Cloud CAD: Apples to Apples

Cloud CAD: Apples to Apples


Cloud is coming to CAD and design world. Slowly, but surely CAD vendors are getting more interested in how to use variety of cloud technologies to empower their CAD products. There is also certain role of competition in this “cloud CAD race”. Autodesk made a bold move introducing Fusion360 cloud. Onshape Inc, founded by original Solidworks team came in the game with “full cloud” browser based product.

So the trend is to bring “more cloud” in the CAD competition. For the last few years announcement about some elements of cloud technology support came practically from all MCAD vendors.

However, the devil is in the details. You probably had a chance to read my article last week – CAD, Cloud, Browser… Let’s sort it out. It was triggered by the news from PTC LiveWorx conference about Creo in the cloud.

Over the weekend, I decided to take a next step and make a comparison table to show what each CAD vendor does with regards to different “cloud CAD” options. Note – the information in the table is reflecting only “public” sources of information. If I cannot “google it”, I won’t publish it. So, if I miss some of technological projects, please share it with me and I will update my blog accordingly.

1. Cloud enabled desktop CAD application. CAD system is installed on your computer and connected to cloud servers to perform different type of operations – storage, simulation, data management, etc.

2. Cloud based virtual CAD desktop. CAD system is installed on a virtual machine that runs in the cloud. The access to this machine is enabled via browser. User can access this virtual desktop and perform all operations using CAD system as it would be installed on your machine but via internet browser.

3. Full cloud-based CAD in a browser. CAD system is running in a browser and using cloud back-end infrastructure to manage geometry operation, manage data and perform all needed tasks either from browser or backend servers.


Few comments about the picture:

(1) I found information about SpaceClaim Connect project. Navigate here to read more. It is not clear what functionality is supported.

(2) Autodesk Inventor can be used together with Autodesk A360. In that case, A360 will store information from Inventor and use Viewer to collaborate. I found an old link from 2014 explaining how Inventor can be used with A360 here.

(3) Autodesk announced “Project Leopard” – Fusion360 in the browser. The project is in the status of private beta right now. Some information can be obtained from Develop3D article here.

(4) Solidworks cloud development is a full swing. Read more about it in my earlier blog. According to the information from Solidworks World 2016, the plan was to launch browser based product (xCAD) in spring 2016.

(5) According to the information I captured from Develop3D article SolidEdge is available for trial on

What about cloud PDM? 

To manage data is an essential functionality for every cloud CAD system. You cannot “just save files on the disc” anymore. So, CAD vendors will develop better PDM support. In my view, cloud CAD technology will end a story of PDM as a separate product category to manage CAD files. Read my earlier article about it – Cloud CAD will have to solve PDM problems at first place.

What is my conclusion? MCAD vendors will be looking how to leverage cloud technology to empower existing CAD systems and to develop new ones. The three “cloud options” I outlined in the table above can show you who is developing new technologies and products and who is combining existing products with new cloud technological options. To some degree, all vendors are engaged into the development. Onshape is clearly leading in the development of browser-based full-cloud CAD. Dassault Systemes and Autodesk are trying to support all options to support a wide range of  customers. Other vendors are catching up because they don’t want to miss the opportunity and they are listening to their customers. The jury is out. It will be interesting to see next 5 years of MCAD cloud competition. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Want to learn more about PLM? Check out my new PLM Book website.

Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of openBoM developing cloud based bill of materials and inventory management tool for manufacturing companies, hardware startups and supply chain.


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  • Stan Przybylinski

    Thanks Oleg, this is a good summary. I agree that the cloud-based approaches are a threat to traditional data and process management solutions. That said, I think that the cloud-based approaches still need more for collaboration rigor and more formal processes. Onshape has removed the need to a separate data management solution. Autodesk has the pieces with Autodesk 360 and PLM 360 (funny that their rebranding has not extended into the bowels of, based on my quick look while typing this), and they are actively trying to rethink the design process and support it with more atomistic functionality.

    Stan Przybylinski
    VP of Research
    CIMdata, Inc.
    Twitter, Skype: smprezbo

  • Patrick Culliton


    Have you seen the beta for SketchUp in the browser?

    Patrick Culliton.

  • beyondplm

    Hi Stan,

    Thanks for your comment! I agree – there are lot of “rethinking process” going in the industry. Interesting in your take how “rethink design process” is related to platformization trend CIMdata is talking about

    Best, Oleg

  • beyondplm

    Patrick thanks for sharing links! SketchUp is not classic MCAD in my view. But I might be wrong… What do you think? Oleg

  • Stan Przybylinski

    Hi Oleg,

    To me platformization is about how functionality is delivered to the user. The current descriptions use (mostly) traditional names for product categories, like project/portfolio management for instance. These are important for clarity and to give people a point of reference. But they are not representative of what Autodesk, Onshape and others are trying to do. They are trying to add functions to create new workflows (in a IP creation sense, not a workflow engine) that could replace the traditional application software boundaries.

    For example, Autodesk used some finite element analysis (FEA) functionality from their gaming software to provide analysis guidance during design. Now it was not accurate, but it told the designer when his evolving design was near the edge, so that he could go and run the real FEA code. This is only a simple example, but we could imagine this being done with CAM, injection molding simulation, and other analyses/authoring that is typically done separate from the design process and tool. But in those scenarios you could still imagine that users would pay a separate license fee for each tool, even though one was used 90% of the time and others much less. This quickly gets into a license stacking problem, raising the cost of solving the problem.

    What happens when we rethink the design process so that all manner of CAE, CAM and other downstream uses of the design data are fully integrated into the way we design, democratizing away the need for subject matter experts in CAM, CAE, etc.? Does it make sense to package and price the same way? This is the reason that I used the word atomistic above, because it seems like we need little apps that are “sold” based on usage, not a large license fee paid for any possible user of the software.

    Hope that this helps.


  • beyondplm

    Thanks Stan, Thanks for sharing your insight!

    It is certainly helpful. Integration processes and tools was a dream for many years. The challenge I’ve seen is to integrate, but not to lock it to a set of tools from a specific vendor.

    Best, Oleg

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