PLM Open Source: Business or Social Need?

The following NYT article drove my attention yesterday – Open Source as a Model for Business is Elusive. I already had chance to discuss open source and PLM on plmtwine. If you just came to my blog, you can review the following posts:

SaaS and Open Source: PLM Future Rides
Open Source: Is the Game Changing for PLM?
What will be PLM Open Source secret sauce?

Discussing various aspects of MySQL acquisition as part of Sun by Oracle, NYT dropped a very interesting argument related to the social aspects of open source.

“European regulators view MySQL as sort of a database of the people, a low-cost alternative to Oracle’s costly proprietary products. The regulators worry that Oracle may stop improving MySQL in favor of protecting its core traditional products, and customers will lose an important option in the database market.”

Another interesting point was related to the development of open source projects. Actually, and this is not a top secret is that companies like Google and IBM are heavily sponsoring development of Open Source products.

“Many of the top open-source developers are anything but volunteers tinkering in their spare time. Companies like I.B.M., Google, Oracle and Intel pay these developers top salaries to work on open-source projects and further the companies’ strategic objectives.”

Let’s get back to our CAD and PLM space. I could see few projects that are trying to develop open source CAD products. The most visible is ITC developing IntelliCAD platform. The concepts of IntelliCAD are complex and related to the history of DWGDirect and ODA, but it is very close to the open source concepts. IntelliCAD positioned as a cheap and no-cost alternative to Autodesk/AutoCAD product lines. Another player in PLM Open space is Aras made long road from licensed PLM software and now also positioned as an alternative to very costly products licensed by top PLM providers.

So, the conclusion I can make is very close to the assumption done in NYT- there is strong demand for open source as a cheap alternative for heavy priced licenses. At the same time, open source successes are limited, even if they are very visible (Linux, MySQL, Mozilla). To make a success for the future of PLM open source the following two questions need to be answered, in my view:

1. Who will play a role of major driving force in adoption of open source PLM products? In other words, who will play the role of Internet (like it was in cases of Mozilla and MySQL) to develop large open source PLM community. The potential candidates are very large Autodesk related customer community in case of ICT. In case of Aras, it can be Microsoft and related SharePoint business community.

2. What companies will be interested to sponsor top PLM developers and evangelists to work on the open source PLM products to bring them on the level of excellence and mass adoption? Will Autodesk be interested in development of ICT community? Maybe Microsoft will will be interested to sponsor Aras and put few bucks to support the development PLM for SharePoint?

Just my opinion. I’m looking forward to your thoughts and opinions.
Best, Oleg


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  • Bhushan

    Hi Oleg,
    In My Views >>
    Open source PLM will be successful in SMB industry Segment.. as these Industries are avoiding to adopt PLM looking at the COST aspects of it.
    Looking at the current situation Aras can lead this front, only thing it need a strategic Marketing approach /Plan.
    Now Question Comes>>
    “What companies will be interested to sponsor PLM developers and evangelists to work on the open source PLM products?”
    I think Those companies will be “Database providers like Microsoft[MySQL]& the CAD Companies who Don’t have Bandwidth develop their own PLM Applications”…WHY?
    they can sell their Database/CAD licenses intern SMB’s will be benefited by avoiding PLM license COST.
    On Secondary note looking at “Online collaboration”>Google will be interested to jump in PLM domain >> Just my thought..
    Companies like ORACLE/DS/PTC/Siemens… they will not support anything like OPEN SOURCE, as they are earning from licenses. Rather than Open Source they will Support for ON Demand PLM example [PTC collaborated with IBM for ON demand PLM].

    It’s better to wait & see…
    -Bhushan Teli

  • According to AMR reasearch the PLM market will reach $20B by 2012. Major portion of this market is coming from Countries like India, China, Russia, Brazil, Mexico and some europian nations. As far as I understand about the chinese, indian and brazillian markets, they appreciate low cost open source alternative. They get more control of their PLM implemetations while being free from costly propritory software vendors and their irritating licensing policies. Open source community should focus on capturing these developing markets rather than worrying about those which are already becoming stagnant. Whatever NYT says if you want chinese,Indian and brazillian markets, open source is the way to go.

  • Raymond A

    Open source and PLM are in the cross-hairs of a companies desire to maintain low costs with issues around security/control.

    PLM can be a substantial investment to a product development company and taking a flyer is not attractive because of the risk involved. These risks include; security (access), longevity of open source solution, additional implementation costs for non-COTS products and lack of product support to name a few.

