Cloud computing is becoming more prevalent as software vendors are increasingly offering their products as services over the Internet rather than requiring users to download applications to their desktops. There are, however, downsides that accompany the advantages. Tech Briefs posed questions to executives at leading software vendors to get their views on what a user should consider before moving to the cloud.

Our roundtable participants are Paul Brown, Senior Marketing Director at Siemens PLM Software; Srinath Jonnalagadda, VP of Business Strategy and Marketing for Design and Manufacturing at Autodesk; Michael Lafleche, PTC Principal Technical Services Engineer for Onshape; Danielle Lopez, VP of Product at Fast Radius; and Mark Rushton, 3DEXPERIENCE Works Portfolio Senior Manager for Design/Engineering at Dassault Systèmes.

The contributors featured in this month's Executive Roundtable (Clockwise from top left: Paul Brown, Srinath Jonnalagadda, Michael Lafleche, Danielle Lopez, and Mark Rushton).

Tech Briefs: When referring to cloud software, some distinctions must be made. What is the difference between “software as a service” and “software in the cloud?”

Michael Lafleche: There is a substantial difference between simply copying your CAD system in the cloud versus architecting the system to work specifically as a set of services optimized for the cloud. With a true SaaS (Software as a Service) model, CAD system components are optimized in a distributed model using trusted services like Amazon’s AWS and Microsoft’s Azure hosting platforms. This is coupled with a fresh approach for accessing your design software and data with zero file copies along with increased access to the system via a “bring your own device” approach. This enables global real-time co-working on design projects in a secure fashion.

Paul Brown: There are technical distinctions between “as a service” and “in the cloud” but it is also important not to lose sight of what business problem a company is trying to solve by moving from on-premises installations to either of the two cloud approaches. CAD in the cloud allows companies to use the same software as on their desktop but streamed to users through cloud services, getting the benefit of cloud computing power and access from any device using tried and trusted solutions. As a service, products are solutions that are designed to be run specifically in cloud environments using a browser-type interface.

Srinath Jonnalagadda: CAD in the cloud embodies modern computing technologies and benefits that bring tremendous value to design and engineering. Collaboration becomes a nonissue. Once access is granted to the parties involved in a project, everyone sees the latest iteration of the project, gets views filtered to what’s important to their role, and can do so from whatever device they use — a desktop workstation, home-based laptop, tablet, or through a browser. The distinction between CAD as a service and CAD in the cloud is an important one in that cloud-native tools offer all these benefits and more, while CAD as a service can indicate a more limited offering of existing legacy software designed for a desktop or server environment, offered on a virtual machine with a remote log-in.

Danielle Lopez: The distinctive element for software that runs in the cloud is that it runs in a data center — or many data centers — operated by an external party. This can include software as a service, where the software is performing a service or function for the user, which can use cloud-based servers. As a company that performs manufacturing as a service, providing easy access to a virtual part warehouse through the cloud makes it simple for our customers to navigate their manufacturing needs. That easy accessibility, facilitated by the cloud-based data center, is a defining mark of cloud technology.

Mark Rushton: Anyone can put desktop-installed CAD in the cloud with streaming technologies; however, by doing this, you miss out on many of the potential benefits and pay a higher price for it. CAD as a service is much more valuable. In our case, it is much more than CAD. It is collaboration, data management, and complete business innovation platform that brings the entire organization together, digitally transforming their processes in a single, secure cloud environment. The next-generation CAD tools are just a part of the solution.

Tech Briefs: There are may “pros” to using software in the cloud such as mobility and eliminating installation of software onto a computer or device. But there are also major “cons” involved — the most concerning being security and suitable Internet access. How do you decide if the pros outweigh the cons?

Brown: Companies must balance the value that using cloud software brings with these challenges. Recognizing the limitations of network infrastructure is important but we have found that current streaming platforms deliver good performance even on high-latency networks. A major pro for cloud-based solutions is the flexibility it brings for work to be done at any location. It is important to look at security as part of that flexibility. With cloud-based solutions, data never needs to leave a company’s environment. No matter where people are working from, the data remains inside the firewall — no emailing files, no moving files using file transfer systems, no need to move files on USB memory sticks.

Danielle Lopez, on key considerations when moving to the cloud.

