What is the future of PLM databases?

by Oleg on July 11, 2012 · 9 comments

Let’s talk today about databases and database technologies. Everybody these days understands what is that… Database technology became an essential part of every application. Practically, everything we did in the past in enterprise software was dependent on databases. Specifically talking about PDM and PLM, databases and data modeling became a crucial part defining the border between “possible” and “impossible” worlds. Here is the definition of database from Wikipedia:

A database is an organized collection of data, today typically in digital form. The data are typically organized to model relevant aspects of reality (for example, the availability of rooms in hotels), in a way that supports processes requiring this information (for example, finding a hotel with vacancies).

PLM Expansion and Database Tech

Product Lifecycle management were pushing the scope and limits of implementations for the last 5-7 years. It is very naturally, since one of the objectives of PLM is to cover full cycle of product development from early idea and requirement management down to support and EOL (end of cycle). High demands set by PLM requirements made a significant push on database technology by challenging different parts of it – scale, flexibility, capacity and performance.

PLM, Database Tech and Single Point of Truth

The topic of Single Point of Truth is connected tight to the database technologies. You can take a look on one of my previous posts about that – PLM Network effect and single point of truth. The idea of database containing all information about product and its lifecycle is problematic. It was quite popular in the mid of 2000s. However, within time and understanding of the scale and complexity most of PLM vendors unofficially gave up on telling that all information should reside in a single database. When discussion comes at that point, most of PLM vendors today are talking about various forms of data federation.

Where database technologies are going?

You can think most of “database conversations” are about technology – network, object, relation, document, relation algebra, data models and schema, joins and normalizations, ACID, etc… Actually, I don’t think database technology is about that. The fundamental interest of database technology is about information aggregation, transformation and sharing. Think more about information discovery and less about the control. This is where, in my view, database technologies are going.

In the past, the power of IBM was built on top of big database engines running business applications and mainframes. IBM was the most powerful information company back that days. Nowadays, Google redefines the notion of database by indexing the internet as a new (and powerful) storage of data. This is a very interesting change in the basic concepts of data management.

Existing PLM platforms and database technologies

Traditional RDBMS technologies are core part of all existing PLM platforms. Dassault Enovia, PTC Windhcill, Siemens TeamCenter and others use relation databases to form core data management technological stack. The power and scale of these platforms are near the capacity from the standpoint of logical and physical scale. The cost of maintenance and expansion of these platforms is high. It resulted in a high cost of changes in everything related to existing PLM implementations.

What is my conclusion? The complexity of product lifecycle problems brings the need of new concepts in data modeling and data management. One of the main questions – how to break the boundary of a single database? This is a key question, in my view. It will solve the problem of logical scalability and provide a platform for future information discovery. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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