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Cloud storage became a part of our everyday life. It is easy to store files on Dropbox, Google Drive or Microsoft One Drive. Everyone can use it. It works well for one file. It can work well for bunch of files or folders. Then it gets complicated because of size. The main reason – it is synchronizing data from cloud to your local machine. And your local machine has storage limits. Ouch… You can start managing configurations of folders and define specific set of folders to sync on different machines or keep online. But this is not fun. And this is not simple.
Synchronization can be very difficult when you have data dependencies between files. For example Solidworks CAD project which contains assemblies, parts, drawings. Or think about AutoCAD project with many XRefs. If you decide to use Dropbox to manage your company CAD data on the cloud, you will probably sync your data on all machines in the company. Which is sub-optimal and probably not feasible for larger teams and companies.
CAD and PLM companies came to solve this problem by developing variety of cloud tools that can optimize the way data is transferred between desktop systems and cloud servers. Here are few examples of companies doing so.
Autodesk A360 Drive is the backbone of Autodesk cloud platform is a tool that capable to sync data from desktop to the cloud; Kenesto Drive is helping engineers to collaborate between desktop and cloud; Solidworks Drive is synchronizing data between local storage and Dropbox and Google Drive. This is only short list of companies and there are more. To synchronize data between desktop and cloud became a mainstream cloud integration paradigm for the last few years.
Another class of solutions is Desktop cloud virtualization platform. A good example – Frame. These type of solutions is actually running desktop CAD on a virtual machine in the cloud and use cloud storage to communicate between individuals and teams. This solution has also the same problem and requires to synchronize data between all machines (desktops in the cloud).
Dropbox is very much aware about the problem with file synchronization and coming with the idea that will make you to change the way you think about cloud storage. Navigate to the following TechCrunch article to read more. The project called – Infinite Drive. More information about Dropbox Project Infinite is here. Here is the passage that explains how it supposed to work.
Today at the Dropbox Open conference in London, the company announced Project Infinite with the goal of giving business customers local access to files no matter where they live — in the cloud, on network drives or local drives. In practice, this means when you open Windows Explorer or OSX Finder, you will have access to all of your Dropbox files without having to store them on your drive.
With the Infinite Drive, you have visibility across the entire system, but the files can live in the cloud as designated by a cloud icon next to the file, or on your hard drive with a cloud backup as designated by a green check mark. This enables you to manage your cloud files as though they were local, but they’re not taking up space on your drive — and that’s a huge difference.
This is actually a very interesting news. It certainly a major underline change for cloud storage technology and it can potentially disrupt some of cloud CAD and PDM solutions. Until now, the major value of cloud collaboration tools was to sync data selectively between desktop storage and cloud backends. All cloud collaboration solutions are relying on that. The exception to that is so called “full cloud” applications that run completely in the browser and doesn’t need to sync data between desktop and cloud (examples – Onshape, Upverter).
What is my conclusion? Dropbox Infinite Drive project is an interesting opportunity to engineers and companies to leverage cloud without making a disruptive changes to their desktop setup. Most probably you just need to move files to Dropbox Infinite Drive and everything else will be done by Dropbox. A potential danger is some desktop CAD caching mechanism that relies on disc operations, but Dropbox engineers can figure out how to fix it. This change is an alarm call to all vendors using synchronization mechanism. Dropbox can disrupt it and make it irrelevant. Although security can be a good argument to keep using specialized cloud collaboration tools. Full cloud solutions running in the browsers are in a safe zone, since they are not relying on desktop-cloud synchronization at all. Just my thoughts…