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Autodesk Twitching in the Cloud

Years later, when Web-hosted CAD software is no longer an exception but the norm, when you launch your 3D modeling program not from the Windows start-up menu but from a Web browser, you might recall Project Twitch as Autodesk‘s first step in this direction.

Now live in Autodesk Labs, Twitch is the company’s experiment to deliver the latest versions of its bestselling software titles — AutoCAD, Autodesk Inventor, Autodesk Revit, and Autodesk Maya — over the Web. (The first three are online now, but Maya is forthcoming.) In theory, Twitch lets you try out these software right from your browser window — without download, without installation.

This is the CAD giant’s babystep into cloud computing, more a tiptoe than a leap. As such, it’s not a highly publicized launch. It also comes with quite a bit of restrictions:

  • You need to be located within 1,000 miles of Autodesk’s data center, located in the Bay Area, California.
  • You need to have 1.6 GHz or higher dual-core CPU, 1 GB RAM, display resolution of 1,280 x 1,024 or higher, and a DirectX 9c-capable video card.
  • You need to connect at 5 Mbps or greater bandwidth.

Though Twitch doesn’t require a full software installation, you still need to install a thin client. Depending on where you are located or when you reach the site, the small 7 MB file might require repeated attempts to download (that was my experience). The software made available online may be less than the full version you’re accustomed to. Autodesk press office verified that, at the present, you can only use the preloaded files that come with the trial software; you won’t be able to upload or open your own CAD files.

I live in San Francisco, the heart of the Bay Area, but apparently I don’t meet one or more of the other parameters, so I couldn’t get past the load screen shown below:

Consider yourself extremely lucky if you manage to get past this screen to gain access to Autodesk Project Twitch, the company's experiment in Web-hosted CAD.

Consider yourself extremely lucky if you manage to get past this screen to gain access to Autodesk Project Twitch, the company's experiment in Web-hosted CAD.

But, with Autodesk press office’s help, I can show you what you would see if you were able to log on. Bear in mind, however, that you’re in fierce competition. At the present, Twitch can only accommodate 50 simultaneous users at a time, Autodesk verified.

The project is as much a trial for you as it is for Autodesk. The company is observing how you use Twitch to better understand how it might deliver software over the Web in the future. It’ll be some time before Autodesk makes Twitch available on a wider scale.

Both Autodesk and its rival Dassault Systemes have dabbled into cloud computing, or Web-hosted software, via Autodesk Project Freewheel (at Autodesk Labs) and Drawings Now (at SolidWorks Labs). Whereas these technologies function as lightweight CAD file viewers available in a browser window, Twitch is a pioneering effort to deliver full-function CAD modeling in a similar fashion.

In the early 90s, Alibre Design tried a similar delivery model, under the name Alibre ASP (application service provider), but bandwidth limitations and low CPU horsepower hampered the software’s performance. Coming nearly two decades later, Autodesk’s foray into cloud computing also faces the same hurdles, but to a lesser extent.

As a technology reporter, I look forward the widespread availability of Web-hosted software. One clear advantage: I won’t have to download and install the products I review.

Running Autodesk Inventor from a standard browser, made possible in Project Twitch, now live in Autodesk Labs.

Running Autodesk Inventor from a standard browser, made possible by Project Twitch, now live in Autodesk Labs.

Update: Brian Mathews, VP of platform solutions and emerging businesses for Autodesk Labs, took at look at my log files to find out why I wasn’t able to run Twitch. The following diagnostics are from his email, republished with his permission:

  • “Your network is only able to provide 2.4 Mbps of bandwidth.  It looks like an older version of DSL. ADSL can reach 6 Mbps, and ADSL2+ can reach 18 Mbps. Some providers are promising 30 Mbps soon. Here’s an example regional ISP: http://corp.sonic.net/ceo/2009/09/09/fusion-broadband-pair-bonded/. As for Cable Modem users, speeds are generally well above our 5 Mbps requirement (Comcast’s base package is 12 Mbps).
  • “Your CPU appears to be shy of the required speed to do high resolution, high frame rate graphics. While we could degrade the experience to run on your equipment, Autodesk Labs is initially interested in feedback from customers who have the ability to experience the full and immersive effect. We may consider relaxing the requirements in the future.”
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About Kenneth

