Matthew West

Jon Hirschtick Talks Platform Shifts and Online Data Security

Blog Post created by Matthew West Employee on Oct 26, 2010

A few weeks ago SolidWorks CEO Jeff Ray posted an update addressing some of the questions that  have come up following the  announcements made back in February at SolidWorks World 2010. One of the  things that Jeff touched on was the commitment SolidWorks made to  supporting three platforms—the desktop, mobile devices, and online.


While  the desktop is the platform used by most SolidWorks customers, online  and mobile are (relatively) new territory for the design software  industry. To get a better perspective on what’s happening in the world  of hardware and software, I sat down to talk with SolidWorks founder Jon  Hirschtick, who has been studying the changing computing landscape for  the past few years.


Matt: Before we start  talking about current and future platforms and technology, let’s go back  in time. What was the situation like when SolidWorks first came out in  1995?


Jon: It’s easy to forget, but the first  version of SolidWorks came out during a major technology shift. The  introduction of the Windows 95 platform and new processor architectures  combined to make the power of 32-bit computing available to 3D CAD users  for the first time. Before that, 3D CAD had to be done on expensive  UNIX workstations. It was new technology that made SolidWorks and other  desktop 3D CAD systems even possible.


Matt: And what do you see happening now?


Jon: We’re  in the middle of another major shift in computing, and how people use  technology. I’m seeing changes in ways people interact with their  devices, with touch and motion becoming more common. Think about devices  like the iPad and iPhone, or gaming systems like the Nintendo Wii. The  way you use those is radically different from the way you use a desktop  computer with a keyboard and mouse.


There’s also a shift to using  online apps and resources. Most people are comfortable doing their  banking online now, and almost everyone has a Gmail account. Lots of  businesses are using for their CRM needs. Adobe has  offered an online version of Photoshop for a few years. Millions of  people are playing videos games online, whether that’s something like  World of Warcraft or Xbox Live.


In a lot of ways, the design  software industry is late to the party, and is only now starting to  catch up. The technology and infrastructure is already there; we just  have to start developing software to take advantage of it.


Matt: One of the weaknesses of hosted or online computing that’s often  pointed out concerns Internet bandwidth and latency. Is the  infrastructure robust enough for most people to go to 100% online  applications?


Jon: Any computing model has  advantages and disadvantages. With desktops, you always have your  software installed locally, but you’re constrained by the processing  power inside your computer, and it’s expensive to upgrade. Your computer  is also vulnerable to viruses, crashes, and data loss. Moving resources  online largely eliminates these problems, but also forces you to change  your expectations about computing in general.


Depending on where  you are in the world, you may have to live with some amount of latency,  but what you lose there will be made up by the increased computing  power you have access to, meaning your models rebuild faster,  simulations are available on demand, and so forth. You’ll also have  access to rendering capabilities far beyond anything available for a  desktop computer. And bandwidth is increasing exponentially at this  point—I regularly stream (not download) full HD movies to my TV. If  that’s possible now, there should be no problem moving design software  online.


Another advantage is that applications can be specially  written for other devices, like tablets or smartphones, and can leverage  the strengths that those devices offer. So your data becomes more  portable, and you’re not confined to just your desktop workstation.


Matt: What about the way people work? How is that affecting the technology?


Jon: Good  question. I’m seeing two major things here. The first is that more and  more companies are outsourcing some amount of their design work, or  building ad hoc teams in different parts of the world. This creates an  increased need for data to be accessible anywhere, at any time.  Leveraging the Internet makes this simpler than emailing files back and  forth, which is something that the upcoming SolidWorks data sharing  application will address.


Secondly, the explosion in social  networking in the last ten years is making people more communicative and  collaborative, and any new applications should be built to take  advantage of team-based design. The days of a single person designing a  product from start to finish are largely over, and we need to make it  easy for teams to communicate and share data.


Matt: One last question—you’ve done a lot of research lately into online data  storage and security. What are your thoughts on the pros and cons of  each?


Jon: When you only store your data  locally, you have complete control over it. But it’s also pretty easy  for someone to steal it using a thumb drive, or even a SIM card from a  cell phone. And unless you’re working somewhere with military-spec  security, your computers are relatively vulnerable to viruses and  attacks. Especially if you’re like many of our customers and don’t have  dedicated IT staff. You’re also vulnerable to data loss if you’re not  adhering to a strict backup protocol.


When you store your data  online, you’re not as vulnerable to local issues, and the security  protocols at companies like Google are better than anything most of our  customers have access to. There’s also a considerable amount of  redundancy that takes place, so if one drive in a data farm goes down,  there’s a backup somewhere else. But on the downside, network congestion  or outages can occasionally prevent you from accessing your data.


It’s  like the difference between keeping your valuables in a bank vault, or a  safe in your closet. Sure, banks can get robbed, but homes get robbed  more often than banks. So, where would you rather keep your  grandmother’s wedding rings?