    Open source effectiveness can also be reduced by industry groups supporting the exisitng PLM providers. For example, the Aerospace and Defense group for PTC and Siemens is quite connected and share customizations, best practices and even shared development cost with the SW provider to initiate new capabilities and functionality. This is one of the the basic principles of “open source”. The other being low/no cost of SW licenses which has to now outweigh the risk associated with choosing an Open source solution. Probably not happening for companies that have significant IP or a large organization.

    So then our answer has typically been to say that the SMB’s will be interested but there are just as many issues there. Most SMB’s have very little additional budget for SW inplementation and a COTS solutions provides them the biggest bang for the buck. The only way you see OS work in an SMB is if you have a maverick in the IT department who is passionate about the change/effectiveness of the solution.

    The reason you had success with Linux was that the few players in that market were putting costs so high and squeezing any competition out. Costs of PLM software is not in that stratosphere and will hard to get this kind of massive revolt or stickyness to use OS based on items stated above.

    I think you will see SMB’s move to a SaaS model where they can share costs and still retain functionality. In that scenario, even their bigger customers who probably have large PLM implementations will be happy with the fact that the data is managed and can be accesssed without email an excel spreadsheet around.

  • Bhushan, Thank you for your thoughts. A typical SMB company has very low IT capabilities. How do you see them handling Open Source projects that requires implementation and consultancy? It makes sense Microsoft can support PLM development. However, MS will struggle to decide because of their relationships with existing PLM vendors. So, I do see them balance and not act. CAD companies that have no bandwidth to develop PLM can try to go open source, but they have very limited resources to support open source initiatives. However, their customers can do so, of course. Best, Oleg

  • Prashant, Thanks for your comment and insight. I agree, Indian, Chinese, Russian and other low cost markets probably require an alternative solution. Best, Oleg

  • Raymond, Thanks, agree with you- SMB likely will go to SaaS approach. On OS – a lot of dependent on community and supported organizations. If such (as you mentioned) PTC and Siemens industry/consultancy will start to support open source it will be an interesting move, since it will take license’s business down for PTC and Siemens in this case. Does it make sense? Best, Oleg

  • Raymond A


    Let me be more clear in my statement. I wasn’t saying that PTC and Siemens would support open source. Rather that the maturity and overall connectivity of their user communities are starting to share customizations, training material and other material. This, in and of itself, is a primary feature of the OS approach (so that communities of people can collaborate on solutions rather than build them again and again and again not realizing that the problem has already been solved). If PTC, Siemens, etc. continue to build a better user community that allows sharing of customizations, training material, etc. they are doing a similar service that is performed by the open source community.

    The other value in OS is to avoid license costs and I really don’t think that PLM licenses are way over priced like ERP solutions. Look at the margins of the PLM providers and you can see that CAD is carrying the company or in the case of Agile, it hadn’t had a year of profitability when it sold to Oracle. I am just concerned that there isn’t a good enough business case available to make OS PLM a really big opportunity.

  • What if the OS plm system actually worked? Required less implementation that PTC windchill, Siemens teamcenter? Had a better track record of success than them? Was more scalable? More secure? Was better packaged with COTS-OTB features, functionality? Had superior support? And… had no PLM license costs? Then what? Something to think about… or better yet, try for yourself (don’t take my word for it).


  • AndyF

    I agree with Marc. We switched to Aras because it worked better than any other PLM system that we had tried to use.

    The fact that the licenses are free is great but we wouldn’t care if it didn’t work. But having a system that works great and saves money is a great combination. There is a Microsoft angle with SharePoint that we haven’t explored yet but that should bring additional functionality. I don’t see any reason to pay for PLM licenses anymore.

  • Raymond, what you said about user communities is the right thing to do. The only pre-req to compare it with OS is to make customization share to work seamlessly on all PTC, Siemens and other platforms. This can be an interesting move from PLM vendors. However, I cannot see it happen now. Do you see actually examples of that? With regards to license cost, I heard different opinions. Probably, all depends what you compare to. In case of SAP and Oracle you are probably right…. And, by saying “isn’t good enough”, I’d prefer to say- not big enough to make this community to work according to the OS rules. Scale needed… What do you think? Best, Oleg

  • Marc, Thanks for your comment! In my view, the first criteria of successful OS is the size of the community and participation. So far, I can see Aras is pro-active and community is reactive. Maybe I’m wrong, but forums, blogs, twitter etc. – all these criteria that indicate size of the community (don’t take my word, check it – you are Aras trend remains almost the same for last 3 years- ). Also, there is no trend information for “Open Source PLM” – . Best, Oleg

