CAD in the Cloud
Kathleen Maher
Issue: Volume 40 Issue 4: (Jul/Aug 2017)

CAD in the Cloud

Almost every CAD vendor has plans for cloud provisioning of CAD programs. Not all companies expect their customers to work solely in the cloud, but they all have a strong cloud component.

Probably the most common line of thought is a hybrid approach. However, given the path of software development throughout the industry, it appears that software in general will be delivered in the cloud. The reason being that the advantages to vendors are too great: regular software updates, the ability to monitor how customers are using the software, a resulting closer relationship with customers, and cost savings for distribution and materials.

Customers in the CAD industry, however, are not so sure. In general, there is still considerable angst about the possibility of essential software moving to the cloud. The fears are logical in this age of computer hacks and lost secrets. Customers are also worried that they will lose control of their content. 

Jon Peddie Research (JPR) of Tiburon, California, and London-based Business Advantage have teamed together to create the first survey and research report on CAD in the cloud. For the report, Business Advantage surveyed a worldwide base of CAD users to determine their interest in CAD in the cloud. JPR and Business Advantage then compiled the results with the decades-long research work in CAD by JPR to get a better understanding of the CAD world’s response to cloud-based workflows. 

Based on the results of the survey and research, the report reveals a potential for faster acceptance of cloud-based workflows than previously thought. That finding is further supported by the incentives many CAD companies offer to encourage their customers to try cloud-based capabilities. 

In addition, professional software vendors are moving their customer base to subscription licensing rather than perpetual licenses with maintenance subscriptions. Customers who choose subscription have the benefit of regular updates, storage, additional features, and varying levels of support. Autodesk has been the first to move most aggressively toward subscription-only options, but JPR believes that most companies will eventually make the move because it eliminates revenue swings between releases and eliminates problems that arise when customers work with different versions of software. For instance, collaboration, data sharing, and vendor support all become more complex.

An important side effect of subscriptions is that it also makes it easier for customers to move to cloud-based workflows as they learn subscription does not mean loss of access to created content. 

Interestingly, Autodesk comes to mind first when overall survey responders were asked about CAD in the cloud, but Onshape comes in second among overall CAD users and first among CAD users who do not use Autodesk products.  

Likewise, the high level of awareness about the Onshape cloud CAD tools is not surprising since Autodesk’s major competitor is Dassault Systèmes, which has a larger base of 3D users with its popular SolidWorks product. Onshape was founded by former SolidWorks executives who have evangelized passionately about CAD in the cloud. 

In reality, all the major CAD vendors are considering some form of cloud provisioning for their products, though some companies are careful to say they will continue to offer perpetual licenses as well as subscriptions and desktop CAD in addition to cloud services. This is in line with what should ultimately play out. 

Overall, the tech world is still a long way away from being able to put total trust in the cloud. In addition, no new means of distribution and communication totally replaces what has gone before. In all likelihood, we will see many variations on the idea of CAD in the cloud. 

The survey asked CAD customers about their attitude toward using a CAD program in the cloud. By this definition, one in six CAD customers are already using CAD in the cloud or implementing it. This does not count those who may be using other cloud-based CAD tools, such as BIM/PLM data management, remote processing for rendering or analysis, or document exchange. 

Kathleen Maher ( is a contributing editor to CGW, a senior analyst at Jon Peddie Research, and editor in chief of JPR’s “TechWatch.”