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3DCADWorld - Look up in the sky, it’s CAD software

3DCADWorld - Look up in the sky, it’s CAD software
A groundbreaking article with PTC's Jon Hirtschick and designairspace's Len Williams on CAD in the Cloud. The article concludes that, while the future remains cloudy, PTC is backing clearing skies for CAD in the cloud. With a large CAD maker backing SaaS, expect to see a flurry of news and updates. 

Citrix Blog - How COVID-19 is changing work for product developers and architects

Citrix Blog - How COVID-19 is changing work for product developers and architects

 This blog first appeared in the Citrix Blog. 

Designairspace Offers A Long-Term Solution for Graphics-Intensive Remote Design

In a short time, COVID-19 changed everything we know about the workplace, and millions of people have started working remotely.

You might assume that once the crisis is over, things will go back to “normal.” Yet projections suggest that remote working will remain common even after the pandemic has abated. Before the crisis, Forbes reported that 5 percent of employees worked from home in the U.S. That’s expected to double in the post-coronavirus world as businesses and employees see the benefits of full or part-time remote work. Meanwhile, in Germany, the labor minister has proposed introducing a new “right to work from home” law following the success of remote working there during the lockdown.

For product development companies and architecture firms, the upheaval caused by COVID-19 has been especially challenging. Many designers, architects, and engineers depend on physical workstations that usually cannot leave the office to edit and visualize 3D models.

However, the industry is responding fast, and technology companies have developed virtual workstation solutions which enable remote working for designers. What will all this mean for product development?

An Unplanned Experiment in Remote Working

Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, the trend toward remote working was on the rise. Several design and engineering companies (especially large multinationals) had begun to benefit from the potential of virtual workstations for 3D applications. Several major architecture and engineering firms had already successfully set up Citrix virtual workstations that enable their CAD and BIM designers to work remotely.

Nevertheless, the vast majority of CAD (computer aided design) users and processes remained physically tied to in-office desktop computers. But then coronavirus struck and forced millions of small, medium, and large businesses to grapple with the realities of remote working. What has this enormous unplanned experiment in remote working taught us?

  • Remote working is viable for designers. People are productive away from the office.
  • It can improve the employee experience. Staff often find they concentrate on intricate design work better at home where there are fewer distractions.
  • Some face-to-face contact is still valuable. It can help resolve bigger problems and shape company culture.

Many companies were forced to introduce working remotely quickly after lockdown plans were mandated. A shift that normally would have involved months of IT planning happened with many companies in just a couple of weeks — or even less. What do these findings tell us about the future of work — and especially for design-based jobs?

Design Work After COVID-19

As employees and managers adapt to remote working, we can expect some significant and potentially permanent changes to working patterns:

  • Some businesses will allow staff to continue working remotely full time. They may eventually close their physical offices and become entirely remote businesses.
  • In many other companies, we can expect a more flexible approach to remote working. Companies may set rules about how many days per week staff can work remotely or they may leave it up to staff to decide.
  • Of course, in some companies, remote working opportunities will remain limited. But, when a third of employees say they’d take a pay cut if it meant they could do more remote working, it’s going to be hard to retain talent.

But how do these scenarios apply to designers, architects and engineers? Unlike regular business users who mainly use word processors, spreadsheets, and web-based tools, these professionals work with 3D applications such as Revit, Solidworks, and other BIM and CAD software that requires serious computing power and graphics boards.

During the coronavirus lockdown, designers have tried to get around this challenge by:

  • Taking expensive, high-end laptops or even desktop workstations back to their home offices
  • Accessing their office desktops via a VPN
  • Pausing serious design work and focusing on other tasks instead.

All these options have their strengths and weaknesses. And while they are OK as a short-term fix, a more coherent long-term strategy is required.

