AUTODESK U: CAD software company eyes the cloud

Design software company Autodesk Inc. looking into cloud computing as a new way of offering delivering its 3D modeling tools to its customers.

The company, however, does not see itself as a cloud computing services provider and nor does it intend to pursue a software-as-a-service model similar to that of hosted CRM tool firm Salesforce.com, according to Carl Bass, Autodesk CEO.

“We’re not becoming a service provider. I think there are many other players in the field doing that very well already. Neither do I see the SaaS model applicable to our products,” Bass said in an interview.

The Autodesk chief, however, said he finds cloud computing to be a logical progression for his company since processing demands of 3D rendering and algorithms of embedded analytics tools in emerging modeling software continue to grow. “Our users don’t want to see design options rendered the next day or in a few hours, they want it now,” Bass said.

He did not give any specific time frame on when Autodesk will begin delivering cloud computing products.

Cloud computing makes third-party computing resources available on an ad hoc rental basis. In some models, individuals or businesses put large amounts of data on someone ele’s storage infrastructure and access it over the Internet. Another method is to add storage capacity by accessing computing services and processors.

Amazon.com Inc.’s S3 (Simple Storage Service), is an example of a storage cloud, while the company’s EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) service is full-fledged cloud computing.

Other players in the cloud computing space include Sun Microsystems, Google Apps, Microsoft Live Mesh and Salesforce.com, among others.

Some key advantages of cloud computing are lower power and real-estate costs, efficient use of processing capacity by sharing of resources, the handling of network and infrastructure maintenance by the cloud computing provider and the lack of the need to purchase hardware to service peak load capacity or one-time use.

Autodesk’s cloud computing ambitions were revealed Tuesday during a keynote speech at the Autodesk University developer and designers’ convention in Las Vegas when Jeff Kowalski, Autodesk CTO, alluded to the need for harnessing cluster computing to facilitate processing-intensive modeling tasks.

While demonstrating the capabilities of Project Showroom, Autodesk’s Web-based home decorating tool, Kowalski remarked that further developments of such tools will require greater computing power.

Project Showroom allows users to browse through a wide array of design options. For example, users viewing a decorating plan for a kitchen can simply drag and and apply various finishes, surfaces, colours or other properties to any chosen object on the digital model. The photo realism of the rendering is far beyond the quality of other products in the market, but one of the key differentiators is that Project Showroom does not require users to download anything or obtain any software. All the user needs is a browser to access Project Software.

Kowalski envisions these type of rendering tools to provide greater analytic power. “Increasingly these tools will not only aid rendering and validate design ideas but also assist humans in making decisions,” he said.

For instance, design tools can have embedded databases that will inform users of the environmental impact of applying a certain material to a design or provide cost-saving scenarios when choosing various components.

“Obtaining processing power from servers for this type of work could be a cost constraint. Why not access cloud computing?” Kowalski asked.

He said making design tools available through cloud computing will benefit budget constrained businesses that do not want to set up and maintain servers.



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