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.