Lopez: This is a complicated question that comes down to which factors are most important for your business. When evaluating a cloud-based software option, it’s important to consider how central the function is to the core of your business. That should indicate how much weight “cons” like security and connectivity should have. With cloud-based software, even when physical infrastructure is lost or destroyed, the data is safe residing in the cloud. For every new vendor and partner you work with — especially those dealing with sensitive information — it’s critical to fully vet their security practices before using their technology.

Lafleche: Security is one of the greatest strengths of a pure SaaS or cloud-based system. For example, we have security measures built-in by the very nature of how the system is built. So, when granting design rights to the engineering and manufacturing team, the rights can be set to allow editing for some users but not copying or sharing. The fundamental issues of sharing data through the supply chain can now be solved by granting access rights to a set of information, with those rights always being controlled.

Rushton: Mobility is nice and it is definitely convenient but it is not the major benefit of a cloud solution. The events of the past 18 months have definitely accelerated our clients’ desires to more easily access their data, particularly for remote and home workers. With the cloud, there is less software maintenance required, less server hardware to purchase and keep up to date, and more hardware choices to access and author data. Suitable Internet access is rapidly growing all over the world and is rarely an objection we come across. Security is something that gets mentioned but in many ways, the cloud gives you more security. You know exactly who is accessing data at any point in time and you can remove that access if necessary.

Jonnalagadda: We see the pros of cloud computing — such as infinite compute power at one’s fingertips, enhanced security, effortless collaboration, and platform versatility — outweighing the cons. Probably the con that comes to peoples’ minds is whether they’ll be able to access their projects if they lose Internet access. Security is absolutely a paradigm of significant concern that companies and their vendors must tackle together.

Tech Briefs: Are there common limits of functionality within a software program when using the cloud option? What features of the software may be unavail- able via the cloud?

Rushton: If anything, it is more likely to be the other way around. The cloud, and the benefit of cloud computing, opens up more possibilities than ever before. Rendering and simulation are the usual culprits when it comes to very computationally heavy usage and many clients are known to invest in huge amounts of computing power internally to get tasks done as quickly as possible. However, this hardware needs to be maintained and updated and it may not be used 100% of the time, so much of the value is going to waste. With the cloud, this can be accessed and utilized on demand and only paid for when used.

Mark Rushton, on how workers' preferences are changing.

Lafleche: Cloud and SaaS should not be viewed as a constraint but as an enabling mechanism to further improve the design process. By creating design technology that is “cloud first,” design engineers now can work together on design projects in parallel on the same assembly lines. This is impossible without a database-driven platform on the cloud that supports multi-user editing with version control. The actual quality and robustness of the platform can be increased many times over by implementing design software on SaaS, as all software updates and design information is always up to date for all users globally.

Brown: We don’t believe there should be limits imposed on users because of their choice to run in the cloud. So, if a customer wants to run software in the cloud, they have the same software tools as they do on their desktop. We do see the opportunity to offer more targeted applications that are aimed at solving specific use cases or business challenges for users who are not full-time CAD users.

Jonnalagadda: Cloud software absolutely does offer differences; however, rather than thinking of them as limits, we think about them as new possibilities. Our overall intent is for our software to increase the productivity of the people who use it. Cloud software has the ability to “get smarter” over time about how it is used, predict what the user is trying to achieve with it, and offer time-savings and efficiency-increasing suggestions to help them get there.

Lopez: Often, cloud software can be limited by a user’s bandwidth, which can result in latency and hinder the software’s performance. Such problems can only be controlled by the individual user’s circumstances. Cloud software can also be impacted by outages to the software or server, which individual users have no ability to resolve; most capable cloud software companies have built in numerous safeguards and redundancies to mitigate this risk. Cloud-based software that requires access to built-in device functionality may be limited; for example, camera or microphone use can be limited by the user’s individual device. Software options that were not initially built to use the cloud can be limited as well.

Rushton: In my mind, the question is really about value, not cost. It is about freeing up experts to spend time on what they want to be doing, what they are experts in, and how they add value to your business. If employees are working on software updates, trying to arrange design reviews, or wading through emails, you are not tapping into their full value and they have a higher cost versus any software solution.

Lafleche: It may be tempting to look at price quotes at face value. They may look similar in price but you should look a little bit deeper. On-premises applications require design organizations to take on not only the CAD licenses but also management of the data they generate, which leads to the implementation of costly PDM/PLM software on clients and servers. It would be a mistake to overlook other purchases that need to be made to make all that software work. Companies must license database software like Microsoft SQL and plan on remote access contingencies like a VPN or replicated data servers for remote facilities.

