My first take on Autodesk PLM 360 system and technology

March 24, 2012

Autodesk PLM 360 is widely announced and promoted “new cloud alternative” from Autodesk to disrupt PLM market. After initial announcement, back few weeks ago, press, media and bloggers gave significant focus to PLM 360 products. If you want to catch up a bit on articles, I’d recommend you few stories – Sharing our PLM 360 experiencesby Jim Brown of Tech-Clarity, Autodesk announced pricing for PLM 360 offerings by Develop 3D, Live from AU. Autodesk and PLM. Strap your boots, it is coming by Al Dean of Develop 3D, The devil must be cold: Autodesk launches PLM product Nexus by Chad Jackson of Lifecycle Insightand Autodesk PLM 360: Insanely Configurable? by Monica Schnitger. I also had a chance to write few articles after PLM 360 release. Navigate to the following link to read my article - Autodesk, Cloud and PLM for $19.95. That was my conclusion few weeks ago just after the announcement:

Autodesk made a significant turnaround from rejecting PLM to claiming Autodesk PLM revolution to come to every manufacturing company. If I think Darwinian, it can be a confirmation of the Autodesk ability to adopt to the reality of today’s world. One of the conclusions I’ve made last week during PLM Innovation conference in Munich – PLM is strategic now. Autodesk is claiming PLM revolution and emphasizing “technology” as one of the enabling factors. It means technologies behind Autodesk PLM 360 is what made Autodesk PLM possible. I’m looking forward to seeing technological whitepaper about Autodesk PLM 360 with some details going beyond marketing buzzwords. Time will show what Autodesk is serving us in PLM cloud box.

Autodesk PLM 360 Hands On

Autodesk provided me an access to Autodesk PLM 360. My PLM 360 tenant runs on Autodesk QA servers. I discover that later. It was good to know and helpful to justify my impression about performance and availability. After doing some work during the past 3 weeks, this article is an attempt to summarize my initial take on what I think about PLM 360, how it is different from other PLM systems on the market and talk as much as I can about PLM 360 architecture and technology.

General Concept and Strategy

Let me talk how I understood Autodesk concepts and strategy with regards to PLM 360. Autodesk step in PLM game after long time ignorance of PLM. The key point made by Carl Bass during AU was – now we have right technology to solve problems of manufacturers. The bold hint was that technologies and PLM products available from competitors cannot do so. Autodesk conceptual differentiation is the cloud. At the same time, Autodesk has their own PDM product – Autodesk Vault PDM. So, Autodesk is creating a strategy of how to use PDM on premises and PLM on the cloud. In my view, this strategy is interesting and can hold real implementations beyond presentation slides. However, the weak point of this strategy will be the ability of Autodesk PLM to provide an effective integration solution and technology. Autodesk will have to balance between existing PDM product and development of PLM on the cloud which will obviously bring overlaps and lots of questions. One of the examples is about Bill of Materials. My initial take on this problem is here – Cloud PLM and Bill of Material Question. Here is my short graphical explanation of what is the concept of Autodesk PLM:

Data Architecture

Data model is one of the key elements of any PLM system. With the absence of technical information from Autodesk, here is my take on PLM 360 data architecture. PLM 360 is not much different from all other PLM systems. It most probably using SQL-compliant database as a foundation of data architecture. On top of that, there is an object abstraction layer you can use. If you’re familiar with few other PLM/PDM systems, it won’t take you much time to get to PLM 360 model. The core data modeling abstraction concept is “workspace”.

Workspace is defined as a set of attributes with related information and specific behavior. In that sense, it is not different from Object / Class / Business object abstractions used by other PLM developed back in 1990-2000s. I discovered rigidity in some definitions like not ability to extend the amount of tabs in the workspace and some others issues. This leads me to some assumptions related to RDBMS modeling behind, but I don’t see it as something critical.

User Experience

The overal user experience of PLM 360 is nice. The web application has nicely designed elements of UI. It looks a little outdated if you think about modern UI experience circal 2010. You can take a look on the following two screenshots that basically show you the majority of UI experiences.

In addition to that, I found few elements of user interface with original and interesting decisions. One of them, I want to mention is the interface defining attributes of the workspace.

Administration

Overal PLM 360 can be configured and administered via web user interface. No local utilities needed. Please see screenshots above, I used to explain the idea of workspace. In addition to that, you have quite extensive set of administration for scripting and additional configurations.

