Autodesk recently made a big announcement about its Cloud initiatives, and reactions have been all over the place. Some people can barely contain their breathless excitement while others are outraged to the point of passing out the pitchforks. Why? It’s pretty much business as usual.
It’s nothing like Dassault’s disastrous we’re-moving-you-to-the-Cloud FUD campaign against its own product, SolidWorks. There’s no hint here of AutoCAD (real AutoCAD, I mean, not “AutoCAD” WS) being moved to the Cloud, or anything as radical as that. (Yes, I know there’s a limited experiment along those lines but that’s nothing to do with this announcement). It’s just a collection of relatively minor changes to Autodesk’s existing on-line services, collected together to make a newsworthy press release.
(As an aside, I must say this was a much more worthwhile announcement than the ridiculously over-hyped DE8.16N thing. So I was supposed to get excited about a routine upgrade of a product I have already been using for months, on an OS I don’t use, when the upgraded product is still half-baked just like the first underwhelming effort? Fortunately, I didn’t get sucked in by the pre-announcement build-up so I wasn’t disappointed, just amused when the truth was revealed. Autodesk PR, please don’t cry wolf so often; keep the hype in reserve for the hypeworthy stuff.)
Back to the Cloud thing, and putting aside hype and horror, here’s the stuff that has just happened:
- Autodesk Cloud documents lets anybody store up to 1 GB documents on-line, or 3 GB if you’re a Subscription customer. This isn’t new, but until recently it was an Autodesk Labs project called Nitrous. The infrastructure is provided via Amazon and Citrix.
- AutoCAD WS has been updated to integrate its storage with Autodesk Cloud documents. Remember, WS isn’t anything like real AutoCAD, but rather a limited on-line DWG editing tool. There’s a WS iPhone app, but that’s not new.
- There’s an Autodesk Design Review iPhone app for reviewing DWF files you’ve stored in Autodesk Cloud. It won’t do DWG; use WS for that.
- There are several cloud-based services that are available “free” to Subscription-paying users of a small subset of Autodesk software, mostly Revit and Inventor-based suites. They are:
- Inventor Optimization
- Cloud Rendering
- Green Building Studio
- Conceptual Energy Analysis
- Buzzsaw (now bundled with Vault Subscription)
AutoCAD users need not apply for any of these services.
So some of Autodesk’s on-line services are now being provided only to Subscription customers, and one is offered in improved form for Subscription customers. There are two obvious reasons for this: tie-in and revenue.
First, Autodesk wants its customers tied to the Subscription gravy train, if you’ll excuse a fairly awful mix of metaphors. Offering Subscription benefits like this is preferable to some of the much less pleasant arm-twisting that has been happening recently (e.g. trebling upgrade prices). Is it too much to hope that Autodesk has learned that offering carrots to its customers is a better strategy than threatening them with sticks?
Second, Autodesk needs to start making money out of this stuff somehow. For some years, it has spent several fortunes on buying and developing on-line services and then given them away for nothing, usually as Labs projects. This obviously can’t go on for ever, but just slapping a charge on these services wasn’t going to fly. Bundling Cloud services up with Subscription is a way of easing people into paying for them, and this is something I expect to be expanded in future, for example with AutoCAD WS. Once that’s been established for a few years, it wouldn’t surprise me to then see Subscription for at least some of the services split off, so you’re paying for Cloud services explicitly. By then, enough customers may consider them to be worth paying for and they may therefore survive beyond the short term.
Will it work? I’m not sure. Time will tell which of these services will thrive and which will die, and such uncertainty is one of the many reasons real-world customers aren’t excited about getting their heads in the Cloud. I don’t intend to make use of these services (I’m not even allowed to), so I’m not too bothered what happens to them. Like the vast majority of Autodesk customers, I will just carry on using conventional software in that old-fashioned 20th century way that just happens to work very well. Autodesk will go on providing its software in that way, because that’s what most customers will want for at least a while yet, and Autodesk can’t survive on wisps of Cloudy revenue.
Move along, people, nothing to see here.