A balancing act between cloud and CAD file system

A balancing act between cloud and CAD file system


CAD files is a real nightmare for any data management system. Because of complex relationships, dependencies and size, to manage CAD files is a very complex function. PDM products are trying to accomplish it for more than two decades with questionable success. Read my blog – CAD files: the root cause of PDM nightmares.

The ideas to switch from file systems to databases was long standing goal for CAD vendors. Some of them made attempts in various ways to get it done. The ideas from pulling all information into a single file to using relational databases and PLM backends were around.

Jury is out to watch the future of 3DEXPERIENCE platform and how to manage CATIA data using PLM platform backend. At the same time, the progress made for cloud CAD vendors is interesting, especially Onshape’s  Google-like system allowing to store all information using multi-tenant cloud platform capable to manage CAD information.

But the reality as of today, that probably the majority of CAD designs in the world is stored in the files. Legacy and customer support is a big deal for existing vendors. At the same time, these CAD vendors don’t want to miss a potential cloud opportunity. Nobody wants to repeat Kodak’s story. Therefore, CAD vendors are looking for possible ways to have cake and eat it too, which means to move to the cloud and keep CAD file system intact.

Few months ago, I blogged about SolidEdge ST9 and cloud-enabled design. Demand for collaboration and distributed design is growing. SolidEdge is partnering with Dropbox to deliver cloud based collaboration. The core Dropbox technology to support it called Dropbox Infinity Drive – read more about it in my earlier blog – Dropbox Infinity Drive and how it will impact cloud CAD trajectories.

My attention was caught by Autodesk Fusion360 blog featuring Desktop Connect. Read the article and watch the video – it is very interesting. You probably recall my updates about “cloud PDM” development by Autodesk team – Cloud PDM ban lifted – what is next? and Autodesk PLM360 and cloud PDM trajectories.

Autodesk Desktop Connect is probably one of the best hybrid file-cloud sync delivery I’ve seen so far. It syncs files between Windows or Mac desktops to cloud (Autodesk A360) and allows to access these files also from web browser via A360 viewer. The following passage gives you more details:

I am all about my data living in the cloud. I have a Google Drive, Dropbox, and Box account. Unfortunately, the tools used for file management across all the cloud products (even cloud CAD tools) out there are difficult to use and slow because I have to interact with my data in a web browser. There is nothing better than moving, renaming, and copying a file in Windows Explorer. It just feels soooo good. I will admit that I have done these things in the ol’ days while using desktop CAD tools. YES, and I have blown up an assembly or maybe more. With Desktop Connect, updates to files in Windows Explorer will update A360 automatically preventing that catastrophe of broken references. A360 gives me the ability to rename a file if I am traveling, but if I am at my desktop it’s just easier to move things in Windows Explorer. Now, Desktop Connect gives me the choice of which ever method I prefer.

What is my conclusion? CAD vendors with heavy legacy have no luxury to go to pure web / cloud environments. The need to support file-based system is absolutely important. At the same time, these companies want to make a move toward future cloud systems too. As a result, we can see a very interesting and tough balancing act between File explorers, Browsers and Cloud servers. It is very complicated environment to support. It will be interesting to see how customers will use it for both desktop and cloud based CAD file management scenarios. 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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