Last September Autodesk announced the launch of its cloud-based services, offering free features and additional benefits for subscription customers.

I have been following Autodesk’s cloud aspirations for some time now. While initial experiments involved running desktop applications on remote servers (Project Twitch) the reality of this happening is clearly some way off. More recently, the company has released capabilities that would add to its existing desktop applications. Autodesk Cloud is the first offering that enables designs to be accessible everywhere with some of these really useful applications.

Autodesk Cloud is your own personal internet hard drive. It is free to sign up and get 1GB of space on the cloud. As it is always on the web server these files are available anywhere there is a computer attached to the Internet and security is provided by email and password log in. With Autodesk expanding iOS and Android-based applications, drawings and design documents are also available through the cloud on smart phones and tablets. In this capacity, you can think of Autodesk Cloud as a USB stick you can’t lose.

Using a drag and drop web interface, files can be uploaded, shared, viewed or edited in AutoCAD WS, a web delivered view and editing tool. It is possible to make a folder structure, share privately or publicly, update a version, see the document activity (history) and assign categories. Unlike most previous Autodesk web offerings, this is not just limited to Internet Explorer but all contemporary browsers.

If you are working with a tablet or smartphone, by using the free Autodesk Design Review Mobile App it is possible to access drawings stored on the cloud anywhere that you can get a wi-fi connection or good 3G signal.

All this capability is available for free. The only thing the service does not support is the editing of 3D models in AutoCAD WS but I am assured this is coming. It is possible to load 3D DWGs into the cloud for others to download and use in their CAD systems.

Subscription enhancements

Autodesk subscription has a whole lot more on offer. First off, there is more space, 3GB per user, so that means more drawings.

Users of Autodesk Suites will get a mix of applications based on the suite they purchased. For AEC the key additional cloud capabilities are rendering, energy analysis and collaboration.

The most popular application is cloud rendering. This enables the creation of photorealistic visualisations to be generated using powerful remote servers, leaving the desktop PC free from the heavy workload. The cloud renderer is accessed from within applications such as Revit through a dialogue box. An email is automatically generated when the rendered image is ready and will appear in the image gallery on icloud or the web services tab in Revit.

As the images are automatically stored online, collaborators can also log in and see the current project renders. There is the added benefit of being able to render a view from anywhere at anytime with different settings or a 360 degree panoramic view.

Energy consumption and building lifecycle costs can be established early in the design process using Autodesk Revit Conceptual Energy Analysis, powered by Autodesk Cloud, to quickly analyse multiple design concepts. As the design evolves the energy analysis report automatically updates. Green Building Studio, a whole building energy and carbon footprint analysis tool has also been ‘cloud-powered’, providing multiple simultaneous online results and accessed anywhere they are needed.

Collaboration is provided by the Buzzsaw cloud application, which was one of the first cloud applications that Autodesk developed. This cloud application allows you to link to external consultants and firms and can now be integrated with the client-side Autodesk Vault document management system to ensure the right revisions of the DWGs are constantly available through the cloud.


Autodesk Cloud is an easy to use and elegant solution to hold important files for on-demand access. With the rise of tablets, 2D drawings and renderings should always be available on site. The capabilities for free usage are very generous.

It gets really interesting for subscribers as it’s the applications that get the most out of the massive (Autodesk calls it infinite) computing power that the cloud can provide. This not only frees up your system but also allows more informed decisions earlier in the design process. I like the fact that the results are both available in applications and online.

Autodesk will be adding more cloud apps over time, adding to the value of the subscription package. There are concerns about security but the Amazon servers use very high-level encryption — and when you think about it who doesn’t use internet banking these days?