Is Cloud-Based CAD a Real Thing?

Is Cloud-Based CAD a Real Thing?

A Quick Guide to Cloud-Based CAD

Is Computer-Aided Design (CAD) going through a paradigm shift? For most of its history, this graphics-intensive technology had to be installed on powerful desktop computers. The pressing need to process millions of calculations and generate high-resolution images meant that designers were required to sit physically at their workstations to be productive – but this status quo is starting to change. 

Today, CAD technology is increasingly available via cloud computing. McKinsey, a digital consultancy, recently predicted that cloud-based design software would represent one-fifth of the CAD market within the next few years. Furthermore, designers seem to like the idea too, with 70% of professionals saying they feel cloud CAD software does enough to meet the requirements of the design process and modern workflows.

But is cloud-based CAD right for your company? Let’s learn more about what cloud-based CAD is and what the benefits and drawbacks of this technology are.


What is Cloud-Based CAD?

Cloud-based CAD software comes in two main types:

CAD on the Cloud vs CAD in the Cloud


With CAD-on-the-Cloud, you can install any existing CAD software on a cloud-based platform. Designers can then use their CAD programs over the internet instead of solely on their desktop computers. Generally speaking, the CAD software and design files will be stored online and run efficiently, all in the same place. With remote client software, CAD users can work on 3D design files in the same way as they would in the office with a desktop. 

NOTE: In the interests of full disclosure, at Designair, we provide CAD-on-the-Cloud for engineers, designers, architects and other CAD users.

CAD-in-the-Cloud: Online-Based Design Software 

CAD-in-the-cloud is a relatively new development - these are cloud-native CAD programs that have been developed from scratch. This online form of design software has become possible thanks to significant improvements in internet speed, network bandwidth, and the advanced capabilities of cloud infrastructure providers, such as AWS and Microsoft Azure. 

Until recently, most cloud services and apps have been for relatively simple computing tasks like word processing or spreadsheets. However, some start-ups have been launching cloud-native offerings since 2014. The best-known example is OnShape, which offers computer-assisted design software through the cloud, with features like built-in data management, real time collaboration tools, and more.

How Does it Differ from Traditional CAD Software?  

CAD-on-the-Cloud is considered nearly identical to traditional CAD software. Designers can access the same features they would expect from their traditional design software on a local desktop. That being said, there are some key differences in the way you engage with it: 

  • Interact over a browser or a remote client: When editing cloud-based CAD files, users interact with them over a browser or remote client rather than by loading up software on their desktop machine.
  • Requires an internet connection: To use this type of cloud-based CAD software, designers must have an internet connection to be able to edit files remotely.
  • Can use practically any computer: So long as the computer has an internet connection, the designer does not need to have access to a powerful computer themselves - almost any computer, regardless of processing power, will do.

    CAD-in-the-Cloud features brand-new applications that are designed and built exclusively for modern cloud infrastructure. These programs differ from traditional CAD in other ways:    

    • Features and breadth of functionality: While CAD-in-the-Cloud may still lack the finer features of traditional CAD systems, these cloud-based programs are catching up fast.
    • Collaborative by nature: Just as Google Docs is more collaborative than Microsoft Word on your personal laptop, CAD-in-the-Cloud offers unmatched collaboration for designers.
    • Ecosystem: CAD-in-the-Cloud comes with many complementary offerings, including add-ons and plug-ins such as Simulation solutions, 3D printing capabilities, PLM, and many other niche solutions.
    • Pay and go: CAD-in-the-Cloud software is available as soon as you have charged your credit card. 

    Benefits of Cloud-Based CAD

    So, why are designers, architects, and engineers increasingly turning to cloud-based solutions? Here are some of the main benefits to cloud-based CAD. 

    More Flexibility for Designers  

    Cloud-based CAD means that designers can connect to their files and design software from anywhere – so long as they have a reliable internet connection. This functionality allows them to work at the office, from home, or while working at a client’s office. By comparison, using traditional on-premises CAD programs means that you can only connect to your files at a specific local computer.  

