Aras PLM:  The Good, The Bad and The Open Source

Aras PLM: The Good, The Bad and The Open Source

My last article Closed Open Source PLM about open source and partially about Aras PLM raised many comments and questions. Some of them specifically came from Marc Lind, who said that after many years of following Aras product and technologies, I’m still missing the main point of Aras.

Good post, although after all these years, seems like you still don’t quite understand what’s going on at Aras. It’s open source for digital process innovation… it’s about complex workflows, data models, biz rules… MBSE, EBOM/MBOM, change processes, NPDI, Digital Twins, Simulation, Additive, Generative, etc, etc, etc. Not about programming O/R mapping routines or Java server calls.  Businesses need the ability to innovate at the process level without all the complexity of the infrastructure/guts. Here’s what we’re doing (Jan 2007) – link.

I thought Aras did a great job at the marketing of Aras Open Source.

“The point is that Aras Innovator is an open source solution. Companies of all sizes can install it and start using it in their environment with an unlimited number of users, without incurring any costs at all”. The Aras business model looks a lot like the approach that Red Hat used to build a valuable business around the Linux open source operating system.

However, Marc actually was not happy about me appreciating Aras marketing.

It’s just funny to me that you call it ‘marketing’. Makes it sound hollow or like BS. You’ve been to our conferences. You’ve talked to Aras users. You’ve seen people discussing approaches, ideas, innovations, solutions. It’s real collaboration – both in person & online. What we’ve tried to do is build a culture/community around best practices sharing to solve the toughest PLM process challenges. We take that very seriously. That it’s not marketing BS. We really feel that’s what it’s all about.

I was actually very surprised by Marc placing an equal sign between “marketing” and BS. Marketing, sales, and differentiators are big contributors to the success of any company. In the engineering software, with very complex differentiation criteria, to find the differentiator is hard. Aras found “open source” tag to differentiate combined with a free license. It was very clever marketing.

I think I owe to readers of my blog a full perspective about Aras PLM. There are no ideal products and Aras is not an exclusion here. Every product and technology has its own pros and cons. So, let me share what I think about Aras.

The Good

Aras is one of the newest PLM product created in the pre-cloud era  (end of the 1990s -the beginning of 2000s). The architecture of Aras was influenced by many PLM architectures used by mature PLM products from such as Windchill, Eigner, MatrixOne and few others. I can see Aras certainly learning from many mistakes made in previous PLM systems. Aras invented few very interesting and innovative concepts of XML based flexible data model with stable runtime. Also, Aras leveraged almost two decades of development without need to merge and/or combine the product with other systems as a result of M&A. Aras is mature and scalable system deployed on premise and for hosted IaaS platforms. For the last several years, Aras completed the migration of their browser-based technologies and removed their dependencies from IE stack using Dojo Toolkit.

Beyond technology, Aras developed an excellent and vibrant community of supporters. Thanks for a free license, Aras community of power users and partners developed many solutions and specific application using Aras platform as a foundation. Aras is supporting openness in data models, no obfuscating data and allows customers to get access to data in Aras database. Aras subscription is providing support to migrate any customer to a new platform. The last one is kind of win-win, which allows customers to move to a new version and to Aras R&D to eliminate old versions and probably decrease maintenance and development cost.

The Bad

Aras core is .NET and database is Microsoft SQL server. By itself, it is not a bad thing, but I can expect that Aras might have some frictions in large IT organizations. I never heard about the customer in production running Aras with non-Microsoft SQL server environment.

Aras is slowly adopting modern web architecture and cloud technologies. Aras is still at the beginning of micro-service architecture development, an entire database is needed to run any Aras service and access Aras API. It would be very interesting to learn how Aras can support different IaaS platforms, to scale horizontally and to support multi-tenant architecture. If you’re aware of public information on the topics I mentioned above and can share, please do so.

Aras is focusing on the top segment of existing PLM market. This is a red ocean competition. It is a place where top PLM vendors are selling today. It is a complex place, which might have the lowest interest to change over a short period of time. If you’re outside of this segment, you might be out of mainstream Aras interest these days.

The Open Source

Back in 2007, Aras switched their business model open source. One of the first articles about it – Open Source for Rest of Us by Peter Schroer speaks about creating open source on closed Microsoft platform. So, Aras created a platform to build open source business applications.

