Cloud is trending topic these days. During the last few months we had chance to see quite many examples of CAD/PLM vendors starting to speak about cloud computing, cloud applications and services. Autodesk, SolidWorks made a cloud related statements and announcements on their past user conferences. Large infrastructure providers are promoting different type of “cloud paradigms” such as “private”, “public”, “applications” and other clouds. In addition, I need to mention companies that are doing software OnDemand (such as Arena PLM, PTC, IBM) in the PLM field and basically saying “cloud” and “OnDemand” is about the same.
The cloud-related presentations are not always simple to understand. It is hard to predict how today’s desktop CAD application will move to the new “cloud” paradigm or how rich database oriented apps will start to provide cloud services. So, I decided to outline set of questions, that I think, every customer can ask about cloud apps when talking with potential cloud apps provider.
This is the primary concern for most of users today. For some reasons people feel very secured when data is located on your hard drive as a bunch of CAD and Excel files. However, what happens when you move this data on the cloud? In some cases, and it can be a surprise to you, the cloud solution will be more secured. You can ask you potential vendors how a cloud solution can prevent massive copy of the information out of cloud location? CAD/PLM data is normally very large. Vendor can increase the ability to secure data, for example, by recognizing significant data movement in/out cloud account with patterns different from normals.
Access and Device Support
This is a very important question, in my view. One of the biggest advantages of cloud apps is the ability to use it on any device – desktop, laptop, mobile, etc. So, don’t forget to ask if a cloud solution is supporting relevant mobile platforms as well as newcomer’s devices such as Apple’s iPad. It will allow you to make your engineering stuff visible to your bosses on their cool iPhones and other new devices.
Customization and API
This is one of the key questions. PLM software needs to be flexible. You need to be sure, that it is not only out-of-box product you cannot change, but also customizable service you can configure, combine with our services in your company, etc. Good example is to review all information related to Force.com platform provided by Salesforce.com as an example of customization capabilities. Another option, to see how customization capabilities are compatible with programming cloud solutions such as Microsoft Azure or Google can provide.
Backup, Upgrade and Compatibility
Cloud applications are different from what you are familiar on your desktop. This also can be not similar even to client-server paradigms. You need to think how you secure your future for the long term. Important aspect here is a backup, so you can be able to extract and keep your information in the safe place. It is not less important story of upgrades and compatibility between different versions of software. You need to know what is your provider policy with regards to data compatibility and customization compatibility. These are not simple questions for cloud/SaaS based software providers. The solution here is hard, in my view.
One of the advantages of cloud/SaaS software is a low entrance barrier. You can start doing business using application subscription. However, you need to be prepared with questions about how much will cost you to increase a number of people that can access application and also, how much will cost storage capacity? When the first question is trivial, second one may be not so simple. You will need to estimate a scale of the data you are going to manage using this app and make appropriated cost estimation.
Vendor Risk Assessment
You need to make an assessment of your vendor. In the early days, the development cost of enterprise software was pretty high. So, company making enterprise business, in most cases, considered as a solid and financially backed. This is not true nowadays. The development cost of cloud/web apps dropped significantly and not requires significant investment. So, you need to check what is the chance your future PLM cloud provider will go out of business.
These are just my thoughts… I’m sure this list is not complete. It will be interesting to hear what do you think? What concerns and issues do you have when thinking how to migrate to your next solution on cloud? What are your questions? Where do you see problems and what advantages do think cloud apps will bring you?