Why Autodesk’s Cloud push will fail, part 1 – failure defined

Why Autodesk’s Cloud push will fail, part 1 – failure defined

It’s probably unwise to make predictions about what is going to happen in technology. If so, I’m about to be unwise. So be it; if I’m wrong you can taunt me about this post in a few years. Here’s my prediction:

Autodesk’s attempt to move CAD users onto the Cloud is doomed to failure.

This is the first of a series of posts that will examine what I mean by that and the reasons behind it. The first thing that’s important to lay out is what I mean by failure. What I mean is that reality will not match Autodesk’s expectation of what will happen with its products moving to the Cloud. What expectation is that?

I’d say two to three years from now, every one of our products will be used online. The only way to use them will be online.

Carl Bass, April 2012, TechCrunch interview

So let’s say you’re an AutoCAD user. A successful Cloud push by Autodesk will mean that you and very large numbers of people just like you be using AutoCAD or an equivalent Autodesk product on the Cloud by 2014 or 2015. If that doesn’t happen for you and all the other users of Autodesk products, then that’s failure by definition. Autodesk will have failed to meet its own publicly stated goal, and that’s exactly what I’m expecting to happen. While it might look to a Cloudophile that I’m swimming against the tide of inevitability, I’m not alone here. Let’s examine what this blog’s poll respondents think about the chances of them using CAD in the Cloud:

Cloud chances poll results

(Snapshot taken a couple of weeks ago; more votes but no percentage change since then).

The poll has been running for nearly a year and attracted a sizeable number of votes. More than half of the respondents are convinced that there is absolutely no chance – zero – that they will be using a public Cloud-based application as their primary CAD software in the next five years (by 2016 or 2017, two years beyond Carl Bass’s stated target of universal Autodesk online operation). There is a group of respondents equally convinced that they definitely will be using such an application. However, with only 10% of votes, this group is outnumbered 5:1 among those who feel certain about what is going to happen. If we split all the votes into those who think there’s a better than even chance of a Cloudy future (21%) and those who think there’s a less than even chance of that happening (79%), you can see that the doubters again have a very clear majority, nearly 4:1.

While the usual caveats about polls apply, it would be a very foolish Autodesk executive who believed this poll to be some kind of an aberration that does not reflect the broad views of the CAD community. I am convinced there is a dichotomy between the expectations of Autodesk and those of its customers, and that spells trouble. Autodesk is either going to succeed in pushing its customers into a future they are not expecting, or it is going to fail and be forced to revise its expectations. I predict that the latter will happen, and I will explain my reasoning in future posts.


  1. Lance White

    Maybe I’m a dinosaur or something but i just can’t imagine putting mission critical software in the cloud. First it moves Autodesk from providing a product to providing a service, which will require more 24 hour 7 day a week staff. It also increases customer service pressure and they are not the best at that now. Second they can’t guarantee 100% uptime on their end or the users end, I work in a rural area, we lose internet for no particular reason at least a couple times a week. Third, look at what happens to WOW when they update, lots of people are inconvenienced for several hours during their prime playing hours no matter when the update is. I really don’t want Autodesk deciding not only when I will upgrade but when the software I need to do my job will be unavailable for an indeterminate amount of time.

    Another thing, how many worldwide Autodesk users are there? I’m trying to imagine the amout of computing power they will need to provide for this.

  2. ralphg

    This kind of over-the-top rhetoric seems endemic of Autodesk ceos. It was the previous ceo, Carol Bartz, who claimed — repeatedly! — that anything not designed by God was designed by Autodesk software.

    (I asked Autodesk pr if Bartz really believed in her demonstratively-false claim, but they distanced themselves, saying it was up to Bartz to decide what she wanted to believe.)

    The comments of Bass can perhaps be excused for the audience the ceo was addressing, gullible editors and readers of TechCrunch who have no experience with the special computing demands of CAD — like realtime uptime, realtime speed, and real IP security.

  3. Bill Schmid

    It will fail because it doesn’t work and Autodesk doesn’t care that it doesn’t work. I’ve tried countless times to upload 3D dwf file to share with others. Every single time, 360 failed to process the file for on-line viewing. And it took hours for the failure to occur. And for attempt to contact Autodesk about it via their feedback forums, I’ve received no response. All the while, they were working on a new version of the Design Review app to be renamed Autodesk 360 – and it was the same app with useful features removed.

    What we want is an effective way to take our data with us. Let us load it on our iPad. That’s load it on, not access it remotely. If we can load it on our mobile devices, we don’t have to gamble on whether or not we’ll have a good enough connection or whether or not the Autodesk web site processed our data right. We know before we leave the office.

  4. Bill Fane

    I’m so old, I can remember what the initials “PC” stand for.