A Long-Term Solution for Graphics-Intensive Remote Design

If your company expects to continue supporting remote working once the coronavirus lockdown has lifted, you need a long-term solution. And when it comes to graphics-intensive and complex design work, virtual workstations are now available as a subscription service. This provides many advantages:

  • Much lower cost than high-spec laptops: High-spec laptops can cost thousands of dollars per unit, whereas subscriptions of virtual workstations can cost as little as a few dollars per month.
  • Faster than a VPN: Using a broadband connection from home to access a virtual workstation that resides in the provider’s datacentre and that is connected to the internet backbone is significantly faster than working on a physical desktop via a VPN on the corporate network.
  • Requires no specialist knowledge: Unlike VPNs or other remote access technologies, no specialist IT knowledge is required to subscribe to and work with a virtual workstation. These are literally plug-and-play solutions, running in a browser. As an extra bonus, they are available immediately.

For example, one high school in the U.S. is planning to distribute Chromebooks to its students. For their engineering program, students get a subscription for a virtual workstation service so they can run the high-end CAD application PTC Creo on their Chromebooks. Even with the monthly fee for the virtual workstation, the school district pays just a fraction of the cost of a high-power computing laptop. And after the three-month engineering class is over, the subscription for the virtual workstation can be cancelled.

This is one example of how virtual workstations for BIM and CAD applications can be a viable proposition for product development and architecture firms of any size. The German start-up designairspace is a provider of such subscription-based services. With these services, anyone can work remotely with BIM and CAD software on virtual workstations that use Citrix technology.

Preparing for a New Form of Working

Although we are still in the middle of the lockdown in many parts of the world, it is already becoming clear that remote working will almost certainly become a permanent future of work scenario for millions of people. It is therefore invaluable to begin preparing for the future right now — and to explore how virtual workstations can play a part in your teams’ remote working practices.

BricsCAD Blog - Can designairspace support you with working with BricsCAD remotely?

BricsCAD Blog - Can designairspace support you with working with BricsCAD remotely?

- This article was originally posted on the BricsCAD Blog under the title "can virtual workstations support your remote working". It can be found here

Two BricsCAD experts took designairspace for a test. Here's what they found out. 

In these unusual times, millions of people in all kinds of industries are getting used to the ‘new normal’ of remote working.

For CAD designers this change is potentially very disruptive because most users still depend on desktop-based software to create their designs. CAD software is typically very graphic intensive and involves large, heavy files that cannot easily be accessed remotely in the same way as word processing documents, for instance.

Fortunately, there are several ways that you can support remote working for your CAD design teams. One of these is to use virtual workstations which let you load CAD software onto a virtual server that you then access via a personal laptop or desktop. One example is designairspace, a platform that provides virtual workstations to support remote working for CAD designers.

But, how would it work with CAD software like BricsCAD? Two Bricsys experts trialed the technology – here are their findings.

About the testing

Who did the testing?

The tests were carried out by Fleur Dooms (BIM product specialist at Bricsys) and Fredrik Gundersen (Mechanical product specialist at Bricsys).

What was tested?

Over two weeks Fleur and Fredrik trialed BricsCAD BIM and BricsCAD Mechanical on designairspace’s virtual workstations (other virtual workstations are available). They opened different .dwg files from Bricsys 24/7 on the virtual workstations (including one large architecture file at 130MB and a detailed mechanical model with 3,500+ parts) and explored parts and animations to test performance in comparison with a desktop machine. They performed actions like:

  • Panning
  • Zooming
  • Opening large files
  • Modifying parts
  • Resizing

They also assessed the user experience.

What client hardware was used?

Both Fleur and Fredrik used Dell XPS laptops – company-supplied computers they use at home. They also had high internet speeds – Fredrik’s home internet downloads at an impressive 277 MB/second.

Findings from the testing

Over two weeks of testing the designairspace virtual workstations, the Bricsys testers got a good idea of what the software would be like to use as a general remote working designer. Their key findings are described below.

