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Design Tools Get Comfortable in the Cloud

From CAD and PLM to collaboration and simulation, the range of software tools that support design are growing and available on somebody else’s servers.

For a whole range of reasons, from lower costs to easier updates, design software customers are responding to cloud-based options. For small to midsize companies, cloud-based tools have become an affordable means to do data- and processing-intensive simulation and number crunching on the pay-per-use model. For larger companies, software-as-a-service (SaaS) moves the IT investment in design tools off the balance sheet, eliminating it as a capital investment. That may sound like accounting sleight-of-hand, but for many CFOs, it’s meaningful.

A downside to cloud computing still lurks in the backs of minds: security. Yet that’s not a debilitating issue anymore, according to cloud providers. Many of their users have come to see that security is a best practice like any other, they say. Customers also have come to find that their cloud-based vendors may provide security measures that are superior to their own.

Cloud-based design provides simple deployment, flexible scalability, and lower cost of use.
(Source: Siemens PLM)

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: Collaboration Systems Make CAD Models Accessible Across the Value Chain

A wide spectrum of design software is now available in the cloud, including major vendors of CAD tools and PLM services as well as project management systems, enabling cloud-based design and development. The overall movement to the cloud is enhancing collaboration, since outside partners can log on to see -- and potentially work on -- pre-determined portions of an active design.

CAD in the Cloud

Cloud-based design is gaining sufficient respect that most CAD providers are either delivering cloud versions of their tools or at least preparing them. “CAD software companies are trying to jump on this bandwagon as fast as possible,” Alistair Munro, a director of business development for Munro & Associates, told Design News. “All the big guys have at least something that fits this bill right now.”

To some extent there is a generational factor in the shift to cloud-based design services. “For the young entrepreneurs, the notion of having a server on site running anything is crazy,” said Steve Chalgren, VP of product management at Arena Solutions. “If design vendors want to maintain a viable business, they have to figure out how to do it in the cloud.”

Chalgren said he believes the days of being very comfortable with onsite servers and waiting for days for design simulations are beginning to change. This shift is being cemented when the leading technology companies take it seriously. Siemens PLM, for instance, is now preparing cloud-based tools.

“We haven’t really gone to the marketplace, but we’re looking at CAD services in the cloud,” Chuck Grindstaff, CEO and president of Siemens PLM, told us. “We want to offer CAD as a service to allow people to pay as they will.”

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: The Design Environment Is Changing

Simulation, Storage, and Memory

Siemens PLM is presently working with customers who want to use simulation without the burden of owning the data- and processing-intensive systems. “Simulation is an area where we deliver services, whether somebody wants to use the software on a SaaS basis or use their own software,” David Mitchell, Siemens PLM CTO of Teamcenter, told Design News. “In the past, companies had to put in big data centers and boxes for high-performance computing. That’s expensive.”

The workaround is to effectively rent the power from Amazon Web Services or IBM. “You can order bits and RAM and avoid the big cost of setup and management,” said Mitchell. “You can do this with everything from plant simulation to product performance simulation. We see interest in both, and that’s going to increase.”

MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: 3D Simulation Goes Mainstream

Paying for What You Need

While many factors are driving cloud design services, the most compelling one is price. The concept of paying only for what you need is attractively efficient for any company. Whether the lower cost allows you to use tools you couldn’t previously afford or it delivers savings on tools you’re already using, price matters. “Obviously, a drop in price for subscriptions compared to installed seats on an individual workstation is a highly attractive proposal to the prospective engineering team, especially from the CFO’s perspective,” said Munro.

Cost savings may come in two ways: relief in spending and reduced management burden. “The biggest advantage is flexibility, whether it’s your license cost or management,” said Grindstaff of Siemens PLM. “If you’re using Amazon Web Services, there is a different complexity than in your own data center. You can lean on the service providers and bring new servers online when needed. You can go up and down with usage.”

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