Autodesk takes a big step into The Cloud

A new portfolio of web services will focus on file sharing, rendering, and simulation. The goal is to extend the capabilities of desktop applications and mobile apps with services best suited for cloud computing.

Autodesk today introduces Autodesk Cloud, a set of web services designed to extend desktop capabilities with high-performance design optimization, visualization and collaboration features. Initially more than a dozen services will be available, some for all users of Autodesk products and some limited to customers on subscription.

Cloud applications such Autodesk Cloud documents offer users access to their design files from any location and supported device. (Source: Autodesk via Business Wire)

Some cloud applications are available to anyone with a free Autodesk ID, but most require are available only to customers on subscription. Users of the free AutoCAD WS viewer, and the new Autodesk Design Review mobile app, are given a 1 GB storage account for their free use. Autodesk Subscription customers get 3 GB each, which can be pooled if part of a group subscription, and access to high-performance cloud-based applications for rendering, energy analysis, and design optimization. Specifically:

Rendering: For customers with a subscription to either the Premium or Ultimate editions of Autodesk Design Suite or Autodesk Building Design Suite, access to high-performance rendering. AutoCAD users could, for example, upload a model and have the cloud render all pre-defined camera views and a panorama. Such a request on a local computer would take much longer to render than in the cloud, where as many processors as needed can be applied to the task. “The power is not in the overlap of services with the desktop,” says Dr. Andrew Anagnost, vice president of suites, web services, and subscriptions at Autodesk; “the power is in the delivery of multiple views and renderings immediately.” Anagnost says such an option will be especially valuable to small firms on tight deadlines and lacking the resources of a rendering farm.

Energy Analysis: Customers with a subscription to Autodesk Revit Architecture or Autodesk Revit MEP software, or select suites containing these products, will have access to two cloud-based energy analysis services, Autodesk Revit Conceptual Energy Analysis and Autodesk Green Building Studio. By using the high-performance compute capabilities inherent in the cloud, users can work through multiple design iterations seeking best performance for energy use and carbon neutrality.

Design optimization for Autodesk Inventor: Customers with subscription to the Premium or Ultimate editions of Autodesk Product Design Suites will gain access to a cloud-based simulation tool that enables testing multiple design options, to solve for more sustainable designs by reducing material, transportation, and energy costs. This feature will not be available for another month or so.

Autodesk Inventor Optimization is cloud-based simulation for testing multiple design options for sustainability and energy use. (Source: Autodesk via Business Wire)

In addition, Autodesk customers with a subscription to Autodesk Vault Collaboration AEC have access to Autodesk Buzzsaw for cloud-based document and data management and collaboration.

Burning the cloud

The aspects of Autodesk Cloud that utilize high-performance computing will be allocated to subscribers in units. As a hypothetical example, creating a rendering of one model with one camera view might  use (or, “burn up” in Autodesk terminology) one unit. During the introductory period, Autodesk will monitor how many units a customer burns, but will not enforce limits until the service is more established. “We will be careful now about how we enforce the limits,” says Anagnost. “We want customers to explore the service for now, and we will put up as few barriers to exploration as possible.” and Citrix are providing most of the scalable cloud computing infrastructure. Autodesk has been working with Amazon Web Services for more than three years on existing cloud-based applications like Autodesk Homestyler  and Autodesk Seek. Specific Amazon products in use include Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud, Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3), and Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS). Citrix XenApp is used to manage access and bandwidth.

Autodesk Cloud services are available worldwide starting today in English, and will be available soon in other languages including Czech, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Simplified Chinese, Spanish and Traditional Chinese.

Autodesk Cloud rendering offers high-performance computing power for design visualization. (Source: Autodesk via Business Wire)

Staying true to the vision

Autodesk has always been the CAD company that prides itself on the democratization of design technology. On the face of it, this new cloud portfolio extends the vision. Users of Autodesk’s most popular products can start to dabble in cloud-based applications as an amplification of what they already do on the desktop, without radical changes to their existing workflow.

When Autodesk introduced its wide lineup of suites earlier this year, it promised it would continue to add value to the portfolios. Autodesk Cloud gives suites customers even more incentive to open up the other products in the suite and see what they can accomplish.

Anagnost notes that in the more than 10 years Autodesk has been providing commercial cloud-based services, primarily in the form of Buzzsaw, that “we have never had an incident where a customer’s data was compromised. Never.” In saying that, Anagnost also acknowledges that it will take time for its customers to become comfortable using cloud-based services, just as most computer users today have grown to be comfortable with online banking and shopping.

When people began to discuss the idea of cloud computing for design and engineering, the common misconception was that the fundamental drawing and modeling tools would move to the browser; such a notion gave most users a shudder to contemplate. Autodesk is doing the logical thing, by making cloud computing the servant of desktop and mobile applications, not the master.