Avoiding The Blue Screen Of Death: Welcome To A New Generation of CAD Reliability

Operating software in the cloud has many advantages. Reliability and redundancy are a couple. CAD is taking a similar approach, launching cloud-based solutions. By Dave Corcoran, co-founder and VP of Research & Development, Onshape

I  would like to share a not-so-fond memory that perhaps may resonate with your own experience. As a software development manager at one of my prior companies, I heavily relied on a desktop issue-tracking application to clean up my projects. In the user interface, there was a delete button for the issue that I was working on, and right next to it, there was a similar-looking delete button for the entire project.

What Happened Next?

One day, while rushing through deleting a bunch of duplicate issues, I accidentally clicked the big self-destruct button. It looked exactly like the other delete button. When the dialogue box asked me if I was sure, I thought nothing of clicking ‘yes’one more time.

Turned out that I had lost everything for that particular project. To recover the data, I had to sheepishly go to our system administrator. He backed up all of our computers on a weekly basis. I messed things up for everybody until the project was restored —and even then, a week’s worth of everyone’s work was lost forever.

Avoiding Crashes In The Cloud

You never forget moments like this —an annoying setback is an outright disaster when it happens to you —but fortunately these kind of human mistakes are far more recoverable today thanks to software in the cloud.

If I were using a cloud version of that software when I lost my project, I could have retrieved my work from the trash and immediately restored it to my desktop. Even if I overrode the safety mechanism and emptied the trash, I still could have called the cloud service support team and asked them to try to get my work back. The odds of success would have been high because a correctly done SaaS application will be frequently backing everything up.

The cloud is not magic. You (and I) certainly still can and will make careless mistakes. But a correctly architected cloud product does not rely on information stored in memory that has not been transacted to a file yet. On a desktop computer, the file is the permanent storage so you are always working in memory. If you have not hit the save button, and the system crashes before the information in memory is stored to the file, you lose the information. That is why crashes (and accidental deletions) are particularly bad on the desktop. You lose your work since the last time you saved.

It Can Always Get Worse

In addition, you also lose time because you have to bring the application up again, you have to open the file again, you have to get to the same point and then you have to redo the work you lost. Things can get worse, of course, such when the crash is serious enough to make you reboot the machine and really start from scratch. That is what is ominously described in Windows as the ‘Blue Screen of Death.’

You can also have unpleasant surprises on your desktop where data from one application overrides data from another application and ruthlessly corrupts everything. One of our earliest clients, AfterDark Technologies founder Dan Wilson told us that before he moved his design work to the cloud, he lost his entire archive of 3D CAD drawings when his virtual machine crashed. He was using VMware to run his PC-based CAD software on a Mac —a function superfluous to design —and never imagined his work was at risk.

That is an expensive and painful lesson no one should have to repeat. In Onshape, you can work on your data from any device —you are not locked to one license, one operating system, one device.

Ever notice that you very seldom get corrupted Gmail? If you are writing an email and somebody pulls the plug on your computer, you can go to another computer and see that your draft is still there —pretty much up until the last word you typed. All of your old mail is still there, too. You do not have to manage archives or worry about disk space. And browsers are built to prevent access to data on your local disk —so browser-based applications like Onshape cannot corrupt data on your desktop.

Redundancy = Peace Of Mind

That is what the cloud gives you. Google has many servers running at once, communicating with each other, keeping track of what you are doing, basically almost on a character-by-character basis. It is storing your work and storing it redundantly. That is another big difference between desktop-based software and a correctly architected cloud application.

With Gmail, if one of the servers you are using crashes, Google puts another one right in its place and you just keep going. When there is a crash (or ‘injured’server), you might see a little delay or blip —or at worst, you may have to refresh your browser —but then you are back right where you were. No lost data. No lost time.

Onshape works the same way. Think about that classic ‘if a tree falls in the forest’question. When a desktop application crashes on your desktop, you are next to the tree and it may land on you. But when something crashes in the cloud, there is a good chance you will not even know it happened. As a result, it is not really a crash to you.

We believe that is the way it should be. The less time you spend worrying about your software, the more time you can invest in your designs.

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