    Increased Productivity Due to Easier Access

    If designers can connect to their files remotely, it increases their productivity potential too. For example, if a designer cannot get to the office on a particular day for one reason or another, utilizing online software means they can still work remotely. On the other hand, a designer who needs to be at a specific physical workstation to edit CAD files can only do so at the office.  

    Improved Collaboration

    Since cloud-based CAD data and software are stored online, anyone with the correct login credentials can access your files and view them remotely. This is a game-changer for collaboration, meaning that employees at different offices, staff at other businesses you are partnering with, freelancers, or even your end customer, can log in, view files, discuss them with you, and even make their own edits and suggestions.  

    By being able to collaborate in such a way over the cloud, the design process can be expedited, and your entire operation can move much more efficiently.

    Lower Cost (Subscription-Based Software)

    With CAD-in-the-Cloud, users (or their companies) will pay for a software license through a yearly subscription. This is a very different model to traditional CAD software, where businesses would typically have to pay out thousands of dollars to use the latest version of the software, as well as purchase high-powered workstations, and pay a team of IT experts to keep the software and hardware running properly.  

    With a subscription-based approach, it is much easier to manage the costs of your CAD software, and you can add or remove subscription licenses from the cloud providers whenever you’d like.  

    Safe and Secure information

    Cloud-based software provides a safe and secure way for you to store your company’s CAD files. To control access to your digital blueprints, designs, or engineering plans, you can use sophisticated cyber security measures such as multi-factor authentication. The servers where your files are held are highly secure, guarded by professionals, and are safe from data breaches, floods, fires, and other external risks. 

    Drawbacks to Cloud-Based CAD

    Despite the many benefits of cloud-based CAD, it does come with certain drawbacks and limitations that it’s important to be aware of.  

    Software Requires an Internet Connection

    The nature of cloud-based CAD means that your employees must have a stable internet connection if they are to view your files in real-time and use the software. Internet connections need to be reliable and fast.

    Latency is also an issue with cloud-based systems. If the server where the files are held is physically far away, interaction could become slower and more frustrating. No designer wishes to wait for a movement of their mouse to register on-screen.

    Limited Options are Currently Available (for CAD-in-the-Cloud)

    Although there is considerable excitement about the potential for cloud-based CAD, the only serious contender is OnShape, which focuses solely on Mechanical CAD. In the Mechanical CAD space, OnShape is of particular interest for companies that design high-tech gadgets with short development cycles and little or no re-use of parts from older products. For architecture, engineering, and generative design, there’s no offering (yet) with the caliber of OnShape. For these use cases, online CAD software through CAD-on-the-Cloud is the only real option.

    Why are CAD Users Moving to the Cloud?

    Many designers, architects, and engineers are looking to move their design software and files to the cloud. Here are some of the key reasons why.  

    Improved Workflow in the 21st Century

    Today, it seems like all kinds of software are available over the cloud, which means that many business processes and activities are happening almost exclusively online. With CAD users moving towards cloud solutions along with the rest of the office, an improved workflow is just one of the many benefits that come with cloud computing. 

    Ability to Work from Anywhere

    Remote working has been gaining popularity for many years, but it has been massively accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns. Cloud-based CAD, of course, allows designers to work both from home and at the office. Without this technology, designers would be forced to either transport their desktop computers between home and the office each day or invest in expensive workstations for the different places they work. 

    Ease of Access to Software

    Another major attraction of cloud-based CAD is that designers can access the software on any device. There is no need to install heavy technology on their computers, and anybody (including students, subcontractors, and freelancers) can easily access files and various software programs when they need them. 

    Contact Designair for More Information on Cloud-Based CAD?

    At this point, we hope you have a better understanding of cloud-based CAD and the different options that are available to you. If you have decided that cloud-based CAD is a needed shift for your company, why not try it for yourself?  

    If CAD-in-the-Cloud is a good fit for you, we recommend you sign up for OnShape’s free option via this link: . Or, if you’re more interested in CAD-on-the-Cloud, the team at Designair is happy to help. As an innovative provider of cloud-based platforms, our technology allows you to use your CAD and BIM software on our platform with powerful GPUs to provide a smooth experience when using your CAD software remotely. To learn about how designair can help your business - or for a free trial - contact us today.