SolidWorks Takes off in the Cloud

DN Staff

February 4, 2010

4 Min Read
SolidWorks Takes off in the Cloud

SolidWorks gave the5,000 attendees of its SolidWorks World 2010 user event a peek into where thefuture of the 3-D CAD program lies, showcasing an experimental version of thetool primed for cloud computing.

At the opening day general session, SolidWorks CEO Jeff Rayshowed off a demo of a new version of SolidWorks running as a nativeapplication on the Mac OS - a platform that many of its customer base have longwanted the company to support. The company also trotted out a virtualizedversion of the new SolidWorks release running on a Netbook computer, as well asa multi-touch platform under Windows7. The intent of the demo was twofold,according to Austin O'Malley, SolidWorks' executive vice president of researchand development. The first was to demonstrate SolidWorks' commitment to devicechoice and the second was to embrace the cloud computing model as way to giveusers automatic transparent data access.

"A lot of people are using things like Netbooks and mobiledevices and these users want flexibility," O'Malley explains. "The way we lookat it, users should have the choice to work with any device they want - whateverprovides a better user experience."

By introducing SolidWorks to the cloud, the company is embarkingon a paradigm shift around collaboration, according to O'Malley. Engineers willbe able to work on a design locally at their desktop, save it to the cloud, gohome and access that very same design from their device of choice. That sameflexibility extends to collaboration with extended design teams. Today, peoplecollaborate 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 provideis more akin to how people work in the real world," O'Malley explains. "Whatthe cloud does is provide a paradigm where the model is always alive and youcan access it at any time. It's like a massive multiplayer game - it doesn'tshut down like collaboration tools do today." There will also be a range ofsocial networking functions delivered in the cloud version of SolidWorks topromote design collaboration and foster community.

Cloud computing, or software-as-a-service as it's referredto in some circles, is a gaining traction in enterprise computing as a flexibleand low-cost alternative for deploying software. Instead of runningapplications on each individual computer, the cloud model offloads the main processingto a hosted server, which can be located anywhere, and the application isdelivered as a service to the desktop via the Internet and a browser. Companiesare attracted to the cloud model because of its scalability andease-of-administration benefits, not to mention the cost efficiencies of sharedcomputing resources and only paying for what you need.

CAD and other kinds of engineering software have not beenlinked to the emerging cloud computing phenomenon for a number of reasons.Security remains a concern as companies - and individual engineers - arehesitant about putting their intellectual property in the uncharted territoryof the cloud, which is outside of their control. Perhaps the biggest concern isperformance-related. Due to the highly graphical and mathematical nature ofCAD, simulation and other kinds of engineering software, many have beenskeptical about doing compute- and time-intensive operations such as rebuildsand meshes over the Web while still achieving optimal performance.

Rob Rodriguez, an active member of the SolidWorks communityand owner of Axis CAD Solutions LLC,a provider of visualization services, says the performance concerns lie morewith the cloud infrastructure in terms of bandwidth rather than with anySolidWorks technology. Nevertheless, he says he's intrigued by the promise of acloud model and the benefits it can provide CAD users. "The primary benefits asI see them are access to real-time data anywhere in the world, access toreal-time data on almost any device and the ability for non-CAD owners or usersto view, review and comment on the data," he explains. As far as the cloudmodel goes, "the implied promise of better performance, more stability, loweroverhead, operating system independence and better data sharing and reuse areall big deals for engineers," he adds.

O'Malley says the cloud computing model, along with newmulticore processor capabilities on the desktop, address the performance issuesnot as they relate to speeding up a single operation, but rather, being able toperform certain processing tasks simultaneously. In this vein, SolidWorks istalking about things like predictive engineering, or the idea of the softwaredoing things ahead of time in anticipation of a user's next move. So, forexample, the software could alert the engineer if their design didn't meetspecified tolerance levels as they were in the process of designing. The newcapabilities could also come into play with analysis, making that functionavailable to the engineer during the product design workflow as opposed tobeing a post-processing step as it exists today.

As part of its push into the cloud, SolidWorks also showedoff some work-in-progress with its parent company DassaultSystemes. The companies previewed a next-generation ENOVIA, akin to, which would serve as acloud computing platform upon which application services could be built anddelivered. SolidWorks previewed one such service: Product Data Sharing, whichwould provide social networking capabilities along with data management, dataversioning and visualization capabilities for collaborating with designpartners.

The new SolidWorks cloud computing functionality, which hasbeen in development for nearly three years, has not yet been slated for anyspecific product offerings. However, O'Malley says SolidWorks is aiming torelease some type of cloud-based offering by the end of the year.

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