So often these days, we hear about software, tools, and even hardware vendors releasing products that allow designers to build products in the cloud. That sounds intriguing, doesn't it? Well, not for me. To be honest, I'm not sure what that means, so I put this question to our loyal reader community: When you hear "design in the cloud," what does that mean to you?
The first response came from Michael Grillo:
I think you will find that you will be sharing your design on a single platform from a single port where others have access. Your desktop or server becomes the link through the Internet and you operate from the same portal as others. We have been on the cloud in our business for some time and there are slight differences and noticeable functional changes, advantages, and disadvantages. But like any other tool or program, it just takes a while to get familiar with the inner workings. One thing for sure is don't forget to save your changes often. There is no recovery in the data entry area for a quick back-up button like you might find in the program you are working with -- you make a change in some areas and it is changed. Security and speed has been what was promised.
Not fully understanding, I asked Grillo what exactly was promised by the concept of cloud computing. His response was this:
In our industry, we have to maintain strict confidence and information. Access to our files is limited to the standard passwords and usernames but there are also firewalls in place to keep others out. We have not had a breach or even attack on the files because they are also stored differently than each server or desktop. When using the cloud, storage of information is broken down into blocks and fields so there is a security in the fact that data is stored in a separate area than where other information is stored.
He also told us:
All this is great; but if you have the password and the username you would then have the access; which makes the security issue one still at the individual level. I am not sure one can get away from the person who does not guard the password and username, or one that would want to steal a design and/or let someone else view the information. I am sure hackers could get into the cloud just as they could your server. They have knowledge, ability, and time, but the storage does make it more difficult to find and assimilate the information. Firewalls can work, but again the weakness is down at the employee level.
The bottom line is that we have not experienced a problem as of yet. We have been on the cloud two years going on three.
And from reader Andy Braverman:
From my perspective as a product development consultant, when a client asks for a "design in the cloud," from their perspective it means they don't want any physical hardware to buy and maintain. They simply want a solution that can be addressed via a Web interface with all the "hardware" housed and maintained somewhere where they don't have to worry about it.
Readers, how would you answer this question? Tell us in the comment section below.
Rich, I am not sure of the statement made by Grillo regarding the storage of information. In the end, all persistent data is stored in files. The organization and interpretation of the data is through the program, but that is transparent to the user. Cloud systems typically have storage integrated, but the location is transparent to the programmer and user. There are bulk storage clouds, such as Amazon's Simple Storage Service (S3). On the other hand, it is important to distinguish between a design software vendor that uses a private cloud or one that is hosted on a service such as the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). I am using Amazon just as an example because they are well known. Other companies, such as IBM, Gooble, Oracle and others are now offering substantial compute resources in a cloud format.
Grillo's comment about saving often is interesting. It makes sense, since you do not have decicated hardware locally. That might be something the vendors might want to work on.
In day jobs at larger companies, expensive cloud collaboration software is a must. Too many people, to many version.
But what can the individual or small business use? The extent if cloud use I have ever used for jobs was a centralized storage location. IE: Google drive, network drives. Do these people have other options?
Similar to a response I made just last week, when Richard wrote about "PLM in the cloud" – (same basic idea) – I see the "The Cloud" as just a gimmicky marketing Buzz Word.
For decades, managers have been asking Engineers for the latest & greatest WIP data. You either get a "real-time" report (where the data resides on the server) or you get a "Snap-shot in time" (where the data resides on my home drive).
Its simply a matter of where the data resides. Pros & Cons are obvious; it's about unrestricted control of the data therein. The concept is as old as "Apple-Share" from the 1980's, but it's been re-packaged as "The Cloud".
Richer, Grillo explained about the security and access mechanisms for cloud. But the basic concept of Design in the cloud is yet to be addressed. To my knowledge, it's something like keeping the design tools and design works in a common repository in cloud. Since cloud is scalable, it can be access from anywhere and peoples can work on its image from their own device and finally updating the changes with its original version in cloud. So the changes will get reflect to all its images in a real time scenario.
Jim, eventhough marketing peoples are using “CLOUD” as a buzz word, in real working environment it has many advantages. Especially when it comes under the preview of BYOD or work at home, cloud will help the employees to access the resources or repository, irrespective of device, location, time etc.
IMO, the cloud is nothing more than a means to offload mass data storage to a 3rd party. So, if you design in the cloud your data is stored there and anyone with credentials has access to it. The innovation, if we want to call it that, is the use of todays faster internet connections to make it workable.
I think it's a natural evolution of internet business, and what makes it a good thing is smaller companies (like the one I work for) can keep resources more concentrated on core, value added tasks and less on overhead.
To me, the "Cloud" looks suspiciously like how we used to do things thirty or more years ago- one would punch up a deck of cards, then transmit the data via a telephone modem to a centralized computer, then wait for the computer to spit back the results. (this was way before Al Gore invented the internet). Granted, communications speeds have improved by several orders of magnitude, and data entry methods have become a bit more user friendly, but the process is essentially the same- the real design work is done by the operator at the terminal, not by whatever processor is chosen to assimilate the data into human-readable form (i.e., graphics renderings of lists of points, edges, volumes, etc.). And with the power of today's PC workstations, I don't see any compelling need to offload the work to a remote server, unless you are designing a large, intricate system. Even with large, intricate systems, I venture that the design process begins at the same point my much simpler design projects begin- hand sketches on paper. The tools have improved significantly over the years, but the process is the same...
Now, as to "renting" software rather than buying it: design software, and analysis software such as FAE, CFD, multi-physics simulations, etc., are all very complicated, and one does not gain expertise in a few minutes at a terminal. It takes months to become profecient with a particular software package, and, usually, several days to re-aclimatize oneself to the latest "required" upgrade from the typical software developer. this issue is especially important for the "casual" user...
If one relies on a third party to maintain the software, one loses control over the upgrade cycle, and may find that one must spend time relearning becasue the software package has changed. Then, there is the issue of version compatibility (I still maintain a Win 98SE system becasue I need access to "ancient" work that was created with software in a format that newer packages cannot access). Will you be able to access your data five years from now?
And, of course, the Internet is not always available when you need your data. Just ask the victims of Sandy how long it took to regain access to their cloud-stored data...
Overall, I see "cloud computing" as a marketing scheme for generating new revenue streams for products that are generally over-priced in the first place.
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