One of the Autodesk Labs key missions is to explore and prove the viability of new approaches to design. Rather than take a purely theoretical approach, we want to involve customers along the way. That’s why we provide several Software as a Service (SaaS) technologies on http://labs.autodesk.com. One of our SaaS services, in fact, got enough good feedback to graduate and become part of the 2009 release of AutoCAD and Revit. What used to be known as “Content Search” on Labs is now Autodesk Seek.
We continue to have other SaaS technologies on Labs:
Project Freewheel is our technology preview to experiment with the idea of design visualization. We allow customers to post their 2D and 3D designs to our server. They view their designs using a browser. Other colleagues or customers can freely view and comment on the designs – so it is a powerful tool for collaboration. There is actually another instance of Freewheel that has graduated - called Autodesk Freewheel. People loved Freewheel but were reluctant to base their businesses on somebody's "science project."
Project Draw is our technology preview for 2D design creation. Again this uses just the browser. Anyone can sign in and create a vector-based drawing. This could be especially helpful to a designer who frequently works with colleagues or clients who are not well-versed in CAD. They can sketch their ideas, and you as the designer can bring those ideas into a drawing. A picture is worth a thousand words. It can also save time and rework.
Project Showroom is our technology preview for realistic rendering. This experiment allows users to customize a bathroom and see their choices rendered in real time. Our aim is to make the rendering look more and more realistic as advances in hardware and rendering technology advance.
The potential drawbacks to a SaaS approach are "perceived security risk" and network latency. Regardless of advances in technology, some people are not comfortable sharing their data outside of their own corporations. SaaS solutions can be made secure, but not everyone is comfortable with this yet. Though technologies like remoting, provisioning, and virtualization attempt to squeeze as much CPU and bandwidth as hardware allows, there will be times when demand is high and slower performance is experienced. While it is true that SaaS is based on an Internet connection, many people perceive that they must always be connected to be able to leverage SaaS. We have shown, using Project Draw as an example, that offline modes are viable.