The Periodic Table Of Online CAD

The Periodic Table Of Online CAD

An Elementary Overview

The advent of Windows may seem like ancient history. But the operating environment changed the way engineers work. It made CAD affordable for all types of engineering companies—large or small.

Engineers, being engineers, had their doubts.

Now, as they hear more about online CAD, they’re expressing similar skepticism. 

We hear you. You may be thinking:

“Online CAD is total hype.”


“storing engineering intelligence in the cloud is unsafe.”

“CAD in the cloud is bound to be slow.”

“If the internet goes down, it will take my entire model with it.”

Or, our favorite:

 “The cloud is good for lightweight applications, like CRM, but it’s no match for heavyweights like CAD.”

Industry giants such as NVIDIA, VMware and Amazon and upstarts such as OnShape, FRA.ME and designair (the author of this article) are on a mission to bring the CAD industry to the cloud.

We’re all determined to revolutionize how CAD applications run. To us, the change is on a Windows-level scale. The irony is not lost on us: cloud harks back to a centralized computing, even a mainframe, deliver method. 

Online CAD means engineers and designers can do 3D design work from wherever they are, and on any device. The designs reside online rather than on an individual workstation.

Your data in the cloud is very secure - just like your money in the bank is safer than under the mattress.

What are the different flavors of online CAD? How do you know which one is right for you? 

Periodic Table of CAD

Online CAD is available in two delivery methods (private and public) and comes in three different flavors—SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS. The figure below, based on the periodic table—customized to CAD--helps break out those flavors and method of delivery. It also gives a look at the providers within each space.

Private Jet or Flying Commercial?

First, let’s break out two delivery methods: the public and the private cloud. Companies can purchase the equipment to run a private cloud and operate it behind their firewall.

You can compare the privately-owned cloud with the company’s private jet. The company gets to use it whenever and however they want. So, like a private jet, the private cloud brings its own benefit, but the expense makes it unattainable for most companies.

On the other hand, with a public cloud you share the underlying software and infrastructure. It’s like how you, as a “member of the public” buy a plane ticket to fly on a publicly available airplane. Your ticket helps the public airline keep its airplanes flying. The public cloud provider is like the airline; it has purchased and maintains the public cloud that companies pay a fee to access.

Then, cloud comes in three different flavors —Saas, PaaS, and IaaS.

SaaS – All Inclusive

Software-as-a-service, or SaaS, delivers the CAD software plus everything a that is needed to run CAD in the cloud—including the cloud infrastructure and the middleware —for a great price.

Today, SaaS does come with a drawback: the capabilities of that software are limited in comparison with established CAD packages.

As the periodic table shows, presently, only a handful of companies truly offer CAD in the cloud. There’s really only one game in town—OnShape--that offers true CAD in the cloud. Tinkercad is also in the cloud, but it’s for personal use - for tinkering, as the name implies - rather than big-guns engineering or design. Autodesk Fusion 360 offers SaaS on a public cloud platform with models automatically shared to others on a designers “personal hub.” All other users of the software are on the same cloud platform, though they’re segregated from one another.

PaaS – Bring Your Own License

SaaS should always be a first consideration if you are brand-new to 3D CAD. If you’re a longtime user of an established CAD package, platform-as-a-service, or PaaS, is the right choice, as it lets you take your CAD system online.

Under the PaaS model, the cloud provider takes care of everything an engineering company needs to run CAD in the cloud except the CAD application itself. The provider “virtualizes” the engineering company’s desktop and laptops. 

Any type of CAD application that exists can now be run in the cloud thanks to this method of service delivery. The engineering or design company brings its own CAD application, using its own license key, and installs it onto the workstation. Its employees are then good to go.

Public PaaS has a lot going for it, including a quick return on investment. For that reason, PaaS is especially useful for all but the large enterprises – companies that employ more than 250 CAD users.

As the period table shows, public providers that offer these services include Designair, Amazon Workspaces and Cloudalize.

Private PaaS is affordable for large companies. Rather than share it with other customers, a private PaaS is placed behind the company’s firewall. Either a System Integrator or the internal IT Department runs it from there.  

IaaS – Do it Yourself

 Finally, there’s the do-it-yourself option, infrastructure-as-a-service or IaaS. As the name implies, those who use this option build (private) or rent (public) their own bare cloud infrastructure.

IaaS gives you total control but bringing your own components and designing your own infrastructure can be cumbersome and complex. Moreover, it doesn’t really save you money.

Online CAD is ready for you today. The only thing engineers and designers who use online CAD need to do is to log in from anywhere, on their laptop or desktop, and get to work on their latest CAD design.