PDM-less CAD data management

PDM-less CAD data management

Terminology in the industry is a beast. Earlier today, I exchanged comments with Chad Jackson after watching his “database-less” Solid Edge PDM video. If you haven’t seen it, please check this link. Database, PDM, Indexer, Google, Dropbox… I found the video interesting because, in my view, it is greatly demonstrating how old-fashion PDM terminology and architecture is not fitting modern technology. What is a database? Is it something that has to have a client/server. Can I have a database with no client? What if I don’t know what database is used (hint – Dropbox). And also, what is Microsoft Windows Indexer. Is it index file or database?

Solid Edge has forgone the use of a database to manage their files. Instead, they are using the Windows Indexer in order to organize their system. Chad Jackson takes us through the reason behind the switch and the benefits of being database-less

Here are some of my thoughts about databases, PDMs and what can we see next in PDM world.

1- Database

The database is not only SQL database. Before SQL became so popular, the database was a file that stored data in a specific format. Nowadays, there are so many flavors of databases. Search and index is becoming a type of databases as well. So, when you say database, it doesn’t mean anything.

2- Client-Server SQL database architecture

Client-Server SQL database architecture is not a good fit for small companies running Solid Edge. This is how most of the existing PLM/PDM solutions are done. Client/Server + SQL database. It is mature tech, but complex and not always reliable. Especially, when you’re a small company and doesn’t have a dedicated PDM admin to run SQL database. The solution must be administered, configured and maintained. This is a problem Siemens PLM is solving with Windows Indexer Chad is talking about. To have Windows Indexer to do a job is neat innovation for a single user. I would love to learn what challenges such architecture can bring if you will try to manage 20 engineers team with this solution.

3- Is there a way to make PDM invisible?

This is a question the PDM/PLM industry has to answer. There are multiple attempts in the industry to get it done. Windows Indexer is one of them. Cloud CAD is another way. To have cloud-based PDM is clearly an option as well. What if integration with cloud-based file storage is the way to go. The jury is still out and to be honest, the vendors are still working. It is actually an interesting place to watch since the market is dominated by traditional solutions that CAD companies are selling together with CAD systems.

What is my conclusion? You cannot have a database-less data management solution. To manage data you need to have a database. But, the database is not only SQL database. There are others. Also, database management solution is not only the one that has “client-server” architecture. There are some other data management architectures. The last decades of massive development of web development made a huge difference in how data can be managed. Most of PDM vendors are still live in SQL-database client-server architectures circa 1995. And these databases are probably sub-optimal to manage heavy CAD data. Everyone needs data, but nobody wants to be responsible for data management. Even more, when it comes to engineers, they would love to have “invisible data management” that will take data management problems off their desks. Cloud-based solutions can better server the concept of “invisibility”, but not always can deliver all functions. The time is absolutely right to innovate with a new type of PDM-less data management solutions focusing on how to extract, index and share data, so it will become available at the right time to right people. Dream? Maybe… But one day, the dream can come true. 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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