    When I started using computers, ‘way back in the last millennium, they were million-dollar machines the size of a small house and lived in air-conditioned, isolated splendor. Us mere mortals accessed them via “dumb terminals” that were just a keyboard and a screen.

    Then came the “Personal Computer” that “freed us from the tyranny of being tethered to the mainframe computer. We could finally compute where we wanted to, when we wanted to.

    Fast-forward to “The Cloud.” You’re flying to meet a very important client, and have just one critical file to finish as you fly. This file is absolutely crucial, and without it your trip will be wasted, you’ll miss your deadline, and you’ll probably lose the account. As your laptop boots up, the The aircraft PA system comes on: “This is your captain speaking. We’ve reached our cruising altitude of 37,000 feet, it’s 60 degrees below zero outside, our flight time is 4 hours and 57 minutes, so sit back and relax. Oh, by the way, there’s no Internet access up here.”

  5. It is like if Nokia or RIM did a survey at 2005 – “What are the chances of you using a touch Cell phone with no keyboard in 5 years”
    There is a big difference between a Cloud only CAD solution to Cloud for computing aid and collaboration. I think Autodesk is taking the 2nd way.

  6. Chris Bell

    I guess that I have the same disease as Bill, “remembering way back” in addition to building sized computers, the line printers, still amazing, (had an IBM guy tell me that the paper speed going through one of them was in the order of 100MPH) the first CAD system that I laid eyes (not hands) on cost over a million bucks.

    Anyhow, I plan to keep my head and my CAD out of the cloud.

    BricsCAD, a gazillion flavors of IntelliCAD, DraftSight, and a slew of others are waiting in line to take over. I don’t see it happening, they will probably just do a little to keep “Big Friendly” slightly honest, at least on the surface.

    We all know that “Big Friendly” and “Big Friendly” (CAD and OS) don’t lead on advanced technology and superior products, they lead on momentum. The primary advantage to us with BricsCAD, DraftSight, Linux, etc. is that they provide acceptable alternatives. I’ve played with DraftSight on Ubuntu, I could live with it if I needed to.

    I guess that Carl Bass sees the cloud as a rain maker.

    1. ralphg

      Ah yes, the good old days, when computing really was Fast. I recall the first ever laser printer, made by Xerox, the size of a minivan, sitting the basement of the University of British Columbia Computing Center, probably around 1980. It spat out two pages a second, double-sided printing, with print jobs stapled together. Sole drawback: there was just one font!

      Anyhow, that speed spoiled me for life. It gets irritating waiting for the paper to slowly emerge from my desktop laser printer, unstapled .

    2. James Maeding

      Chris, I agree the clones have not yet become a significant force, but I do believe they are about to. Autodesk is making it easier every decision, especially their latest pricing move which cut upgrade as an option. Its almost like they want to shed the non-totally addicted customers, as it complicates their sales predictions too much. Once I get into Bcad more, I will write .net tools to fill any interface gaps and bells and whistles and give them away for free. I am also working on a “true” BIM program for Civils, parts at a time, and that should demonstrate what can be done. I do see the clones as gaining momentum, companies just want to see others make the move first.

  7. Bill Fane

    …and I seem to recall Carl and friends about a year ago saying “The cloud where appropriate, but not just for it’s own sake.”

    “Appropriate” situations included collaboration, and high-power graphical and analysis computations.

  8. NeilJ

    I’ve got AutoCAD WS on my Galaxy phone and have used the GPS on site visits as I walk around the site BUT it very much depends on a getting a signal for the GPS to work and then waiting for the files to load from WS and then there’s the visibility issue (or lack of it) on bright days.

    As others have said I’m not convinced that the cloud and/or mobile are the panacea to every ones CAD needs – try designing on a mobile device with WS.

    Where is the support for Civil 3D objects and files etc etc??

  9. I had an odd thought last night (how rare). What will the viruses be like that will be seeding these clouds? How quickly will they spread? How quickly will the cloud whores deny liability? New industries? Cloud Cleaners, insurance scams, performance bonds, transfer agents that act as brokerage middle-men to filter your content into and out of dreamland? None of these cloud droppings are sounding any better. Glad I won’t be involved. -Bill

  10. Matt

    I was floored by the quotation from Carl Bass provided here. I thought it over for a few minutes, trying to reassure myself that this really couldn’t be true. I’ve decided that it could be interpreted in one of two ways. Either he is literally saying that Autodesk will cease releasing versions of their software which can be installed locally on your home computer (which seems, to put it mildly, rather silly), or, as I’m hoping and praying, that there will be so much of an incentive for people to use the software cloud only that no one who seriously examines the performance benefits will want to use it offline. To me the latter explanation seems to make more sense, from my layperson’s perspective.