Kenneth Wong has been a regular contributor to the CAD industry press since 2000, first an an editor, later as a columnist and freelance writer for various publications. During his nine-year tenure, he has closely followed the migration from 2D to 3D, the growth of PLM (product lifecycle management), and the impact of globalization on manufacturing. His writings have appeared in Cadalyst, Computer Graphics World, and Manufacturing Business Technology, among others.

13 comments

  1. Thanks for giving Project Twitch a try. I would like to find out the source of your issues. Can you send us the two log files found in the Autodesk Trials subfolder of your My Documents folder? You can use labs.trials@autodesk.com.

  2. Interesting. I remember hearing in the 90’s when I owned a Mac that Apple was working on future systems where you purchased tools, not applications. I.e. if you needed a pencil for drawing you would purchase the pencil.

    Wouldn’t it be interesting if CAD became more like a real world machine shop, where you had your front end app (web browser) and just purchased the tools or even rented them for the day. Oh, today I need a CNC drill to make fancy holes and I think it would be good to have it always…a few clicks later your using your CNC drill tool to form your holes. Then you could unload the tool(s) when your not using them equivalent to putting real tools back in the tool box. That way the application stays small.

    Hmm….California dreamin’ 🙂

  3. Jim: Your California dream is the perfect example of on-demand software! It makes perfect sense for certain operations like generating CNC toolpath, running stress analysis, or generating a photo-realistic rendering.

  4. Good report Kenneth. I was so looking forward to hearing what happened when you tried it. The limitations are pretty much expected at this point. I expect within the next couple years, we’ll be dropping the ‘Cloud’ part and simply just refer to it as the CAD we currently use. In other words, it will be the norm.

  5. It is too bad I could not try it (I am in Ottawa, Canada) and I have 10mb up and down. I think bandwidth will always be an issue even with fiber. Features of web-based data/graphics intensihve software need to be delivered on demand and in incremental small chunks, and hence software must be componentized from the ground up.

    I invite you to take a look at our ActiveSolid suite of products, especially the online demo (for Internet Explorer only): http://www.threedify.com/activeSolidApp.html. It is a lightweight (2mb) client side component view and modeling plugin for IE. The server side is in the works. Once server side is in place, we expect to cut down the client size further.

    Dan

  6. Josh: I was looking forward to try it too! 🙁 It’s already becoming the norm with simpler, data-management applications (QuickBooks Online and Arena Solutions PLM modules, for instance), but CAD hogs memory and sweats the CPU, so I imagine it’s a challenge to support multiple connections.

    Dan: Thanks for the invitation. I wasn’t familiar with ActiveSolid. I’d definitely give it a go.

  7. The thing is, there is nothing really all that new here. Autodesk has been playing with the idea of users accessing AutoCAD from a browser for at least 8 or 9 years now. I think it was back to 2000i or 2002 when they first started to play with this. I’ve tried it now and again over those years as they rebrand it (much like their DWG viewing software that they rename every couple of years). In the end, it’s really comes down to them being able to control more how their software is being rented and what can make them the most money. Of course the drawback always comes down to connection speed for you and the speed of their servers and their bandwidth. Autodesk is notorious for having slow bandwidth. Look back at their PointA website,lots of cool tools but so slow that no one would ever bother to trouble themselves to use it. Of course, for folks like me who have since moved into the country and rely on either their cell phone for bandwidth or a satelite internet experience with its latency issues, such Autodesk pipe dreams could end up hurting rather than helping the end user.

    One last thing… if you are looking for a great ISP, Mr. Mathews mentioned Sonic.net. They are I believe the largest independently owned and operated ISP on the west coast, and possibly the nation at this point and their service is absolutely amazing, their tech support is actually helpful and their staff is their to help you, unlike many of the big name national corps.

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