At Autodesk University – mobile computing and infinite computing rule!

2 Dec 2010: iPads everywhere. Or so it seems. And supported by amazing cloud apps!

I wrote this on my new iPad while flying back home yesterday after spending two days at Autodesk University (AU). On Monday Autodesk ran a special media event at AU in Las Vegas. Most of Autodesk’s industry verticals reviewed their products and strategies. Yesterday Carl Bass, Autodesk president and CEO opened the conference, highlighted by a series of customers presenting how they make an impact (the conference theme) with design.

Luckily, Bass made himself available to the media for a one hour Q & A session. Bass is simply amazingly on top of Autodesk’s product plans. He continually highlighted how Autodesk is using and plans to use cloud computing to “do things that were not possible before.” For example, recent technology makes use of GPU parallel computing to spawn multiple processes, thus speeding up overall compute time. The only trouble is that developers need to modify their code for a parallel architecture. With the cloud, why bother? Just initiate multiple processes and let them run to completion. Computing cycles have become so cheap and the cloud represents so much resource, that this is now possible.

Different than some other CAD software companies, Autodesk’s view of how cloud computing is brilliant! Some examples: instead of serial rendering, perform many rendering solutions at once, letting the renderer itself choose various lighting schema; instead of a laborious trial and error process for optimization, give the close apps parameter ranges and let the software solve for best fit or design optimizations; deliver solutions to mobile devices, engaging cloud computing to boost their solution speeds; and so on.

I am impressed with Autodesk’s focus and thinking outside the box. Don’t replicate desktop solutions on the cloud. Instead make maximum use of desktop and mobile systems, utilizing the cloud where it makes sense. Jeff Kowalski, Autodesk CTO explained how their software, to support different platforms (think AutoCAD for the Mac), has been redesigned to isolate it self from the platform, thus making applications easier to transport to iPads and similar tablets, when they appear.

See for yourself. Autodesk now has several iPad apps, which you can download from iTunes: AutoCAD WS, IPM Viewer, and Sketchbook. AutoCAD WS makes dwg files portable and practical on the iPad, including mobile alterations of data and markup. IPM Viewer views Publisher animations and other documentation. Sketchbook on the iPad makes sketching imminently practical. At AU, 7 artists were awarded best in class for their mobile art pieces — and they are spectacular. See for yourself at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HsWIL0k-Fos .

I asked Bass about when we might see clear examples of specification driven design. He told me about some work they have recently done with mold analysis. In cases where the mold fill is not satisfactory, designers often need to play with different product or mold alternatives to get a better solution. He asked his developers, instead, to imagine a cloud solution. Instead of serially examining shell size, different materials, and possible added injection gates, initiate a cloud solution that would examine these alternatives and suggest the more practical ones to the designer.

Contrast this kind of thinking to some of their competitors. PTC seems to be focusing all their energy on revitalizing their desktop suite to their Creo product line. PTC’s CEO, also a product dude, at the Creo product launch, wondered where cloud computing might be useful. SolidWorks seems only to be toying with some type of collaborative solution.

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