of us by locking us into perpetual yearly fees and it is why it is touted so much. But the bottom line is that once you switch to a program that behaves in this fashion you can never leave as you won’t have the full standalone on your PC application any more and critical data is held hostage by the company who sold this cloud stuff to you.

    I will not ever be on the cloud for security reasons alone as all the nice promises aside the EULAS you guys will make us sign will guarantee you are held blameless when data problems happen. And why in the world would I want to pay you anually for something I can own in perpetuity with TOTAL security?

    Keep your cloud and touch sreens this dinosaur has no interest in either and neither does any other cad user I personaly know or correspond with.

  • Dave Ault

    John,
    With all due respect for your involvement in the cad industry and your recognition of current problems as a cad user there is a MAJOR issue that you have not addressed here and it is one of the biggest reasons besides security in my opinion that would prevent anyone like me from even considering this concept.
    Lets say that I reach a point in time where I do not need any further capabilities from my cad program. Now since I have a perpetual license for this I can use it til I die if I choose to and pay no further fees to anyone. Yes I know the OS support can go away but for the capabilities I NEED I can run on XP Pro and my permanant cad licenses for the next 10 or 15 years which will be the end of my working carreer if I choose to.

    But I OWN all my data and it is here in my factory where I don’t have to pay anyone to use it nor can I be shut off from using it.

    Cloud stuff is great for you guys who want to make money off of us by locking us into perpetual yearly fees and it is why it is touted so much. But the bottom line is that once you switch to a program that behaves in this fashion you can never leave as you won’t have the full standalone on your PC application any more and critical data is held hostage by the company who sold this cloud stuff to you.

    I will not ever be on the cloud for security reasons alone as all the nice promises aside the EULAS you guys will make us sign will guarantee you are held blameless when data problems happen. And why in the world would I want to pay you anually for something I can own in perpetuity with TOTAL security?

    Keep your cloud and touch sreens this dinosaur has no interest in either and neither does any other cad user I personaly know or correspond with.

  • Dave Ault

    One other thing about security. Northrup Grumman recently was involved in serious security breaches with the JSF-35 fighter program. This happened on, drum roll please, the secure web. The military at this time states that the only secure network is the one that does not go online on the WWW which you propose to use for the cloud. Assuming as you say that the people working there are not the hazard to the data the only sure cure for data security is don’t go online with it. Period. And the computer that utilizes it does not either.

  • Dave Ault

    One other thing about security. Northrup Grumman recently was involved in serious security breaches with the JSF-35 fighter program. This happened on, drum roll please, the secure web. The military at this time states that the only secure network is the one that does not go online on the WWW which you propose to use for the cloud. Assuming as you say that the people working there are not the hazard to the data the only sure cure for data security is don’t go online with it. Period. And the computer that utilizes it does not either.

  • R. Paul Waddington

    Jon said,

    “3) You talk about security. Please get real here. Do you really believe your data is safer on your own servers than in the cloud? Come on. Your own machines are getting attacked by viruses all the time. Can you defend servers as well as Amazon or Google?

    The big data security risk is employees, suppliers and other authorized users illicitly copying information. With installed apps on PCs and laptops that is very hard, virtually impossible to prevent. With SaaS, data always stays on the cloud so you never really have a copy in the average employee or supplier’s hands — much safer.”

    What rubbish Jon, but I must also say thank you; and the reason is simple.

    In my efforts relating to, and, challenging software licencing and the use of embedded Trojan software in CAD products. It is often difficult to get the authorities and regulators to accept that there exist security issues with software from legitimate software developers.

    What you have said, of course, supports my argument and goes absolutely no further in convincing users software companies software in the cloud is a preferable method of protecting intellectual property.

    Jon, you might say the things you do but, I’ll wager, pushed you would/could not support what you say at a personal level!

  • R. Paul Waddington

    Jon said,

    “3) You talk about security. Please get real here. Do you really believe your data is safer on your own servers than in the cloud? Come on. Your own machines are getting attacked by viruses all the time. Can you defend servers as well as Amazon or Google?

    The big data security risk is employees, suppliers and other authorized users illicitly copying information. With installed apps on PCs and laptops that is very hard, virtually impossible to prevent. With SaaS, data always stays on the cloud so you never really have a copy in the average employee or supplier’s hands — much safer.”

    What rubbish Jon, but I must also say thank you; and the reason is simple.

    In my efforts relating to, and, challenging software licencing and the use of embedded Trojan software in CAD products. It is often difficult to get the authorities and regulators to accept that there exist security issues with software from legitimate software developers.

    What you have said, of course, supports my argument and goes absolutely no further in convincing users software companies software in the cloud is a preferable method of protecting intellectual property.

    Jon, you might say the things you do but, I’ll wager, pushed you would/could not support what you say at a personal level!

  • Jon,

    Great to have you back.

    In Part 5 of my SaaS series I wrote “With the current and forseeable state of hardware and internet connectivty, the applications that I feel can be offerred under SaaS are things like lightweight business applications.” The key phrase here is “current and forseeable”. I doubt anyone is saying that SolidWorks as a service is impossible in the far future.

    I am curious to know what you mean by “modern, multi-user architecture”. If SolidWorks is not going to run on a server farm or a bunch of server farms that serve all the users in the world, then exactly how is it going to be offered as a service?

    Regarding the issues of bandwidth/availability of internet, I agree with you. Things may be rosy on your side of the planet, but definitely not mine. But that will change in time.

