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The use of cloud-based solutions is an emerging and ever-evolving trend in the engineering and manufacturing marketplaces. Autodesk Labs recently  unveiled its newest cloud-based offering, Project Butterfly, a secure web application that allows multiple AutoCAD users to simultaneously edit, annotate, and review DWG files online in real-time. Project Butterfly project manager Tal Weiss took some time to discuss this new application, some of its potential benefits, and the future of cloud-based solutions in an interview with Manufacturing Business Technology.

Could you provide a brief overview of Project Butterfly and some of its key features?

The best way to describe it would be to call it Google Docs for AutoCAD… You can view, edit, and access your content from several interacting machines. The way that we look at it at Butterfly is it’s an extension of AutoCAD to the web…to really extend those processes and provide support… It’s really using the web as a platform to provide users with a lot of command and control over their content.

It’s been said that the engineering community has a need for better collaboration. Why do you think that is, and how does Project Butterfly accomplish that goal?

We really wanted to provide the user with a definite way to communicate and work together on design without having to set up any complex solutions or use non-design dedicated software …It provides the ability to view the drawing together, to mark up and edit design together, so you can exchange ideas, make changes, and really facilitate processes…things that done offline or using non-design dedicated software are much harder to achieve.

The web is an evolving medium, and technology is probably making a change in a lot of industries. How can we use that to potentially improve the way that users collaborate? How can you use a lot of the barriers to facilitate basically to have control over which version of your content is being used by people that you share with and down the line. How can you provide better tools to make it easier for people to review and react, to edit those drawings, without having to provide desktop software, the right configurations?

Network security is a major issue for many companies today. How does Project Butterfly address a lot data protection concerns that are out there?

In terms of security, Project Butterfly stores all of your data on the Amazon S3 platform, which is the world’ strongest, most secure platform out there. Breaking into that is like breaking into Fort Knox, or Google, or something...We actually provide you with encryption and security, privacy. It’s a much stronger method of hosting and securing your data…versus basically building your own security infrastructure.

Once you send out a file, you basically lose all control over that content. You can never unshare it…. (But) by using (Project Butterfly), you’re actually never giving people the actual copy of it, but just giving them access to view it online. Then you can dynamically control which permissions they are entitled to, to make sure exactly the right people get access to your IT.

How are users and potential users responding to this Project Butterfly technology and what it offers?

Probably since we’ve put the project out, and it’s not a commercially released project…, just in the four months it’s been out of lab, I think we’ll be passing the 100,000 visit mark this month. We’re going to have 27,000 AutoCAD drawings uploaded by different users. We have a very active community. We’ve has users logging in more than 100 times to the web application, really using it daily to share and collaborate with customers. So we’ve really seen a terrific amount of engagement.

We’ve heard a lot about cloud technology and other technological advancements, and we’re light years ahead of where we were just a few years ago. Where is the technology headed? What are some of the things you see coming down the line that will help customers do business more efficiently and reduce costs even more?

The web is an emerging platform. It’s really come into its own in the last few years. We’re trying to look at which key advantages that platform has that we can let our users leverage. The first is access of content. If you’re driving to a customer meeting, if you’re flying out to a manufacturing site, or you are working from home, always giving you access to the latest version of the content, so you’re normally tied to a specific desktop machine or a specific local network drive. The second thing is looking at the web as a collaborative medium, something which really makes it so much easier to exchange ides, to exchange comments…Another key aspect that’s very interesting has to do with the way that they provide users with infinite storage space. You have to have solutions put in place to provide backup and recovery. You need to have your contact backed up, and the web and cloud solutions provide that out of the box. The fourth thing is infinite computing power. Today you are limited…in the computing power your desktop machine has. But…if you can harness the power of several hundred machines…there are ways to get that. Those are a few of the things that cloud is looking at, in terms of what the web can do for customers and people in the engineering and design space.