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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