It is 2019 outside and cloud computing is a reality in business software. During the last 10 years, the trajectory of CAD and PLM products was changing bouncing between ignorance and curiosity, finally moving from blatant marketing and technological bravado to pragramatic delivery of solutions and products capable to run in a modern cloud infrastructure.
Cloud products and technologies are maturing together with a business understanding of how companies can leverage these technologies, what are limits of cloud-based solutions and what is needed to make a difference by delivering a new generation of cloud products.
Al Dean of Develop3D published an interesting article where he observes some limitations of cloud CAD products and technologies. Read his commentary –How advances in compute power are impacting the ways we work.
The article brings some good examples of how pragmatic understanding and assessment of technologies can help you to avoid very painful situations. Here is my favorite passage from Al’s article:
Now, here’s the rub: in the old days, if you ran out of memory, you could buy an upgrade or, indeed, a new machine. If the project was critical, that was often a perfectly reasonable approach. But this is a new era of no installs, no expensive hardware and infinite compute power. And it’s the final item here that’s the issue.
For a while, there’s been a misconception about cloud-based systems offering ‘infinite computing’. As with all good tropes, there’s certainly an element of truth here, but with some important caveats. Yes, a cloud-based approach gives you access to a pretty unlimited set of processors – but those processors are trapped in pretty ordinary computing devices, stored in racks, in their thousands, in an ‘insert-name-of-cloud-provider-here’ data facility somewhere.
This is only one example. But I found it very remarkable. During the last few years, I’ve been continuously facing questions of customers, analysts and industry advisors about product transition towards cloud architectures. Endless debates about true cloud PLM vs false cloud PLM. Read the article, which is 3 years old, but in my view is still relevant.
The reality of existing PLM software is that the majority of them are running on traditional database server architecture. Delivered using virtualization technology from IaaS (cloud) infrastructure, it gives companies global availability but fundamentally doesn’t change much in functional and business architecture. Only new systems and technologies developed during the last 3-7 years were able to revisit architecture and functions capable to use new scaled computing infrastructure.
So, if you’re an industrial or manufacturing company facing the decision about what product to use, I’d like to share my 3 steps guidance:
1- Separate business model from technology. Many cloud / SaaS offering, in fact, are hosted products and focusing pure business subscription models. It is usually easy to identify as most of the hosted solutions are locking customers into 12-24 and sometimes even 36-month contracts. These solutions have nothing to do with cloud – in most of the cases, vendors are renting hardware and running it for you.
2- Understand product architecture and technology in order not “to buy” an idea of infinite cloud power, while subscribing to service which has hosted relational database running 15-20 years old server code. Ask questions about how service will be scaled to support your growing business demands.
3- Make an assessment of product and technological openness. In the past, CAD and PLM products were running on local desktops and servers. As much as customers were complaining about openness and interoperability, these solutions were “owned” customers. Even the most proprietary file format or the most complex database schema can be reverse engineered and data can be extracted and translated into a new solution. You cannot say the same about cloud services. if it is not owned by, always check how data can be extracted and stored independently from service.
What is my conclusion? When you hunting for a new CAD or PLM solution, don’t buy blatant cloud marketing – get down to details in the understanding of business, technologies and product characteristics. The separate business model from a product, understand service agreement details, data portability and options to scale as your business will be growing. Devil is in details and we are getting to know more of these details in the next 5-10 years. Just my thoughts…
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.