Why Cloud-Native PLM Comparison Requires Attention to Detail?

Why Cloud-Native PLM Comparison Requires Attention to Detail?

Selection of PLM technologies and software can be a daunting process. In a competitive market of PLM vendors, the decisions are often hard, products have similar technologies and process names, which are hard to quantify and compare. I have my readers often contacting me with questions about PLM technologies, systems and vendors and asking to help them to understand the difference in how they call it – I need a “Explain this as if I was five” overview.

When all systems support item and BOM management, document control, ECO process and integrations with CAD systems, how to choose the right system? Product lifecycle management (PLM) vendors providing PLM software to support product data management and product lifecycle including overall product development process and business processes support provides you with the enormous amount of product marketing materials to help you to understand the differences between various business systems – document management, PLM system and others. How to chose and who can provide good materials?

The technology can create a difference. This is where many CAD and PLM software vendors are moving when they want to show the differentiation and convince why one or another PLM software platform is better. Cloud and modern PLM software technologies and tools rightfully taking a leadership role in explanation of differentiation between solutions.

In the past decade, it was a trend to call software “true cloud” solution. I recall some debates about true cloud solutions back 5-10 years ago. If you like to compare arguments – What can we learn from “true cloud” PLM and ERP debates. Another article from the same era – All PLM systems are not created equal by Arena Solution (dated 2015)

My attention was caught by PTC article – How Cloud Native Solutions Transform Product Development. It brings a comparison table:

It refers an interesting Gartner research – Gartner Says Cloud Will Be the Centerpiece of New Digital Experiences. Here is an interesting passage.

Use of Cloud-Native Technologies Will Be Pervasive, not Just Popular. Gartner analysts said that more than 85% of organizations will embrace a cloud-first principle by 2025 and will not be able to fully execute on their digital strategies without the use of cloud-native architectures and technologies.

“Adopting cloud-native platforms means that digital or product teams will use architectural principles and capabilities to take advantage of the inherent capabilities within the cloud environment,” said Govekar. “New workloads deployed in a cloud-native environment will be pervasive, not just popular and anything noncloud will be considered legacy.”

By 2025, Gartner estimates that over 95% of new digital workloads will be deployed on cloud-native platforms, up from 30% in 2021.

The PTC article and Gartner commentary raise a very interesting question – What is cloud-native PLM solution?

I found the comparison provided by PTC article interesting, but oversimplified and not providing a good guidance to companies to make the right decision. In my blog today, I wan to provide more commentaries and detailed guidance to companies that need to choose about their next PLM system.

Let me go with each of these 7 comparison criteria:

Built in the Cloud

I found this statement, although it supposed to give you a clear differentiator, very confusing. How do you know the details about software architecture? Most of customers, especially those that are not very technologically focused cannot differentiate between where the solution is built. How to find the difference between two with a simple question – ask if you can get the same system delivered on premise. If the system supports both – on premise and cloud, it tells you that the technological architecture is most probably coming from the 2000s (sometimes from 1990s) and PLM vendor is using it in the cloud with the combination of hyper scaled virtual infrastructure (eg. AWS, Azure, GCP). Usually, a vendor that built a SaaS systems that only available for cloud, won’t give you an on premise system.

Hosted in the Cloud

Every system that is available to you from computers that not owned by your company will be “hosted” in the cloud. The “cloud” here is a word play that usually says “data center not owned by a PLM vendor”. The marketing point here is to say that a system that can run also on premise, is hosted on someone else services (see my explanation above). Again, it goes back to the simple question if the system can be available both on premise and hosted elsewhere.

An interesting aspect of “hosting” that must be discussed and it is missed in the comparison is who owns the cloud infrastructure. In some situations, the infrastructure can be own by PLM vendor and sometimes by a customer. It is important to understand DevOps processes supported by a vendor and how the system will be updated.

Multi-tenant architecture

This is a very critical and confusing argument. Multi-tenancy means the ability of PLM software to be “shared”. However, without explanations of technical details it can be very confusing. There two aspects of multi-tenancy (1) computing and storage resources; (2) logical data model. The first one basically says that vendor use a single set of applications and database servers to support multiple customers. It is obvious that multi-tenant option allows to save resources, optimize price and auto-scale when needed. However, without details about data management architecture and how data model can be customized, it can be very confusing.

Here are a few examples. A multi-tenant application server providing a solution without ability to customize data schema for each customer can be a very bad idea (no flexibility). Another example, a multi-tenant solution that manages a separate logical database for each customer. Although, it called multi-tenant, just imaging tens of thousands databases that need to be upgraded by data management scripts when a new feature must be introduced. One of the things that often overlooked is the ability of data to be easy shared between multiple companies (contractors, suppliers, mergers and acquisitions are great examples of these use cases). In the case of two separate databases used by a single multi-tenant application and database server, your ability of sharing data in real time will be eliminated and all arguments and “cloud collaboration” will become an empty promise – you will need to export/import data between databases exactly how you do it with on premise or hosted PLM software. Check my earlier article –Hosted PLM architecture vs multi-tenant SaaS.

Fast No-Code Implementation

The desire to have non-code (or low-code) implementation and customization is not dependent on the cloud, in my view. The deployment technologies give you a way to deploy system anywhere and it depends on the architecture of the system. So, what is important? I’d be paying attention to the speed your account can be created, ability to give an instant trial and to support staging environment for testing and development. It can give you an idea about how PLM software infrastructure is organized and if a separate set of virtual servers (accounts) need to be created. The last is heavily impacting cost of the system. Read some of my thoughts about low-code and no-code PLM technologies and implementations.

Maintenance Free, minimum cost

The main question here is who is responsible for the updates and maintenance of the customization. As a customer, you would like a vendor to be responsible for all upgrades and to ensure all configurations and customizations to be automatically backward compatible. Getting answers to the questions about updates and customization maintenance will help you to understand what system a vendor is selling you.

Routine software releases without downtime

It is an important characteristic of system upgrades I mentioned above. Technically, it requires a specific high-availability architecture and product development process to support releases without downtime. This is absolutely critical to support SaaS applications, but might be different for companies that are looking more specific software validations and customizations. The detailed mechanisms to support “no downtime” can work in both server based and cloud-hosted environments. Read some of my earlier articles about PLM platforms and seamless upgrades.

Highly scaleable

Scalability of the system is dependent on how the system is getting storage and computing resources. The ability of system to provide resources is dependent on the architecture of the system and business model. A combination of technological and economical resources brings results. Cloud-native or hosted system can scale to support a large number of customers and data. How much it will cost and how it will become available to customer are main questions to ask.

What is my conclusion?

Software tools and technologies to manage an entire product lifecycle are changing. Complexity of products and solutions that manage and integrates data are changing tool. PLM systems are evolving. To make the right decision about what PLM software and architecture to use, manufacturing companies need to go more in details. Tag names like ‘cloud-native’ or ‘cloud-enable’ gives indicators of technological directions, but won’t provide enough information for a specific manufacturing company to decide. Any company approaching PLM decision need to focus first on a playbook about how to organize processes, data and what technology to us. It provides company with strategies and tactics for PLM implementation. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing a digital-thread platform with cloud-native PDM & PLM capabilities to manage product data lifecycle and connect manufacturers, construction companies, and their supply chain networks. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.


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