    Here is something you may find interesting. Dave Ault mentioned it as well in his comment as well. Recently we changed the licensing mechanism at SYCODE. Now every new user of our software needs to be connected to the internet the first time to get a trial key. Something like activation. Once he gets the key he can continue to work offline. We are actually surprised to see how many people have their computers that run their CAD systems disconnected from the internet. There are a few people whose internet connection gave way at the time when they needed it most, but they are the exception. The bulk of these “disconnected” users are employees of large corporates for whom internet infrastructure is the least of their problems. They are sitting pretty with many redundant connections using “fat pipes” to connect to the internet. In fact, these are the guys that are closest to SaaS when it comes to the technology. Yet, their company rules forbid them from connecting any computer to the internet which contains their sensitive CAD data. I get the feeling that convincing individuals, professionals and small companies to move to the cloud will be far easier convincing these “large accounts”. The “compulsive have-the-data-in-my-hand types” are not the problem. The compulsive “don’t-let-anyone-else-have-my-data” types are. There is a difference in the two.

    Regarding employees and suppliers being security risks, here is something to think about. I have agreements signed with all my employees and suppliers. If they screw around I can haul them up in a court in my city and get an injunction the same day. How do I haul up SolidWorks in a Boston court by sitting here in India? Of course, I can. But you surely are aware of the implications and complications of doing so.

    Another thing. I have carefully worded the agreements with my employees and suppliers to safeguard my interests first. Is SolidWorks going to allow me to write up my SaaS agreement with them to safe guard my interests first? Or will I need to sign something that has all kinds of disclaimers and indemnities favoring SolidWorks?

    About the issue of data exchange, the availability of data is not the problem. Rather the problem is the proprietary file format that it resides in. If a SolidWorks user wants to read in a CATIA file, I don’t see how the cloud is going to help him do it. Especially when it could have been easily done years ago and nothing has been done about it yet.

    As regards a standardized licensing system for third party applications, I agree with you. That seems to be more like a logistical problem for SolidWorks and add-in developers. But there is a much larger issue. That about the thousands and thousands of custom add-ins, scripts, utilities, etc. written by customers themselves. When SolidWorks does run on the cloud, all these utilities would need to sit along side SolidWorks. Again, I am not saying that is is impossible. I am just saying that at the current time and the forseeable future, the idea is nuts.

    I would like to end by saying that the source of innovation is people like you who think out of the box. Just that when people say things like SolidWorks as a Service “is coming” and do not say “when”, people start to get all sorts of ideas. And that’s probably a good time to get a reality check.

  • Jon,

    Great to have you back.

    In Part 5 of my SaaS series I wrote “With the current and forseeable state of hardware and internet connectivty, the applications that I feel can be offerred under SaaS are things like lightweight business applications.” The key phrase here is “current and forseeable”. I doubt anyone is saying that SolidWorks as a service is impossible in the far future.

    I am curious to know what you mean by “modern, multi-user architecture”. If SolidWorks is not going to run on a server farm or a bunch of server farms that serve all the users in the world, then exactly how is it going to be offered as a service?

    Regarding the issues of bandwidth/availability of internet, I agree with you. Things may be rosy on your side of the planet, but definitely not mine. But that will change in time.

    Here is something you may find interesting. Dave Ault mentioned it as well in his comment as well. Recently we changed the licensing mechanism at SYCODE. Now every new user of our software needs to be connected to the internet the first time to get a trial key. Something like activation. Once he gets the key he can continue to work offline. We are actually surprised to see how many people have their computers that run their CAD systems disconnected from the internet. There are a few people whose internet connection gave way at the time when they needed it most, but they are the exception. The bulk of these “disconnected” users are employees of large corporates for whom internet infrastructure is the least of their problems. They are sitting pretty with many redundant connections using “fat pipes” to connect to the internet. In fact, these are the guys that are closest to SaaS when it comes to the technology. Yet, their company rules forbid them from connecting any computer to the internet which contains their sensitive CAD data. I get the feeling that convincing individuals, professionals and small companies to move to the cloud will be far easier convincing these “large accounts”. The “compulsive have-the-data-in-my-hand types” are not the problem. The compulsive “don’t-let-anyone-else-have-my-data” types are. There is a difference in the two.

    Regarding employees and suppliers being security risks, here is something to think about. I have agreements signed with all my employees and suppliers. If they screw around I can haul them up in a court in my city and get an injunction the same day. How do I haul up SolidWorks in a Boston court by sitting here in India? Of course, I can. But you surely are aware of the implications and complications of doing so.

    Another thing. I have carefully worded the agreements with my employees and suppliers to safeguard my interests first. Is SolidWorks going to allow me to write up my SaaS agreement with them to safe guard my interests first? Or will I need to sign something that has all kinds of disclaimers and indemnities favoring SolidWorks?

    About the issue of data exchange, the availability of data is not the problem. Rather the problem is the proprietary file format that it resides in. If a SolidWorks user wants to read in a CATIA file, I don’t see how the cloud is going to help him do it. Especially when it could have been easily done years ago and nothing has been done about it yet.

    As regards a standardized licensing system for third party applications, I agree with you. That seems to be more like a logistical problem for SolidWorks and add-in developers. But there is a much larger issue. That about the thousands and thousands of custom add-ins, scripts, utilities, etc. written by customers themselves. When SolidWorks does run on the cloud, all these utilities would need to sit along side SolidWorks. Again, I am not saying that is is impossible. I am just saying that at the current time and the forseeable future, the idea is nuts.

    I would like to end by saying that the source of innovation is people like you who think out of the box. Just that when people say things like SolidWorks as a Service “is coming” and do not say “when”, people start to get all sorts of ideas. And that’s probably a good time to get a reality check.