SolidWorks gave the
5,000 attendees of its SolidWorks World 2010 user event a peek into where the
future of the 3-D CAD program lies, showcasing an experimental version of the
tool primed for cloud computing.
At the opening day general session, SolidWorks CEO Jeff Ray
showed off a demo of a new version of SolidWorks running as a native
application on the Mac OS - a platform that many of its customer base have long
wanted the company to support. The company also trotted out a virtualized
version of the new SolidWorks release running on a Netbook computer, as well as
a multi-touch platform under Windows7. The intent of the demo was twofold,
according to Austin O'Malley, SolidWorks' executive vice president of research
and development. The first was to demonstrate SolidWorks' commitment to device
choice and the second was to embrace the cloud computing model as way to give
users automatic transparent data access.
"A lot of people are using things like Netbooks and mobile
devices and these users want flexibility," O'Malley explains. "The way we look
at it, users should have the choice to work with any device they want - whatever
provides a better user experience."
By introducing SolidWorks to the cloud, the company is embarking
on a paradigm shift around collaboration, according to O'Malley. Engineers will
be able to work on a design locally at their desktop, save it to the cloud, go
home and access that very same design from their device of choice. That same
flexibility extends to collaboration with extended design teams. Today, people
collaborate mostly asynchronously via email or sending out drawings in a tube,
or they employ tools for real-time collaboration. Yet once those sessions end,
the project is no longer immediately accessible. "What we're trying to provide
is more akin to how people work in the real world," O'Malley explains. "What
the cloud does is provide a paradigm where the model is always alive and you
can access it at any time. It's like a massive multiplayer game - it doesn't
shut down like collaboration tools do today." There will also be a range of
social networking functions delivered in the cloud version of SolidWorks to
promote design collaboration and foster community.
Cloud computing, or software-as-a-service as it's referred
to in some circles, is a gaining traction in enterprise computing as a flexible
and low-cost alternative for deploying software. Instead of running
applications on each individual computer, the cloud model offloads the main processing
to a hosted server, which can be located anywhere, and the application is
delivered as a service to the desktop via the Internet and a browser. Companies
are attracted to the cloud model because of its scalability and
ease-of-administration benefits, not to mention the cost efficiencies of shared
computing resources and only paying for what you need.
CAD and other kinds of engineering software have not been
linked to the emerging cloud computing phenomenon for a number of reasons.
Security remains a concern as companies - and individual engineers - are
hesitant about putting their intellectual property in the