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Autodesk shifts design apps to the cloud

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Autodesk is planning to take the bulk of its software onto cloud services in the next three years, beginning with AutoCAD WS.

“The collaborative aspects of cloud working are going to revolutionize the design field,” Andrew Anagnost, vice president of suites, web services and subscription at Autodesk, told The Register.

He explained that a properly configured platform could host design data and ensure that individual users would get the most relevant information, such as building specifications for structural engineers or visualizations for architects. What's more, since no local software will be needed, additional viewers can be added on the fly.

The company has hosted cloud services itself for the last decade, since the launch of Buzzsaw, but it will now be buying compute time from Amazon EC2 to run a design and visualization suite aimed at small and medium sized companies who are looking to run collaborative design sessions. The company is also including testing and optimization code, so that a designer could test various build scenarios to find the optimal one.

The pricing model will be subscription based, with a basic offering for small jobs and then data maintenance pricing if a company needs more computing cycles or fine-grained management of who accesses its data. Within three years, the company expects to have all of its software available online in this way, but it will initially focus on software like AutoCAD WS.

On the security side, Autodesk will be offering a one-size-fits-all package, and it is planning on adding encryption to the service. But Anagnost says that fears over data security will be the biggest brake on people getting involved.

“This is one of the biggest concerns, and the biggest governor on adoption,” he said. “If someone’s highly concerned then may not be able to get them off that – in the same way that some people refuse to use online banking.”

The other problem for some companies will be fear of downtime on the service, but according to Anagnost, this was really a matter of configuration and having failover plans ready. During the recent EC2 outage, he said, Autodesk wasn’t affected because it had plans in place to shift servers to alternative areas of supply.

Shifting the focus to cloud access on mobile devices may get Autodesk customers it didn’t know it had, he said, pointing to the example of its Sketchbook application. This was originally envisaged as a tool for industrial designers and sold in the thousands. However, when the company ported it to mobile devices like the iPhone, it took off among the general public, and there has now been over seven million downloads of the package to date. ®

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