For companies deploying business applications on the Microsoft stack, the operating system, middleware and database source code is not available.   That’s something neither you nor I can change.   This is the reason we developed Innovator; to create an environment where open source can flourish on Microsoft’s closed platform. The Aras Innovator model-based SOA framework is a business solution development and run-time environment, distributed as a free, easy to install,  binary that binds into .NET and SQL Server, creating an environment where open source business applications can be developed, tailored and run.

The licensing model Aras switched to early this year was pioneered by Red Hat Software, the leading provider of commercial Linux operating systems. In Red Hat’s model, the software itself is free, and the software’s architecture is not concealed from users but is openly accessible. Red Hat makes its money by helping customers deploy, integrate, update, manage, and support Linux.  This approach seems to be working… Aras hopes to replicate Red Hat’s success. Since January, the company’s software has been freely downloaded 5000 times. Marc Lind, vice-president of marketing for Aras, says a number of companies that have downloaded the software have become customers.

But the platform itself (the runtime) is not a traditional open source with source code available to everyone. It is fully controlled by Aras Corp. The articles about Aras special open source are freely available online. Here is only one example – Open Source PLM.

For the last 10+ years, Aras model deviated into something that Aras like to call “open community” or “Enterprise Open Source”. A recent article from RedHat is a great summary of enterprise benefits such specific enterprise features, QA and DevOps.

Anybody can download and install an open source project or compile it and ship it as-is from the upstream repository. That doesn’t really add any value to the project, though, and can carry risk. To be what we’d call enterprise open source, a product requires testing, performance tuning, and be proactively examined for security flaws. It needs to have a security team that stands behind it, and processes for responding to new security vulnerabilities and notifying users about security issues and how to remediate them.If you’re on your own when it comes to quality and security issues, it’s not enterprise open source

Aras “open source” concept is interesting since it combined multiple pieces together – closed core software controlled by Aras, open source applications development by community and vision how to use “open source” vision to solve business problems for enterprise manufacturing companies. In religious wars about what can be called open source software, Aras won the differentiation war and Google search position for “open source PLM”. After all, there is no bad marketing.

What is my conclusion? Aras is a great company and platform that succeeded to do something that nobody was able to do for the last 20 years – to create CAD neutral PLM system capable to compete with other top 3 players in PLM field – Dassault Systemes ENOVIA, PTC Windchill, Siemens PLM Teamcenter. The unique model-driven architecture combined with an open data model and strong community supporters gives a lot of advantages to Aras. The attractive business model combines free license and subscription service allowed Aras to get traction among top tier manufacturing OEM customers. Aras is clearly fighting the hardest fight to replace big PLM vendors in the most critical segment of established PLM market – aerospace, automotive, defense and industrial product. Is Aras open source product with source code available to download and fork into your projects? No. Is it important? I’m not sure it is on a critical path of Aras success for the moment. But these are just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing cloud-based bill of materials and inventory management tool for manufacturing companies, hardware startups, and supply chain. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.

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  • marclind

    Good post, much better description of us/Aras this time. Will add a bit more for clarification so everyone knows our take. (much of this is taken / repurposed from my previous Comments last week)

    From the beginning the whole point of what we/Aras have been doing was to enable open source at the application layer that doesn’t require complex programming & compiling.

    These days it’s called a “low-code” approach, but that term didn’t exist back in 2007.

    What we’re all about is enabling companies / people to innovate on business processes and share best practices & breakthrus without having to be a software developer. (OBTW if you want to write code you can do that too, but it’s not required to create powerful enterprise apps).

    Our approach was never intended to be deep-guts open source for geeks. Quite the opposite. It’s always been for corporate IT users trying to solve the most complicated digital process problems. We like to say our entire approach has been designed “for business, by business”.

    We provide a low-code platform – that is not open source – with a suite of industrial-grade applications OOTB for engineering, manufacturing, quality, etc. (i.e. the most complex types of PLM processes) that are designed to be customized / adapted / changed.

    Our applications can be easily packaged and posted / shared within a company or between companies (again, without programming).

    Business have the opportunity to collaborate openly or in private. There’s no requirement to share your innovations / it’s completely optional.

    You’ll find a bunch of open source application projects on our GitHub pages https://github.com/ArasLabs

    They range from interesting add-ons to large scale solutions that have been used for global legacy systems replacement.

    And they all have one thing in common: they run on our / Aras platform… which isn’t open source yet is freely available to use forever without any cost or payment to us/Aras.

