One of the best things about external cloud computing resources is that it makes accessing resources to run compute-intensive applications more affordable. The downside is that approach can introduce latency that can have an adverse impact on application performance.
Hoping to strike the right balance between those two issues, Autodesk has begun beta testing AutoCAD Fusion 360, a version of its popular AutoCAD engineering application running in the cloud. According to Ed Martin, senior marketing manager at Autodesk, the company plans to run the compute-intensive portions of AutoCAD in the cloud while still relying on local processing capabilities to deal with functions such as rendering. In that context, AutoCAD will become one of the first premier hybrid cloud computing applications in the enterprise.
Martin says Autodesk plans to manage the data centers running the shared instances of AutoCAD Fusion 360 along with other Autodesk applications. Martin says the company is now figuring out where to place it to minimize latency issues based on where most of the users of the AutoCAD application in the cloud are likely to be physically located. General availability of AutoCAD Fusion 360 is scheduled for 2013.
To bring AutoCAD to the cloud, Martin says Autodesk has been re-engineering AutoCAD to run in a more modular fashion that can run in a multithreaded manner that allows AutoCAD to take advantage of the parallelization capabilities afforded by modern processors. IT organizations will still need a lightweight client version of AutoCAD running on a local system running a Web browser, including mobile computing devices. But the cost of using that application will be significantly less than running the full-blown version of AutoCAD on a workstation.
Besides making AutoCAD more accessible and affordable to a greater number of organizations, Autodesk is also adding collaboration capabilities in the cloud version of AutoCAD. The idea is that engineers from within one company or working in collaboration around the globe will find it easier to securely work together by accessing a shared instance of AutoCAD running in the cloud, as opposed to using a service such as Dropbox to share files. In addition, AutoCAD 360 Fusion is designed to convert on the fly any CAD file format into a format compatible with the AutoCAD.
There are, of course, engineers who will never give up their workstations. But as the nature of product development continues to change, it’s increasingly clear that the cloud offers some unique economic benefits that can’t be ignored. While it’s interesting to see how Autodesk is approaching the cloud from a technical perspective, the really interesting thing to see is how running AutoCAD in the cloud will change the economics of product development on a global scale.