Ray Sirois, IT manager for water engineering firm Wright-Pierce has a problem with Autodesk's AutoCAD 2008. Sirois took the unusual step of issuing a press release announcing that his company would stop work on any upgrade plans until performance problems are resolved.
The backstory is that in 2004, my former colleague Henry Baltazar wrote a review of Riverbed Technology's Steelhead application acceleration/WAN bandwidth optimization products. Baltazar also wrote a case study featuring Sirois and Wright-Pierce, one of the first U.S. customers of Riverbed. Then, Sirois was a very satisfied customer. Today, he's frustrated at what he calls a lack of communication and corrective action from Autodesk. For the record, he remains a very satisfied customer of Riverbed.
Today, according to Sirois, when a user saves a file in AutoCAD 2008, the contents of the DWG (the native format for AutoCAD drawings) file are reordered. This reordering makes the file appear as new content to the Steelhead appliance and consequently most the drawing is sent over the WAN. This significantly cuts into employee productivity.
I contacted Autodesk media relations and subsequently had a conversation with Paul Davis, the director of industry and product public relations. Based on that conversation I learned that Autodesk became aware of this problem in November or December of 2007 and is taking steps to determine the best way forward. Autodesk is working with Riverbed and Cisco to see if there is a simple workaround for this behavior. Davis said that Autodesk is working to let customers know what is happening. Davis couldn't tell me the level of priority assigned to the problem or provide an idea of when, if ever it would be corrected.
Here's what I got when I ran that through my PR decoder ring: Autodesk made significant engineering changes to the way DWG files are handled and it can't go back, but it also didn't even occur to them to test the new file handling over WAN optimization environments. It's too expensive to go back to the old method so Autodesk is trying to bend Riverbed and others to put the "fix" in their products to accommodate Autodesk. When this might happen is known only to the great software provider in the sky, so stop askin'. [Author's note: In a different lifetime, I worked for Persoft, a software maker. So I know that predicting bug fixes is as much religion as art or science. But the dance I got from Autodesk was among the best I've seen in some time.]
The decoder ring can sometimes be a bit blunt, but I felt compelled to ask Autodesk's Davis to keep me in the loop on this situation...and next time to have a lot more details and a lot less "couldn't says." I can see why Wright-Pierce's Sirois felt he needed to write a press release announcing his problem with Autodesk to the world.
P.S.: The DWG file reordering doesn't just muck with WAN optimization tools. Sirois told me that his ExaGrid disk-based back up system was also seeing the Autodesk DWG files as mostly-new thereby drastically increasing the amount of storage space and time needed to store AutoCAD drawings.