    For anyone interested, our latest open release – V12 – is available at:
    https://www.aras.com/en/support/download-innovator

    We were one of the pioneers of this model which we called ‘enterprise open source’ long before others started using that term (Red Hat included, although I like & agree with their comment snippet in this post).

    These days our format would just be called a split licensing model.

    Lots of oss companies now utilize some version of this approach – releasing both oss AND non-oss that work together: Elasticsearch, MongoDB, Red Hat, MySQL, etc, etc, etc.

    What most people complain or make noise about is that we/Aras are not an ‘open core’ approach. We’re an ‘open solutions’ approach.

    We make no apologies for this and in fact are regularly told by corporate users that this is exactly what they want.

    Our open source applications give global companies greater flexibility, control and confidence.

    Because they’re all based on a highly scalable and secure low-code platform that is maintained, certified and proven for enterprise use in the most demanding environments – military, regulated, mission-critical, etc.

    We’ve made very conscious decisions to optimize for global businesses. Here’s a blog on our oss format from 2012 that does a pretty good job describing https://community.aras.com/b/english/posts/enterprise-open-source-the-aras-way

    Regarding our choice to run on Microsoft infrastructure, from our perspective the religious wars are over. No one really cares anymore. They just want stuff they know that runs. MS has enterprise qualified products + ‘all you can eat’ buying agreement access + pervasive IT skill sets. And they’re even OSS friendly these days 🙂

    We figure that there will always be critical people, trolls and haters. We’re focused on enabling digital process innovation in our community of corporate users.

    Hope this helps.

    MarcL
    http://www.aras.com

  • marclind

    Good post, much better description of us/Aras this time. Will add a bit more for clarification so everyone knows our take. (much of this is taken / repurposed from my previous Comments last week)

    From the beginning the whole point of what we/Aras have been doing was to enable open source at the application layer that doesn’t require complex programming & compiling.

    These days it’s called a “low-code” approach, but that term didn’t exist back in 2007.

    What we’re all about is enabling companies / people to innovate on business processes and share best practices & breakthrus without having to be a software developer. (OBTW if you want to write code you can do that too, but it’s not required to create powerful enterprise apps).

    Our approach was never intended to be deep-guts open source for geeks. Quite the opposite. It’s always been for corporate IT users trying to solve the most complicated digital process problems. We like to say our entire approach has been designed “for business, by business”.

    We provide a low-code platform – that is not open source – with a suite of industrial-grade applications OOTB for engineering, manufacturing, quality, etc. (i.e. the most complex types of PLM processes) that are designed to be customized / adapted / changed.

    Our applications can be easily packaged and posted / shared within a company or between companies (again, without programming).

    Business have the opportunity to collaborate openly or in private. There’s no requirement to share your innovations / it’s completely optional.

    You’ll find a bunch of open source application projects on our GitHub pages https://github.com/ArasLabs

    They range from interesting add-ons to large scale solutions that have been used for global legacy systems replacement.

    And they all have one thing in common: they run on our / Aras platform… which isn’t open source yet is freely available to use forever without any cost or payment to us/Aras.

    For anyone interested, our latest open release – V12 – is available at:
    https://www.aras.com/en/support/download-innovator

    We were one of the pioneers of this model which we called ‘enterprise open source’ long before others started using that term (Red Hat included, although I like & agree with their comment snippet in this post).

    These days our format would just be called a split licensing model.

    Lots of oss companies now utilize some version of this approach – releasing both oss AND non-oss that work together: Elasticsearch, MongoDB, Red Hat, MySQL, etc, etc, etc.

    What most people complain or make noise about is that we/Aras are not an ‘open core’ approach. We’re an ‘open solutions’ approach.

    We make no apologies for this and in fact are regularly told by corporate users that this is exactly what they want.

    Our open source applications give global companies greater flexibility, control and confidence.

    Because they’re all based on a highly scalable and secure low-code platform that is maintained, certified and proven for enterprise use in the most demanding environments – military, regulated, mission-critical, etc.

    We’ve made very conscious decisions to optimize for global businesses. Here’s a blog on our oss format from 2012 that does a pretty good job describing https://community.aras.com/b/english/posts/enterprise-open-source-the-aras-way

    Regarding our choice to run on Microsoft infrastructure, from our perspective the religious wars are over. No one really cares anymore. They just want stuff they know that runs. MS has enterprise qualified products + ‘all you can eat’ buying agreement access + pervasive IT skill sets. And they’re even OSS friendly these days 🙂

    We figure that there will always be critical people, trolls and haters. We’re focused on enabling digital process innovation in our community of corporate users.

