CAD, cloud, browser… Let’s sort it out

CAD, cloud, browser… Let’s sort it out


PTC Creo will be available in the cloud soon. That’s the news that came yesterday from PTC LiveWorx 2016 event. I haven’t had a chance to see it, but captured few messages from twitter from  PTC and Monica Schnitger as you can see below.

The news itself is not shocking. CAD and PLM vendors are moving to the cloud and it is a not a surprise that PTC doesn’t want to let CAD competitors to claim the ability to run in CAD system in the cloud at the time PTC Creo will be only available on the desktop.


At the same time, “cloud” is very confusing buzzword these days. It is easy to get lost trying to understand what does it actually means. I explored this problem first when I was trying to compare different variants of “cloud PLM” meaning. Check out my earlier articles – PLM is best hosted, SaaS or on-premise and The buyer’s guide for cloud PLM in 2015. Most of users are still confused between Hosted vs SaaS version of cloud PLM as far as I can see.

Here is the thing…  We are going to see a similar level of confusion related to CAD in the cloud. The message says “it is cloud and it runs in a browser”. I can think about different options about what words “cloud” and “browser” mean when it applies to technologies behind cloud CAD systems. There are 3 use cases I can think about.

1. Cloud enabled desktop CAD application. In such case, CAD system is installed on your computer and connected to cloud servers to perform different type of operations – storage, simulation, data management, etc. The typical example is Autodesk Fusion 360. It runs on your machine, connects to the Autodesk A360 cloud platform and manage data management tasks int he cloud.

2. Cloud based virtual CAD desktop. In such case 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. Examples of such technology and environment is

3. Full cloud-based CAD in a browser. In such case, 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. An example of such CAD system is Onshape.

Think about these options. Customers can get confused easily when somebody is saying “cloud CAD runs in a browser”. Also, does it really matter what option is selected by CAD vendor to implement so-called “cloud CAD”?  In my view, what is really important is how CAD system will perform and what functionalities will be supported. The devil is in the details and users will have to learn how to compare one “cloud CAD” to another “cloud CAD”.

So, next time you hear “cloud CAD in the browser”, please come with the questions – is it native browser based UI such is HTML5? How long will take to start cloud CAD session? Can it work on a mobile device? Is it possible to multiple users to edit information simultaneously? How and where data is stored? These questions will help you to sort out which cloud CAD in the browser is for you.

What is my conclusion? In the next few years “cloud CAD” will become a meaningless buzzword. Everything will be in the cloud. CAD vendors will use different technologies to bring CAD to the cloud and in the browser. But here is the thing… Customers will have to learn how each system performs, what advantages it has, what potential limitations it will impose and how much does it cost. 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.


Share This Post