Brown: When looking at cloud offerings and on-premises software, companies need to look at the value that the offerings bring and the cost factors involved. The software is one element of the equation; hardware costs, costs of staff time to manage the environments, and cost of upgrading all factor into the on-premises model. How much money does a company spend preparing data that needs to be shared with other companies? How much does it cost to make sure that employees have access to the right data when they need it? How much does the risk of moving files through media like email or sharing sites with the inherent risk of losing concurrency and visibility cost? Leveraging the cloud for engineering applications is a business decision, not a technology one. It is important to also consider it is not necessarily an either/or discussion. Companies may find value in using a mix of both on-premises and cloud-based environments.

Srinath Jonnalagadda, on the importance of taking the long view.

Lopez: A core advantage of cloud software is that it requires very little up-front or long-term capital investment compared to on-premises software. On-premises software options require significant investment in equipment, plus the power and networking inputs and staff required to keep it running and up to date. That can represent hundreds of thousands of dollars. In comparison, cloud offerings can typically be provisioned within a day, turned off just as quickly, billed based on usage, and updated inexpensively.

Effectively, the cost difference of cloud versus on-premises software parallels that of on-demand versus on-premises manufacturing. When starting up on-premises manufacturing, there are high costs to buying machines, setting up processes, and staffing. In contrast, using an on-demand cloud manufacturer simplifies that process, so businesses only pay for the production they need without sacrificing quality.

Jonnalagadda: There are many total costs of ownership and business flexibility advantages to cloud software that need to be considered before jumping right to the bottom line and trying to compare on an apples-to-apples basis with on-premises software. For example, cloud software enables “pay-as-you-go” and “pay for only what you use” pricing structures that simply aren’t offered with on-premises software. By choosing daily, monthly, or annual pricing for the software extensions they use, customers can receive unprecedented value by scaling the cost of capabilities they only use occasionally.

Tech Briefs: What other points need to be considered before selecting a cloud- capable software?

Lopez: There are five key considerations when evaluating a cloud-based software solution: velocity, stability, security, cost, and agility. You should evaluate velocity in terms of time to implement and update — how often there are new functionalities and bug fixes and how long those take to implement. For stability, consider your team’s tolerance for the software being unavailable or offline and the software’s guarantees for up-time. When thinking about security, evaluate the sensitivity of your data, the impact of unsecured data, and the software’s security practices. Cost should be considered both in total and in terms of the strategic value it will allow you to provide to your customers. And finally, evaluate agility to identify any gaps between your needs and the functionality the software provides.

Rushton: A cloud solution should be capable of not only what you want to achieve today but also have scalability for the future. You do not want to hit a glass ceiling or wait for the software vendor to develop more functionality for you to grow the business. You also do not want to have to change to a different solution altogether to facilitate that growth just because your software vendor packages solutions that way.

Lafleche: It is critical to consider if you are prepared for a true digital transformation before switching to a cloud-capable solution. It is not enough to do a simple copy and paste of your current engineering process. To give your company a competitive edge, reimagine your incumbent CAD and PDM workflows. The key to successful implementation of a new platform is cultural change. Get your team’s input and consider being more agile. Look at what the capabilities of the new platform provide for improving design speed with global co-editing and review. Instead of lobbing a file over the wall at the end of a design project, think about how you can get your supply chain involved sooner to optimize design for manufacturability (DFM).

Brown: Throughout the process, companies need to keep in mind what they want to achieve by deploying cloud-based solutions. The cloud is not the answer to every issue and companies need to have a business goal. Then they really need to look at the partners they choose. It is a customer’s choice of how they deploy their technology — they should not feel pushed into a direction that they do not feel meets their business goal.

Jonnalagadda: As CAD, and computing in general, turns this significant corner toward the cloud, there are a lot of exciting new trends and opportunities as well as some concerns surfacing. It’s important to step back and take a macro view sometimes: shifting to the cloud is change and change can be a difficult challenge for both companies and individuals. With the cloud, we have an opportunity to remove a lot of the burdensome work we’ve grown accustomed to doing, making room for more thoughtful, creative, and engaging work than we’ve had time for in the past.

RESOURCES

  1. Autodesk
  2. Dassault Systèmes
  3. Fast Radius
  4. PTC Onshape
  5. Siemens PLM Software

Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the September, 2021 issue of Tech Briefs Magazine.

Read more articles from the archives here.