We continue our discussion with Jon Hirschtick, founder of SolidWorks and now Chairman and founder of Onshape, a startup pioneering the introduction of true cloud-based CAD. Though the product has not yet been introduced, we had the unique opportunity to talk to Jon about the future of the cloud, web and mobile and how those will all play into the future of CAD. We also got a few hints along the way about what benefits Onshape might offer to users.
Q: Why is the cloud becoming so important?
A: Cloud computing is going to make all desktops look low end. Traditional desktop systems get faster based on the clock speed of the CPU or perhaps the number of cores. Back when you had faster chips, we had to upgrade our computers to increase performance, but the clock speed of CPUs has reached a limit; they are not getting faster. There is 0% growth in clock speed. If you go and buy another computer in three years, the clock speed of the new one will be no faster than the one you currently have. I’ve been programming computers for 40 years and this is the first time that’s happened. So the prognosis for hardware-based improvements to the user experience is very poor.
Q: So performance will become contingent upon your Internet connection, not your computer?
A: When you look at Internet-connected computing, performance is a function of your Internet bandwidth, the ability to paralyze over many computers and the cost of accessibility. Network bandwidth in the U.S. has increased 50% over the last year, and do you know what we had to do to take advantage of that? Nothing. It’s the first IT upgrade that we have to do nothing to take advantage of.
So what’s happening is that the link between your computer and the Internet went up 50% last year, and it’s going to go up another 50% next year and it’s free and you don’t have to do anything. So a system that is cloud-based and tied to Internet bandwidth is getting better all of the time. Once we’re connected to the cloud, instead of asking can we use six cores or eight cores, the question will be can we use 6,000 cores or 8,000 cores? Someday I think we’ll be using 100,000 cores in the cloud. Not today, but in the future.
Cloud computing with high-network bandwidth is coming, and if we’re going to speed CAD up, we can’t bet on recoding software for eight-core machines with the same CPU speed five years from now. We can bet on having an uber-fast Internet connection to 100,000 cheap cores in the cloud. I think that’s all going to happen.
Q: How do you address the lingering security concerns around CAD in the cloud?
A: We all know that desktop computers are easily compromised by viruses, by bad email attachments, bots, etc. so most desktop computers are very insecure. If you look at cloud-based systems, the track record for security is excellent so if you asked which is the most secure system–desktop or cloud–I would argue that in most cases, when we introduce Onshape to the market, it’s going to be more secure than any desktop CAD system.
That’s the reality, but now let’s talk about the perception. The perception I find with users they typically fall into three groups: those that say, I can’t trust my data in the cloud; I’m keeping it on my local server. Then I ask them, “who has the password to the local server,” and they say that they keep the password on a post-it note in their cubicles. Or I ask, “do you take your laptop home?” And, they say yes. “Do your kids use it?” And, they say, “oh yeah, they play World of Warcraft on it.”
Then there are others, younger people and many major businesses, that view it as safer. If Sony had had its data on Google servers, it’s likely they would not have been compromised. If you don’t want to put your data on the cloud, don’t do it. We’re not for everyone, but there’s a growing community of people who realize it’s much safer and much easier and more secure, and that group is growing every day. The reality is if you’re using email, you’re already putting all your data in the cloud.
Q: IP is an extremely valuable asset to companies. How do you address specific concerns around IP protection and the cloud?
A: Every CAD system out there—except for Onshape—including all the so-called cloud-based solutions out there puts a copy of the CAD data on the local computer, so if you have 10 people working on a design, you have 10 copies of the CAD data, which is inherently insecure. With a properly designed cloud system, you only have one copy; it doesn’t get copied around.
Q: How do cloud-based CAD solutions address data management headaches, such as CAD file version control?
A: With CAD, we sort of assume that with any system, we have to copy files and send them over to the local server, which hogs a lot of bandwidth and presents a lot of security issues. It’s just a bad idea. Checkout is a bad idea; you can’t check out the right amount. You either check out too often and other people can’t work, or you don’t check out enough and then you override other people’s changes.
In my past life, we tried to build PDM systems to fix these problems. We fought the good fight. We tried putting them in the cloud, but the fact is that once you build the CAD system to write files, it’s almost impossible to make any kind of PDM that will work. You can try to use the cloud, but once you’re managing copies of files, we think that’s a bad idea and there’s a better way to do it. The better way is to create an architecture that builds in the version control and collaboration without copying files and without the need for a PDM system. That’s the approach we have taken.
Q: Though the product is not yet out, what can you tell us about Onshape?
A: We’re in early pre-production testing. We’re going to be in testing for a while, but we have users that have done some really cool things with the product; are actually designing, building and shipping real products and that’s super exciting for us. I continually tell our employees “we’re not in the business of making CAD software, we’re in the business of helping users build great products.” And, that reflects in everything we do.
Sound interesting? I’ll be updating you all as I learn more about the Onshape product. To learn more, check out the Onshape site.