The only exception from this rule is a workflow designer – a rich application and requires Java to run. I’d say, this kind of reduces the flexibility of process management that can be done by PLM 360.

Architecture and Technology

Autodesk is quite secretive with everything that related to sharing of technological and architecture information about how the system is built. They are taking full responsibility on hosted cloud servers. I don’t have a confirmed information what company is hosting PLM 360 for Autodesk. According to Graphic Speak publication, PLM 360 is hosted on dedicated servers. You can try to make some conclusion about multitenancy. On the picture below, I created PLM 360 pseudo architectural diagram. The picture I draw based on my “educational guess” and “detective actions” :). PLM 360 has near to traditional enterprise architecture contains SQL-compliant database, server code and web frontend.

What is my conclusion? I have a positive impression about PLM 360. It is stable, and I could perform my research experiments as well as some customization and development work. The overall maturity of the system even higher than I would expect from the system developed from scratch (as it was mentioned by Randal Newton in his article) – Autodesk PLM 360 is the first PLM product written from scratch for contemporary cloud technology. Autodesk is betting it will be a hit with companies of all sizes. At the same time, I didn’t find special novelty in the data-management paradigm. Also, I didn’t find any confirmation about flexibility and scalability of the system going beyond traditional PLM solutions (in the case systems like Enovia, Aras, etc. will be hosted on the cloud). The concepts of integration of PLM 360 are not clear and provide a concern with regards how PLM 360 can be embedded into overall company IT strategy. With all that, I found my user experience quite enjoyable, and I liked how PLM 360 performed tasks. These are just my thoughts… I’ll continue my experience with PLM 360 and hope to come with more articles.

Best, Oleg


How to re-invent “PLM collaboration” world?

March 24, 2012

What do you think about “PLM Collaboration”?… Yes, I can hear you – boring. However, what if I tell that collaboration can be cool again? Over the past year, I was tracking few vendors investing and playing with a collaboration topic. Today I decided to give you my perspective on what I believe will re-invent “collaboration” to the degree that will allow to regular people work and love these new collaborative tools.

Easy To Get

This one is simple. Nobody wants to deal with installations these days. If you want to provide a collaborative system, please make it available online or in the way that simplifies a path to start using a tool. This is absolutely critical.

Access and Mobile

Access is one of the very important things, collaboration needs to adopt. Collaborative tools need to be available everywhere and not restricted to a particular environment, infrastructure or device. This is in the past. Nowadays, mobile and BYOD rocks the field. All together it will create a significant challenge for IT, but it is just must go this way.

Collaboration and Cool

Cool is important! Don’t make it boring. You may say cool is not important when it comes to the business. I think opposite. Even if enterprise companies are still driven by old generation people, “new influencers” become more and more visible. People want to keep the same cool devices and use the same cool systems as they use at home.

New Gen of Collaboration Tools

I’d like to share few videos related to new collaboration tools I’m following. The first one is Vuuch. The company was established back in 2009. The idea of Vuuch is to improve collaboration by social interaction. Last version of Vuuch – V5 introduced additional features that make a deeper connection to working processes. You can see a video here. My guess usability is one of the biggest topics.

SolidWorks n!Fuze is a system to help engineers to collaborate mostly with SolidWorks files. It adopts cloud and improves connection between people and files outside of organization. It was released last year (2011). It was a flagship product for SolidWorks and use Enovia v6 cloud platform. At the same time, SolidWorks admitted many mistakes that were made.

Autodesk Cloud. This product is kind of n!Fuze remake together with the attempt to bring easy collaboration with files. It looks a bit Googlish, but fundamentally lack of many functions. The user experience of Autodesk cloud shows that customers are more in focus.

TeamPlatform. This is a newest addition to my “collaboration collection”. I found the application behavior slick and nice. This system clearly taking the cool and best experience of consumer web. You can navigate here to learn more. It supports few scenarios around file collaboration, managing projects and other files. It is too early to say what TeamPlatform can do, but it looks interesting.

What is my conclusion? I think more companies will try to challenge large vendors with new type of applications leveraging cloud, mobile and other best practices. It is interesting how they will be able to find a precise scenario to interest engineers and other people in organizations to start using that. We will need to get back to this topic in few months to see trajectories of collaborations.

Best, Oleg

picture credit David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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