SaaS is finally coming to PLM. After years of debates about cloud adoption and different flavors of the cloud architecture and systems, the strategy is shifting towards SaaS. Two major CAD and PLM vendors PTC and Siemens are moving towards SaaS. If you missed my blogs about it, check it out here – What is PTC Atlas Platform? and What did I learn about Teamcenter X? I also recommend you check my blog CAD and PLM Trajectories between IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS where I gave more examples about what other engineering and manufacturing software vendors about SaaS and cloud development.
I found SaaS development really important because it concludes a decade of experiments and innovation PLM vendors made in developing cloud-enabled technologies and business models. But, as it happened already in the past, the level of education and understanding of technology and differentiators created tons of misunderstandings and confusion. And technological marketing is thriving from this place as it brings tons of new buzzwords that are easy to get confused about.
Today, I want to bring my favorite SaaS buzzwords I captured from recent vendor presentations. I’d like to explore them in simple language and help to different technologies and also to ask the right questions in the next meeting you will have in your company to discuss what technologies and products you should focus on.
Containers and Containerized Deployment
A container is an approach to quickly build, release, and deploy complex applications. Remember my article back in 2014 –Why to ask cloud PLM and DevOps and Kubernetes? The popular container technologies such as Dockers and Kubernetes makes your deployment processes much simpler. If a PLM system developed using modern cloud technologies, containers are part of the DevOps stack. As a company, using SaaS applications such as Autodesk Forge, Onshape, OpenBOM you don’t need to know about containers – it is enough to register and get your account. However, if you need to host PLM stacks (eg. Aras, Teamcenter, Windchill, and some others), you can spend lot of time and money installing and configuring systems. Therefore when you hear about containers in the context of an existing PLM stack, it is usually a way to explain that existing products becoming more container friendly and can be easily hosted “as is” using IaaS infrastructure (eg. AWS. Azure, GCP).
The term “cloud services” refers to different application and system services delivered on-demand to companies and customers over the internet. These services are designed to provide easy, affordable access to applications and resources without the need of having infrastructure or hardware. Think about checking emails from Gmail, posting photos on Instagram, check-in code to Github, store 3D files to Autodesk Forge, or creating a Bill of Materials to openbom.com. The key advantages of cloud services ability to scale without you knowing how to do so, lower cost, and increase the flexibility of the IT environment. When a vendor telling you about cloud services, it is important to check what is available, how to get access, and to use it. Cloud services can be public or private. They can be delivered as applications running in the browsers or, for example, REST API available for developers. Ask more details about what is available and how. A typical SaaS application, in addition, to be available in the browser (eg Onshape, OpenBOM) and usually provides you access to REST API ( (eg. Autodesk Forge APIs, Onshape, OpenBOM). While hosted PLM systems can provide API access as well, you should be careful and check details about what is available and how it can be used. While some APIs can be technically available, the usage of these API can be complex and require substantial skills and demand steep learning curve.
Microservices or microservice architecture is a software development style that structures an application as a collection of services that are highly maintainable, loosely coupled, independently deployable, organized around business capabilities, and might be owned by separate development teams. The microservice architecture provides the rapid, frequent, and reliable delivery of complex applications. The controversy around microservice architecture is huge and becomes really important to understand when you need to make an “apples to apples” comparison. Let’s say, I have a SQL database architecture where a PLM product is providing multiple applications (services), but all data is always stored in a single SQL database. While you can argue about providing multiple microservices, to scale this application you will most probably need to scale the database first. Also, dependencies on a single database can make an independent development and deployment hardly possible if at all. So, when it comes to a microservice architecture, the devil is in the details and by itself, the name doesn’t say much without additional information.
Multi-tenancy is a simple and complex topic at the same time, which is heavily misunderstood in PLM communities today. You can hear arguments that multi-tenancy is mostly an internal aspect of a software organization that not something end-users and customers should be bothered with. While it is true, understanding multi-tenancy is important, because it gives you an idea of what an application can (or cannot do). The first question you need to ask is related to data multi-tenancy. Because it can give you an idea of how data is organized and can be shared between users. The business impact of multi-tenant applications is usually in their elasticity and the adoption of different business models. The multi-tenant system stack is usually scalable and makes the cost of a single user zero. An external indicator of multi-tenancy is the ability to create an account. A single-tenant system usually requires a setup time and will most probably be an expense for a vendor if you just want to create an account to try it out for a week or more. It will have an impact on the business model. Check the article – Looking for the cost of PLM software online in 2019? You’re almost out of luck…
What is my conclusion?
SaaS and cloud terminology can be confusing these days. A new wave of SaaS PLM marketing is coming and we better be prepared with knowledge and tools on how to check new software and vendor offerings to differentiate technologies, their capabilities, and cost. If you have more questions, let me know- I’d be happy to talk about it on my blog. The litmus test to check SaaS applications is to create a new user. If the vendor is reluctant to give you a user and request pre-qualification, most probably you’re dealing with a hosted system using pre-cloud applications hosted using IaaS platforms. 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.