    Surely he can’t really mean that there will be no ability to use their products offline anymore in a couple years time, can he?

    I can see how it might make sense from the perspective of it eliminating the problem of lost revenue from piracy, but for heaven’s sake what about customers like me who, while recognizing and appreciating (I’ve used cloud rendering multiple times with satisfying results) the benefits of cloud usage, are horrified by the program becoming 100 percent online with no other option at all.

    I really hope I’m on to something and that he didn’t mean that literally. I hope someone can clarify this and add their own take. In the meantime I’ll be trying to get word on twitter and autodesk employee blogs about this matter.

    P.S. I’ve recently finished technical college and have been using AutoCAD for just over 2 years now. I appreciate the constructive, well written criticism I’ve seen here in the last hour or so spent looking at the newest posts. Its great to see the perspectives of veterans who’ve been witness to changes throughout the years. Thanks.

    1. R. Paul Waddington


      “I can see how it might make sense from the perspective of it eliminating the problem of lost revenue from piracy”

      So often piracy is quoted as “lost revenue” and I beg to differ. That is occurs is likely; that it occurs in the numbers we have seen quoted, highly unlikely. Understand Autodesk, and other vendors, have in place, in their software, the means to know the true proportion of “pirate” versions in service. Lumped into the “piracy” argument are the instances, within (large) organizations, of “hand me down” software and, again, Autodesk have in place, within customer installed software, and a business program for identifying and converting those situations into revenue.

      Piracy is NOT lost revenue, in reality, just as it should never be equated with theft in the same way as an apple taken from a vendors’ store (there are exceptions). Its loss, if that is the way a person wants to view it, is that it may be considered (for the moment) a missed opportunity or, an opportunity in waiting.

      Another measure of the “value” of piracy is to look closely at the public declarations of successful prosecutions brought by software vendors. These instances are so numerous and so well documented as to give the casual observer a very good indication of just how rampant CAD software piracy is – or actually, is not!

      CAD in the Cloud greatest potential lays in its ability to increasing software vendors’ revenue through the reduction of production costs and distribution.

  11. Lloyd

    I hate to say it, but we’ll get the same stunt they pulled with the upgrading pricing. They’ll get a bunch of people on the cloud that don’t know the difference (or don’t understand that things run better/faster locally), and squeeze out the people who do crunch the numbers and pay attention to details. Then PR will come out with another announcement of how everyone has embraced the cloud, how users are “frustrated with being forced to choose the desktop install” and presto-chango, bye-bye desktop installs and hello cloud-only. They don’t give a damn about the actual users, they’re going after the pointy-haired bosses that make the decisions.

    1. James Maeding

      They did not fool anyone with the upgrade price stunt though.
      They are not fooling anyone with this cloud talk either.
      The only technology that could take over is virtual desktops, and that has nothing to do with SAAS.
      The only thing Carl is saying to us is Autodesk’s existing products are good enough that they can say anything they want and still sell software.
      Makes them look pretty foolish, and doubles our caution level which never leads to more sales.

  12. Matt

    I’ve sent Shaan Hurley an email asking the same question I posed here about the literal or not so literal nature of the comments made by Mr.Bass regarding the move to the cloud. I’ll post an update here if and when he responds in the coming days. (Hopefully hours).


  13. Matt

    Ok, I’ve just gotten a response from Mr.Hurley. Here is what he said:

    Matthew this is not something I can answer due to rules and regulations regarding future products.

    Personally I think the quote was taken out of context as there will be many products and technologies that benefit from the computational power of the cloud and some that may not. For clarification I would have to point you to our PR people to get a clear statement. You won’t see desktop applications disappear in the near term but cloud computing does make some things on the desktop irrelevant such as renders that took hours taking minutes or computation fluid dynamics and stress calculations taking days on the top of the line desktop taking minutes to solve in the cloud.

    Also look at many of our 123D apps that not only allow people to use the cloud to share and exchange data between applications but also a choice of desktop, mobile or browser based.

    Best Regards,

    So there it is. Even though he says he can’t answer he still is able to say that “You won’t see desktop applications disappear in the near term”. I do sincerely hope this means Autodesk has the good sense to only bring to the cloud the features he mentioned like rendering and stress analysis which most benefit from extreme amounts of Ghz, instead of just virtualizing the entire application.

    Hope this helps, everybody. Thanks again for the blog.

