1. Anytime, anywhere, always-up-to-date access
Thanks to the underlying technologies used to develop them, cloud applications typically “play nice” with a variety of devices, form factors and software client platforms. Moreover, since they are not behind the company’s firewall, they are easier to access from anywhere there is a connection to the Internet. This flexibility of device and location empowers your users to use the right device from the right place and do their job more efficiently.
With cloud applications you always have access to the latest software releases and product enhancements. You get the latest upgrades and updates automatically, with no work on your part.
2. Agility & Elasticity
With on-premise applications, it could take months to get the hardware and software procured, delivered, installed and configured. Once everything is up and running, it is painful to make changes to accommodate more (or less) demand. This lack of agility stifles innovation and the ability to pursue new opportunities. In contrast, the upfront costs of cloud applications are much lower and their time-to-value much shorter.
Once deployed, with cloud applications you can easily and quickly scale up or down the resources you buy depending on your business requirements at any given time. Non-IT personnel can adjust the number of users, storage space, and compute power in a self-service way, as frequently as they need, and the bill will adjust accordingly. This elasticity reduces the need of having to predict demand upfront, and the risk of sitting on expensive idle resources or, conversely, struggling with insufficient capacity.
As contentious as this may sound, cloud providers are much better equipped at safeguarding the confidentiality, privacy, and security of their customers than the IT departments of most companies. They are strongly incentivised to do so, since they could quickly go out of business if they don’t. They have hired the best and brightest security and privacy experts, and invested millions in infrastructure and equipment. They do this every day, for many customers, so they have learned a lot and gotten much better at it.
Generally speaking, cloud providers provide multiple layers of security:
- Physical protection and access control to their data centers
- Data center redundancy
- Network and communications security
- Encrypted data storage
Cloud providers also undergo third party security certifications (such as ISO 27001 and SSAE 16/ISAE 3402) that certify that certain security controls are in place and operating as intended.
The security of a cloud application is largely determined by the security of the underlying cloud infrastructure on which it runs. That said, application vendors can add extra security between you and the cloud infrastructure with things like application security, monitoring, audits, etc. Ultimately, application vendors should be responsible for the security of their applications and address your security concerns directly, without deflecting to the cloud providers.
4. (Virtually) infinite compute power
No data center in the planet has an infinite number of computers so, strictly speaking, nobody can possibly offer infinite computing power (hence the “virtually” in the title). But cloud applications can take advantage of the compute scalability of the cloud and access a lot of compute power, very likely more than you will ever have in-house.
Certain engineering cloud applications, such as simulation and rendering, can run faster as more machines are recruited to run portions of an operation in parallel. Some cloud providers also offer specialized hardware, such as cloud GPUs and optimized servers that can be leveraged by cloud applications to run faster. Some applications give you the flexibility to request extra machines, at a premium, to run a particular job faster, or to select local vs. cloud processing, to meet your deadlines and budget more efficiently.
This access to virtually infinite compute power is changing the way we design and innovate. More and more people are gaining access to enormous compute power – previously reserved to the largest and most sophisticated of enterprises – that allows them to run simulation studies on a massive scale, iteratively run thousands of simulations across entire design spaces to optimize designs, and explore thousands of options concurrently.
5. Cloud applications for engineering
There are many cloud applications specifically targeted at design and manufacturing, and the list is growing. Here are a few (with examples from Autodesk in parenthesis):
- Product Modeling: for 2D/3D CAD, product modeling, industrial and mechanical design (Autodesk AutoCAD 360, Autodesk Fusion 360, Autodesk Configurator 360)
- Rendering/Visualization: for producing photorealistic images and videos from 3D models (Rendering in Autodesk 360)
- Analysis/Simulation/Optimization: for running mechanical, structural, fluid, and thermal simulations and optimizations (Autodesk Simulation Flex, Autodesk Optimization for Inventor)
- Collaboration: for storing, viewing, editing, marking up, and sharing files, versioning control, and on-line collaboration (Autodesk 360, Autodesk Mockup 360)
- PLM: for managing the product lifecycle, configuration and versioning control, and workflows (Autodesk PLM 360)
- Reality Capture: for creating and manipulating 3D point clouds and meshes from laser scans and photos (Autodesk Recap 360)
- CAM: for generating tool paths and code to drive numerically control manufacturing equipment (CAM For Fusion 360)
- Process Modeling: for modeling, simulating, and optimizing manufacturing processes (Autodesk Process Analysis 360)
Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) are two other categories that are offering applications in the cloud and are closely related to engineering and manufacturing. ERP is used to manage key areas of a company’s business such as manufacturing planning, inventory management, supply chain management, finances, and human resources. CRM is used to manage the company’s interactions with current and future customers, including marketing campaigns, opportunities, sales, and customer support. Examples of vendors with ERP and CRM applications in the cloud are NetSuite, Microsoft Dynamics, Epicor, Plex, Infor, SAP, and Oracle.
I hope I was able to shed some light on some of the things to keep in mind when considering a move to cloud applications, and piqued your interest to evaluate a couple of them yourself. The best way to start is to sign up for a trial subscription and use it in a couple of pilot projects. The risks are relatively low, but the rewards could be huge. Have fun!