    Hope this helps.

    MarcL
    http://www.aras.com

  • marclind

    Good post, much better description of us/Aras this time. Will add a bit more for clarification so everyone knows our take. (much of this is taken / repurposed from my previous Comments last week)

    From the beginning the whole point of what we/Aras have been doing was to enable open source at the application layer that doesn’t require complex programming & compiling.

    These days it’s called a “low-code” approach, but that term didn’t exist back in 2007.

    What we’re all about is enabling companies / people to innovate on business processes and share best practices & breakthrus without having to be a software developer. (OBTW if you want to write code you can do that too, but it’s not required to create powerful enterprise apps).

    Our approach was never intended to be deep-guts open source for geeks. Quite the opposite. It’s always been for corporate IT users trying to solve the most complicated digital process problems. We like to say our entire approach has been designed “for business, by business”.

    We provide a low-code platform – that is not open source – with a suite of industrial-grade applications OOTB for engineering, manufacturing, quality, etc. (i.e. the most complex types of PLM processes) that are designed to be customized / adapted / changed.

    Our applications can be easily packaged and posted / shared within a company or between companies (again, without programming).

    Business have the opportunity to collaborate openly or in private. There’s no requirement to share your innovations / it’s completely optional.

    You’ll find a bunch of open source application projects on our GitHub pages https://github.com/ArasLabs

    They range from interesting add-ons to large scale solutions that have been used for global legacy systems replacement.

    And they all have one thing in common: they run on our / Aras platform… which isn’t open source yet is freely available to use forever without any cost or payment to us/Aras.

    For anyone interested, our latest open release – V12 – is available at:
    https://www.aras.com/en/support/download-innovator

    We were one of the pioneers of this model which we called ‘enterprise open source’ long before others started using that term (Red Hat included, although I like & agree with their comment snippet in this post).

    These days our format would just be called a split licensing model.

    Lots of oss companies now utilize some version of this approach – releasing both oss AND non-oss that work together: Elasticsearch, MongoDB, Red Hat, MySQL, etc, etc, etc.

    What most people complain or make noise about is that we/Aras are not an ‘open core’ approach. We’re an ‘open solutions’ approach.

    We make no apologies for this and in fact are regularly told by corporate users that this is exactly what they want.

    Our open source applications give global companies greater flexibility, control and confidence.

    Because they’re all based on a highly scalable and secure low-code platform that is maintained, certified and proven for enterprise use in the most demanding environments – military, regulated, mission-critical, etc.

    We’ve made very conscious decisions to optimize for global businesses. Here’s a blog on our oss format from 2012 that does a pretty good job describing https://community.aras.com/b/english/posts/enterprise-open-source-the-aras-way

    Regarding our choice to run on Microsoft infrastructure, from our perspective the religious wars are over. No one really cares anymore. They just want stuff they know that runs. MS has enterprise qualified products + ‘all you can eat’ buying agreement access + pervasive IT skill sets. And they’re even OSS friendly these days 🙂

    We figure that there will always be critical people, trolls and haters. We’re focused on enabling digital process innovation in our community of corporate users.

    Hope this helps.

    MarcL
    http://www.aras.com

  • beyondplm

    Marc, thanks for taking the time to explain. I think, we finally get aligned about “Aras way” of doing PLM #opensource.

  • Graham McCall

    So with Aras, you can rapidly create high quality & reliable business applications that are tailored to the company’s without creating upgrade risks by flexibly combining ‘building block’ services & off the shelf applications in an SOA type approach

    This way, you can build enterprise applications far more quickly than would otherwise be possible

    With better performance (all components have been built with performance in mind)
    More reliably (all components go through a rigorous QA process)
    Without upgradeability concerns (upgrades are included in the Aras subscription)
    That can be integrated more easily with other business systems (thanks to the totally Open Aras API)

    Which other PLM systems can do all this? Correct. None.
    Frankly, what’s not to like?

  • beyondplm

    Graham,

    Thanks for sharing your insight! I think the enterprise and business software is not about “like it” or not. It is about value proposition for customers, sustainability for both investors and customers and making money for shareholders. Aras was walking a very unique and interesting path for the last almost 18 years. There are lot of things I like about Aras. So, I’m watching what will happen next. Btw, when you said “None”, what systems did you compare to? Just curious…

    Best, Oleg