    1. Stephen, I strongly suspect you’re right about Carl overstating things. Perhaps he shouldn’t have done that, and perhaps he should step in with a clarification and a mea culpa. If he was just spouting some off-the-cuff BS and needs to back down, a more honest job needs to be made of it than Ken Pimentel’s attempt at blame redirection:

      Carl Bass: “There will be a big earthquake in San Francisco tomorrow! The only way to survive is if you get out of town!”
      Everybody: “Panic! Panic!”
      Ken Pimentel: “People, this was a casual statement by Carl, not a formal prediction. You are also misinterpreting what he was saying. He just meant that there are earthquakes that may happen from time to time. At no time did he say, “you will die if you stay in town”. You’re interpreting that, it isn’t what he said.”

      Nice try, Ken.

  14. The part that people forget, and Carl neglected to mention, is that as the technology develops (e.g., Project Twitch, Project Blink), our customers will be able to host our applications themselves. So when Carl said “cloud only,” IMHO he should have said “non-desktop.” We have many customers today who would rather put our applications on their own internal server and have hundreds of their employees run them from that one spot. This would allow the data, which is getting larger and more complicated with each project, to stay in one place rather than copying it around from desktop to desktop. With server-based solutions, certainly offline mdoes will develop for things like air travel or lack of internet connectivity (e.g. down in a basement at a construction site). For users who would want to use our applications on one of our servers, they could pay for time used which would cost them less than buying a copy of one of our applications only to use it for a brief period. The cloud is a way for Autodesk to reach out to users who are not addicted. 🙂

  15. Perhaps Mr Bass or a representative should clarify exactly what he meant to say, or what he should have said. I’m sure he knows where to find me. In the meantime, I’ll be generous and assume he said what he meant and meant what he said.

    There are two problems with the “you need to include private Cloud in the picture” argument. First, Autodesk hasn’t exactly been pushing that aspect of things, so some vague statement that we might have that option with some products some time in the future isn’t particularly reassuring. Second, although private Cloud addresses some of the many valid concerns that customers have, it doesn’t address all of them and isn’t appropriate for all situations. For example, one of my clients is three guys in an office using a simple peer-to-peer network and limited IT expertise. Are they expected to set up a private Cloud? Why? How does that improve on having the software on the machine they’re using?

    1. R. Paul Waddington

      Not just Bass in Autodesk;

      “But this week Autodesk vp of building industry strategy Phil Bernstein said much the same thing in an interview with Business Standard magazine:

      Our portfolio has almost 200 pieces of software. Right now, we are moving some apps (collaboration and analysis tools) to the cloud. Our long-term strategy is to move everything there.”

      Source. Ralph’s blog WorldCAD Access.

      1. Original source of the Phil Bernstein comment: http://www.business-standard.com/india/news/autodesk-aims-for-120-mn-users/492513/

        More from Ken Pimentel here and on subsequent pages: http://forums.cgsociety.org/showthread.php?f=6&t=1046984&page=1

        The high-ups are saying one thing, the people in the trenches are “clarifying” by saying the opposite. Adding insult to injury, they are also blaming their customers for being confused by the contradictory messages.

        Enough! Autodesk needs to come clean.

        1. R. Paul Waddington

          Looks like you got your wish Steve 😉

          On Ralph’s blog Autodesk have “come clean” thru’ Anagnost, a VP, contradicting his boss Bass, a CEO. Who incidentally did not know why he said what he said and who seems incapable of making the correction himself?????

          This is the sort of stuff (or stuffing around) which gives we customers confidence a trusted business partner and supplier of a key business tool is being run by professionals who have, in the fore front of their minds, their customers best interests.

          These guys are making a mockery of their customers, technology and the company(s) they represent. They all have an unprecedented ability to communicate with customers and fail at every turn. CAD software vendor management, in key areas, are increasingly being seen as having lost the plot.

  16. R. Paul Waddington

    I, a short time ago read RalphG’s http://www.upfrontezine.com/2012/upf-756.htm and my blood boiled.
    That these (Autodesk employees) guys are (supposedly) in charge of a business tool supplier we rely on and are making the contradictory statements they are, is one thing. That they have used Ralph’s forum to attempt to re-write history to their own ends is quite another.

    The decisions surrounding the AXING of MDT can be argued as the facts are only known by those who took them but, what cannot be argued is MDT was supplied free. It is rubbish, it was paid for and Autodesk continued to accept subscription fees knowing FULL WELL they were going to shaft a number of us, long before they let us know and did. Inventor was supplied without even a cursory question as to whether or not it was wanted and was used to push us out of MDT. To suggest anything else is false.

    It would appear in Ralph’s interview Autodesk’s management want us to accept history as a record of their support of us; I would suggest Autodesk’s Anagnost and Helm look at Autodesk’s history and hang their heads I shame.

    “The best evidence is how we have behaved historically” is not a comment I would have made had I been wearing their shoes and it is one, along with the other promises they have just made, they will not be proud to have attached to them in the near future.

    I said in my earlier post these guys were mocking their customers and Ralph’s interview proves the point!

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