Once upon a time, all my files lived on my computer. I was able to control it, backup and even search using desktop search tools. When I had to collaborate to others, I usually send them files using email. CAD files don’t fit emails – they are big and have many dependencies. People were using shared LAN drives and special PDM and other collaborative application. Life was simple. Then web software came. It disrupted email by creating web email. Hotmail was first, but then Gmail came. With increased email storage size, email became a new media to store information. Still, CAD files didn’t fit because of size and complexity. Then we discovered cloud file sharing. Dropbox was one of the first to disrupt this place. To store and share files using cloud file sharing services became easy. But, did it changed the way share manage CAD files?
It has been more than two years since I discussed the need for special CAD file sharing tools with Hardi Meybaum, founder and CEO of GrabCAD. The idea of special focus on CAD and engineering data was always appealing. After all, CAD data was always more complex than just Office files and required special treatment with regards to dependencies. GrabCAD ended up developing special application – GrabCAD Workbench. After GrabCAD acquisition by Stratasys, the GrabCAD cloud PDM tool became free – you can download it here.
Meantime, cloud file sharing tools are getting into the phase of active competition. Apple, Microsoft, Google, Dropbox… The storage is getting cheap. To get 100GB of cloud storage is not a big deal and everyone can afford it today. Vendors are competing by delivering new tools with better experience and set of features. Few days ago, I’ve got an email from Microsoft explaining how I can sync shared folders from OneDrive into my computer. The experience of the sync is completely transparent. Here is the passage:
Sync shared folders to your computer. You can add folders shared with you to your OneDrive so they sync down to your computer. They’ll look like any other folder, but when you edit files in shared folders the changes will show up to everyone else with permission for that folder.
I didn’t check if similar feature is available from Google Drive, Apple iCloud or any other cloud file storage provider. I’m pretty sure that in case feature is good, we will see it sooner or later from all other cloud vendors.
At the same time, it made me think about how does it impact the development of cloud CAD file sharing tools and cloud PDMs. We’ve seen some renaissance in cloud PDM development lately. Started from GrabCAD Workbench, we’ve seen vendors trying to leverage cloud as a storage and collaboration medium for engineers. You can catch up on some writing about it on my blog – GrabCAD wants to disrupt CAD file management; Onshape quietly developed Google Drive for CAD. Recently, Kenesto – the software outfit run by CAD / PLM veteran – Mike Payne announced about availability of Kenesto Drive. According to Kenesto website
Kenesto Drive offers companies the perfect alternative to the use of a shared network drive. Subscribers can interact with their files in the same way they do today within their shared drive, but with added benefits such as automatic back-ups, automatic version capture, innovative and simple vaulting, and more. Kenesto Drive supports documents which have been shared across your entire virtual team (either inside or outside your company), and maintains all permission and status levels so that you don’t have to worry about files being accidentally shared, deleted, or overwritten.
Last week at PLM360 conference in Boston, Autodesk provided an update about cloud PDM development. I captured two things that are important – management of CAD files using cloud is important for Autodesk and it comes across all product lines – Fusion360, A360 and PLM360. In addition to that, Connected Desktop will simplify PDM user experience for those customers that are working directly from desktop (Mac and PC)
All together, it made me think about trajectories of future CAD file sharing using cloud. Cloud storage vendors like Microsoft and Google will try to differentiate themselves with user and file sync experience, which is nice. The question of security will become even more important – this is where vendors such Box will try to differentiate themselves with their enterprise content collaboration platform. What does it mean for cloud PDM vendors? As many times before, cloud PDM vendors will have to differentiate by offering additional features that are very specific for engineering data management – viewers, collaborative engineering and change management.
What is my conclusion? Cloud competition is getting stiff. Future improvement of cloud file sharing services and new development of cloud CAD tools can create a greater demand for specialized features and tools focused on collaborative engineering and CAD data management. With increased competition around cloud, CAD vendors that until now stayed neutral can get involved into the game. The future trajectories of cloud PDM competition can be interesting. Just my thoughts…