CAD on the Cloud and Online Data Storage

In a comment to Ralph Grabowski’s blog post titled “The fallacious credit-card-on-the-Web analogy“, Kenneth Wong wrote:

We should also keep in mind that providing cloud-computing solution doesn’t necessarily mean providing online storage. These are two distinctly different types of services. Autodesk Butterfly, for example, is a hosted viewing and markup solution, not a remote data-storage solution. On the other hand, Arena Solutions lets you use its web-based bill of materials management applications as well as its storage space.

True. Cloud computing and online data storage are two different types of services. But when we are talking about CAD on the cloud, they so dependent on each other that you really cannot separate the two.

Project Butterfly is basically an AutoCAD clone Flash application running on the end user’s computer, not on some server in the cloud. Right click in the Project Butterfly window and check out the last two menu items “Settings” and “About Flash Player“. The Settings are actually Flash settings which are the same when you right click on a YouTube video.

When you open a DWG file located on your hard disk in Project Butterfly, it does not immediately open in the Flash application on your computer. It is first uploaded to the Autodesk server where it is processed. Thereafter this processed drawing is downloaded back into the Flash application on your computer. After it is downloaded and loaded into the Flash application you can disconnect from the internet and continue editing your drawing. But when you go to save the drawing you need to connect to the internet so that the file in the cloud can be updated. So Project Butterfly absolutely involves online data storage. In fact, if you start Project Butterfly on your computer and disconnect from the internet the “Open” button is disabled because you cannot open anything unless it is hosted on the server. However, if you already have a drawing open in the application at the time you disconnected from the internet, you can go ahead and edit it because the actual geometry engine is running on your computer in the Flash application not in the cloud.

So technically you cannot call Project Butterfly a cloud application at all and neither do I think Autodesk is calling it one. I say that because the only thing that happens on the cloud is the data storage (basically file upload and download). Everything else happens on the the end user’s computer in the Flash application. So quite contrary to what Kenneth wrote, Project Butterfly is precisely a “remote data storage solution” with a pretty little flash front end locally installed on the user’s computer. Not very different from how we use YouTube. In the case of YouTube, the videos are all stored on YouTube’s servers and are downloaded into the Flash player when you click the Play button. In the case of Project Butterfly, the first time you run it on your computer, you first download Autodesk’s Flash application and then download the file you want to edit into it. In essence you are downloading and installing a stripped down version of AutoCAD on your computer and saving your data in the cloud. This is nowhere close to an application running in the cloud, which is what Project Twitch is all about.

But coming back to the interdependence of a cloud computing and online data storage, a true CAD application running the cloud absolutely needs to have the data very close to it. You really cannot expect the number crunching to happen on a server in a remote location and the data to be located on your computer. For every operation you will need to transfer the data back and forth. Imagine doing that for a large assembly. And if you do the number crunching on your computer and store your data on it as well, then you basically end up with an installed app that merely requires an internet connection to authenticate its license every time it starts up. Doing so throws the cloud’s so called advantage of “pay only for what you need” in the dust bin. We can do that already. Simply let the installed app authenticate itself every time it starts up and retrieve the licenses for the parts of the application that the user has paid for. The other parts of the application will not work. We have been doing that for years. You really do not need to put CAD on the cloud in order to save money by adopting the “pay as you go” approach. For example, if you want to conduct 5 FEA analysis studies on a model you simply go online and “recharge” your account for exactly 5 FEA analysis sessions. The next time your installed application starts it will retrieve a 5 session license from the CAD vendor’s server and let you run precisely 5 FEA analysis sessions.

My point is simply that you cannot separate CAD on the cloud and online data storage. The whole point of the CAD on the cloud is that the number crunching happens in the cloud. And for that to happen the data must be stored in the cloud as well. I really do not see any other way of doing this. If you can please enlighten me.