One of the hot topics on our recent conference "CADforum 2011 - digital prototyping", both in the roundtable discussion and in personal meetings, was the "Cloud", that is, specifically Autodesk Cloud - web-based applications by Autodesk. The discussions revealed that the success or failure of the cloud (incl. cloud in the CAD area) is mainly a question of trust, a perception of its reliability and safety for professional users.
Part of the potential cloud users completely rejects it - quoting: "it is a return back into the history of mainframe computers", "first couple of black-outs and no one will believe the cloud anymore" (this reminds to some bloggers saying that "the cloud is dead"). Part of the future users admits on the other hand that this concept already works in other, "personal" areas (Google Mail, Facebook, YouTube) and could work the same way in CAD. In any case it is evident that the key to acceptance of the cloud are not the technical limitations (band capacity is rather an uninteresting matter of time), but just the credibility and reliability of its daily operation.
For skeptics, let's take a hypothetical example/question: Do you think that any well-established company would entrust to the cloud all its data critical to its core business operations? Its valuable data containing corporate know-how and the major source of its future income? The data that if would be lost, erased, or even if it would fell into the hands of competitors, would mean huge losses and significantly jeopardize the continued operation of that company? The data, which are needed every day, quickly, and data that is updated very often?
No, I'm not talking about any manufacturing or construction company and CAD data. We are talking about CRM data, business data about hot leads, business negotiations and procurement, including contacts and meeting notes. And the question is far from hypothetical. Such cloud service already exists and it is here for many years. The hosted CRM application SalesForce.com exists since 1999 (when the web services were not yet called "cloud"), it is very successful and it is relied on by such companies as Cisco, Dell, Hitachi, KONE, Motorola, O2, Toyota, and also Intergraph and Autodesk. I hear them laughing when they read about the cloud being dead...
Another often overlooked argument speaking in favour of the cloud is the fact that according to statistics, the most common cause of theft or abuse of corporate data are own employees, or attacks from the internal network. So the seemingly "credible" internal network and the security of "own servers" may be not that safe harbour.
Autodesk cloud services are on the rise. It is not only the recently launched Autodesk Cloud for subscribers of CAD applications, but also other popular Autodesk web-cloud applications like PhotoFly (photo -> 3D model) or Homestyler (interior design). And other significant cloud applications will be announced at the upcoming Autodesk University (see everything changes).