  • Andy, I can try to compare with automotive manufactures today. Nobody expecting a car that you cannot drive out of the dealer shop ;)… Actually, I have my long memories from USSR car back in 1970s and even 80s when you better had to make some finish on car before you can go to the road. So, nobody is trying to say Aras is not working. And I’m getting references on Aras implementations. The only point I wanted to make is that today OS PLM is more on the demand side rather than on the business side. And “community size” is the main criteria for me. When/If community will grow beyond some critical point, it can be considered as successful.
    Just my opinion. Best, Oleg

  • AndyF

    Oleg, I understand your trend line info and can understand what you’re seeing based on where you are at. But from where I’m at, the perspective is different. I manage a PLM team at a Fortune 100 company and my team has come to the conclusion that we no longer need to buy PLM licenses. This is a team that is very experienced and very plugged in to the industry. We’ve come to the conclusion that Aras provides all of the functionality that we need and that therefore we no longer need to pay for PLM licenses. I talk to my peers in other Fortune 100 companies on a very regular basis. I can tell you that I get a lot of phone calls every month from people asking about how they can ditch their current PLM vendor. You might not be seeing the trend line yet but from where I sit, the move to OS has started in full force.

  • Andy, I see what you mean. And I can even agree that in your case (when you have experienced implementation team in the house), you can rely on an open source and make all customization and implementation in the house. WOM is a very good thing and information will spread out. On the other side, there are vendor and community. I can see a very strong commitment of Aras to support it. However, to become OS it is not enough, in my view. And community is another component that needed in order to make OS PLM to become sustainable. Does it make sense? Best, Oleg

  • David Opsahl

    Seems to me there is some confusion here.

    Open source, in its traditional form, is very much about a community, because the “product” is developed, maintained and enhanced for the benefit of the community, and ownership of the IP is in the public domain. Taken in that context, community size certinaly matters.

    However, I don’t see this as an adequate description of what Aras is doing, and Andy’s comments re-inforce that. It might be more accurate to describe what Aras and others like them are doing as “open distribution”, rather than open source, because Aras takes its revenues and re-invests them into the product for the benefit of the community; the community itself is not making that investment in any great way. Rather, they (the community) are able to dedicate the vast majority of their expenses to the implementation of the “product” to their particular unique requirements, which may not have value to the larger community.

    By breaking down the number one barrier to adoption within the PLM world – license costs – Aras is poised to turn the business model on its head, provided the model has staying power. In other words, as long as they can make a viable business from this new way of looking at the market, there is no reason to doubt that they will continue regardless of the community size.

  • David, You are right. However, my point was that in case of large community the potential of revenues (subscription model) is bigger. Best, Oleg

  • AndyF

    David is correct in the sense that Aras isn’t the same model as Wikipedia. That is, there are not thousands of people adding content with no compensation.

    However, we do believe strongly in the concept of community and my team is giving content back to the Aras community as we develop it. Aras has a share area on their website where members of the community can exchange solutions. The workflow I write for my business might not work in your business, but maybe one feature of it will. So the exchange between community members is going to be lower than something like Wiki, but it is still a community.

    At the end of the day I don’t really care if Aras is open source or not. The licenses are free, the software works, and I can exchange ideas with other users. That model works great for us. The millions we save on PLM licenses each year can be invested more productively into product development and process improvement.

  • @Oleg – might consider reevaluating your conclusion a bit. While large community may have the “potential” of significant revenues, our experience at Aras has been that there’s a direct correlation between community size and business expenses/overhead.

    In fact, I think this is an underlying & unstated point in the NYT article that ‘open source business model is elusive’. Focusing heavily on building a big community is expensive.

    It’s awesome to have a million developers doing things, but developers really don’t buy enterprise systems. Business managers / IT executives make purchase decisions.

    We believe that to satisfy the requirements of global corporations necessitates delivering a PLM system that is fundamentally better that any of the others.

    We focus first and foremost on making sure Aras is the most advanced product on the market… no exceptions. By doing this, people are finding us and the community is building slowly but surely… just like SolidWorks back in the 90’s.


  • Marc, thanks! I understand you are not focusing specifically on community building and invest into product development. In the end, community will be the identification of mainstream customer adoption. Good discussion. Best, Oleg

  • Open Source PLM is good idea; it would help in realizing latest process practiced in industry. Also, another advantage is to develop unique solution using opens source plm to fit in gaps which cannot be easily realized.

    In case of Aras, it is like an Aras and Microsoft hand in glove. For every sale of Aras there is a guaranteed sale of Microsoft IT infrastructure like server and tools for developing utilities.

    This strategy my find takers in some segment but not in majority of segment as the IT strategy of the manufacturing companies drive the technology and not otherway.

  • Paritosh, As far as I know Aras requires MS SQL Server. I agree, this is sort of limitation, especially if you go to bigger accounts. Thanks for your comments! Oleg