If you followed my comments on one of previous posts – Cloud PLM and IT Basic Instincts, I promised to have a conversation with Aras about PLM architecture. On Wednesday, I had a chance to visit Aras Corp. office in Andover, MA and had long conversation with Peter Schroer, CEO of Aras. The idea behind the conversation was to discuss benefits of Aras PLM architecture. Aras is aggressive in their goal to displace existing PLM systems – TeamCenter, ENOVIA and Windchill. When you think about how a company of less than 100 people can do, you would be trying to find “killer innovation” in technology and/or business. So, this conversation was about technology. Obviously, some charts presented by Peter cannot be shared in public. So, here my “collage” of the conversation to give you feeling of the atmosphere :).
History and PLM Architecture
Aras Corp. is probably the newest PLM software created from the scratch back in 2001. Top 3 major PLM systems were created as a result of multiple mergers, acquisitions and additional development. It doesn’t say anything about what system is better. However, coming later to the game provides some clear advantages – learning from previous mistakes and use of advanced technology.
PLM functional architecture
This is my simplified view on PLM functional architecture. It can be applied to many PDM/PLM systems developed for the last two decades (actually, it can be applied to non-PLM systems too). Almost all PLM systems were built on top of RDBMS (the exception known to me was MatrixOne, which runs on object database – Objectivity, but migrated to Oracle later). A very essential layer is ORM (Object Relation Mapper) converting RDBMS into object store and providing the data model to build PDM/PLM applications. The characteristics on ORM are important and define the level of flexibility and basic functional capabilities. Business layer (API) and applications and solutions introduced functionality of the system, including core functions, integrations with desktop and enterprise systems as well as many others.
Almost all PDM/PLM systems passed the trajectory of development started from the so-called “toolkit” to “solutions” with many intermediate stations. This is a place where commonality ends. Different vendors put their own functional priorities as well as specific technological and implementation choices.
At the same time, I would define ORM as one of the core capabilities of every PDM/PLM system to provide an engine to implement multiple functions. In many cases, the capability of ORM defines so called “data modeling” capabilities. It is important to differentiate technological capabilities and marketing buzzwords. One of the characteristics of ORM is to use a certain level of RDBMS capabilities can be a differentiation. RDBMS (e.g. Oracel and MS SQL) is a very mature technology. DB vendors developed highly sophisticated mechanisms to support multiple data modeling capabilities. To use a right combination of RDBM data modeling can impact significantly future capabilities of PLM system.
What is my take on Aras?
In general, I don’t think Aras’ principle architecture is different from Enovia, TeamCenter and Windchill. The implementation technique can vary, but it will deliver most of the functions available in other PDM/PLM systems. On the other side, devil is in details. Coming late to the game (around 2000), Aras had a chance to learn from many mistakes made by PDM/PLM vendors during 1990s. It is an important advantage of Aras. I’ve seen lots of focus on flexibility and efficiency, which can create implementation differentiations and potentially lead to the advantages in implementation and maintenance cost. However, these things are hardly can be visible by just reviewing architecture and can be only proven by real work.
What about other players?
I can see some similarity between Aras architecture and Enovia V6, TeamCenter and Windchill. Aras claims to be lean compared to other systems, I can see some reasons why. At the same time, these claims cannot be taken in a broad range and requires detailed discussion. I found some similarity between Aras and MatrixOne (both companies were founded around I-495 in MA :)). One more vendor to be mentioned here – Autodesk. We don’t have official detailed information about what is inside of Nexus PLM. It will be interesting to get inside of Nexus technology and see it (as soon as Nexus PLM will be released).
What is my conclusion? PLM architecture influences two major characteristics of the system – flexibility and cost of change. Vendors understand it. You can see different marketing terms here – dynamic modeling, insanely configurable, etc. There are no direct dependencies between how each element of architecture impact flexibilty and cost of change. At the same time, overall, it does matter. In modern PLM world, these two things will drive future success of PLM systems and vendors. Just my thoughts…
Freebie. Aras marketing wasn’t involved, and no censorship was applied to the content of this post.