SolidWorks As A Service – Part 5

Here are the links to Part 1,Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

In this concluding part I am going to talk about what will really happen when (not if) SolidWorks as a Service comes to pass.

You can forget the notion that you will be able to simply fire up a browser, point it to a url, log in and start doing 3D modeling. A server farm is not going to have thousands of servers having SolidWorks installations doing the modeling in the cloud for you, while you sit at a browser on any computer in the world and mouse around.

Since SolidWorks is not really telling us what it actually means by SaaS, we are left to guess, which just happens to be my favorite pass time. The key lies in the last point that I quoted in Devon’s post in Part 1:

Service Based Charges; when SolidWorks is hosted SaaS, SolidWorks is considering working towards Service Based Charges, for example; pay a fee, based on time, to use a SolidWorks application.

The “when SolidWorks is hosted” should actually read, “when SolidWorks licensing is hosted“. Basically, I believe you will still need to download and install the same old mamoth SolidWorks installer (which happens to grow larger every release) on your computer. The only difference being that that you need to be connected to the internet while you are modeling, just like you need to do when your are using an instant messenger like Skype. This mandatory internet connection will open up a range of possibilities such as realtime collaboration with other users, offloading resource intensive tasks like analysis to another computer or server and a whole lot more. But I do not believe that the core modeling is leaving your computer anytime soon. What I mean is that if you start a shell command, SolidWorks is not going to send your instruction to a server where your model will be shelled and then shown to you, at least not in the forseeable future. Don’t get me wrong. This is not impossible. In is definitely possible even today, but not to the extent that you have thousands of users working all at once.

Frankly, I look upon this talk about SaaS in CAD as an alternative business model for the CAD vendors. First we had CAD vendors selling permanent licenses and that was it. Then came this “wonderful” thing called subscription, something without which some vendors deny their customers service packs and even bug fixes, which I believe is pathetic. And now we have this thing called SaaS which is being glorified and twisted to mean whatever the respective marketing department wants it to mean.

The way I see it, SaaS in the CAD world is going to become another PLM. Everyone is going to give it their own meaning depending upon how their tweak their revenue model to suit it. For example first thing tomorrow morning, I could start offering all my file import and export plug-ins under SaaS. All I need to do is modify them to connect to a database on my server and increment a count before the user imports or exports a file. Then bill the user based upon the number of files he has imported or exported for a month. This is not SaaS. Saas would be hosting my file conversion software on my server and giving the user an interface (browser or otherwise) to talk to my server side software, where the actual conversion happens.

Actually the SolidWorks installations on the servers in the server farm that I spoke about in my previous posts in this series were just to put my message across. In a true Saas environment, these would most probably be low level Parasolid based applications without a GUI running off the servers that take a user’s 3D data and process it based upon instructions they received as input. Not real SolidWorks installations like the one you download and install on your computer. But I believe that even this is not what SolidWorks users will see in the immediate future.

With the current and foreseeable state of hardware and internet connectivity, the applications that I feel can be offered under SaaS are things like lightweight business applications. For example, you can create a web based version of an accounting program and offer it under a pay-as-you-go system, which is essentially what SaaS is all about. But to say that we are going to have servers do solid modeling for us is, for the nth time, is completely nuts.