Opening files

When you are working on CAD files remotely, you download files that are stored on Bricsys 24/7.

virtual machines CAD remote working workstations
Downloading a BricsCAD .dwg file from Bricsys 24/7.

Fleur and Fredrik both noted that it was significantly quicker to download heavy files from Bricsys 24/7 to the virtual workstations than it would be to download them to a local machine. This is because virtual workstations and Bricsys 24/7 are located in cloud data centers, which are closer to the internet’s ‘backbone’ than home connections. As a result, it’s much quicker to download and open CAD files from Bricsys 24/7 on a virtual workstation.

Panning and zooming

Panning and zooming actions are very important for CAD design – you need to be able to smoothly move around a model to get the bigger picture, while also exploring details of the greater whole.

panning and zooming a CAD model on a virtual workstation

Both Fleur and Fredrik noted that panning and zooming was generally very smooth using the virtual workstation – it was, in most cases, identical to the experience of using a desktop machine. That said, Fredrik found that there were sometimes small delays, “as you would expect when working with a cloud service”.

Pointing and control

Being able to use the 3D mouse for delicate and intricate work is important to help the designer navigate a model. Both Fleur and Fredrik reported that there were times they noticed lag between moving their physical 3D mouse and the cursor’s appearance on the virtual workstation.

3D mouse on virtual workstations CAD design modeling
Exploring a BricsCAD .dwg file with a 3D mouse.

Fleur said that the 3D mouse was just “a fraction slower”, yet this can sometimes be frustrating when working on intricate pieces of machinery or inside an architectural design. Fredrik added that the cursor would sometimes disappear when inactive. designairspace hopes to release an improved streaming app (end of May).

Set up and installation

If you have decided to use virtual workstations to support remote working during the pandemic, your designers will not be impressed if they have to deal with extensive and complicated set-up processes. Both Fredrik and Fleur described the installation process as “easy” and explained that they were up and running in minutes without any technical support.

Weighing up the pros and cons of virtual workstations

Virtual workstations are one potential option for designers to use Bricsys software remotely. As the assessments by Fleur and Fredrik show, designairspace was more than capable of handling heavy files, zooming and panning, and controlling models. Like any software which is accessed remotely, there are some trade-offs when using virtual workstations to run BricsCAD Mechanical and BricsCAD BIM. If you are considering using virtual workstations it is worth weighing up the following questions:

  • How much will you be using CAD software?

Different designers have different needs with CAD software – some simply need the technology for small projects and minor edits, whereas others will be creating huge files and spending hours every day in the software.

For those casual or part-time users, a virtual workstations solution seems like an obvious option – why spend several thousand Euros on a high spec laptop when an employee will only be using the software occasionally and for small jobs? The cost-saving alone far outweighs the occasional lagging. On the other hand, intensive users working on very heavy projects may still prefer the immediacy of a local machine.

  • How powerful is your physical machine?

Some designers have access to extremely powerful company supplied machines – Fleur and Fredrik, for instance, were using powerful Dell computers. This means that the experience of using BricsCAD Mechanical and BricsCAD BIM on the local machine was very smooth. On the other hand, if you are just using a personal laptop in your home office, virtual workstations will usually provide greater power and be more comfortable rendering graphics.

  • What are your security requirements?

Different companies will have different appetite for risk. In some cases, it will be perfectly fine to bring home models and files on a laptop and work on them remotely. For other companies this would be potentially very risky especially if you are working on highly sensitive projects. Laptops in particular, are vulnerable to theft, so storing files on local computers would be risky. In this case, using a virtual machine to edit models is potentially safer.

Virtual workstations are a reliable option to support remote working

Following two weeks of testing with designairspace, the testers were satisfied that Bricsys customers could use BricsCAD on virtual workstations while working remotely. Virtual workstations will not be right for every designer and every company, yet in many situations, a service like designairspace offer the power, flexibility and sophistication that Bricsys customers will need. To learn more, visit the designairspace website.