CAD: From Files to Database and Cloud…

November 17, 2010

I had a chance to read Matt Lombard’s – What if you CAD data were in a database? The discussion around this post made me think more about CAD data organizations, CAD-PDM development, new technologies and some trends such as cloud and noSQL. The initial triggers for the conversations came from some new products, releases and announcements by CAD/PLM vendors over the past years. Autodesk, Dassault and SolidWorks were first to push “cloud race” start button. So, the question about what will happen with one of the biggest assets in manufacturing – CAD data, getting more and more priorities in discussions. The introduction of Dassault V6 put an additional priority. DS made their decision to bundle CATIA and ENOVIA V6 database. By doing so, Dassault opens a new round in the development of CAD-PDM dependencies.

Files, Desktop, Cloud

One of the most fundamental abstraction computer software holds for almost 4 decades is the abstraction of a computer file. Combined with desktop metaphor, developed by Windows and Mac software, it used by the majority of users today. During the last ten years, the internet development created some ideas for how post-desktop world may look like. It is still a big question if all “beyond desktop” stories can make a reality. There is a great read about a future of post-desktop world, I can recommend you – Design Integrated Digital Work Environment. At the same time, the simplicity of “file-based” metaphor and large amount of existing application and CAD data can make vendors to duplicate this abstraction level on the cloud. Remember – simplicity always wins!

CAD+PDM=No Files?

CAD was a first tool that went to mainstream in manufacturing organizations. Obviously, CAD application, as a desktop tool started to work with file. Later, the issue of controlling files and managing of CAD data came into the game. PDM served needs of the customers to organize CAD data storage. PDM can remove the need of file management. I just discussed this topic on my blog few days ago – Why do we struggle with file names in PDM/PLM?However, at the same time, the complexity of CAD/PDM interfaces and implementation cost slowed down distribution of PDM tools. The latest trend I discovered is that PDM interfaces have a tendency to be standardized by CAD manufacturers. The next expected step in this direction is to make PDM a standard functionality of CAD system. The real showstopper in this direction is a complexity. Many of the users today are continuing using CAD tools and see PDM as something that only makes their work more complicated. The future step in achievement of simplicity is to bind PDM into CAD and make them inseparable. There are advantages and disadvantages. It can simplify the tool and user interface. At the same time, usage of multiple CAD systems and other customer’s reality are stopping customers from implementing these strategies.

Technological Trends

There are few interesting trends I want to mention. Last ten years of the internet introduced additional technologies in the data management space. Relational databases are still the data management mainstream. However, thinking about noSQL solutions, graph databases, proprietary data stores like Google Big Table, Open Source solutions and others, created some opportunity to change “SQL-only” paradigm used by PDM/PLM systems. I can see two most important parameters that will drive cloud-based-data technologies. Scale and Cost of Change. “File” is a well-understood user paradigm and companies can continue to use it even when the cloud will use different storage technologies.


What happens on the side of vendors? I think, CAD/PLM vendors started to watch space more closely. Autodesk experimented with cloud technologies and introduced few products (including acquisition of Israel-based Visual Tao). Dassault announced about their plans to bring V6 platform to the cloud.

Data Lock-in

Even if the cloud-y future looks very promising, the question of data lock-in is an important and requires special attention. There are few issues related to the lock-in. As soon as you have your CAD data in files, you physically own it. So, even if you migrate to another CAD system, it is up to you (and translation tools, of course) to move it to another system. However, when you need to pull your data from cloud it can be different. For example, try to pull your emails from Gmail. Google watches very carefully large data volume migrations. We don’t know yet what path CAD companies will choose in their decision to move your CAD data on the cloud. What if you will be licensing your traffic volume? C’mon… It can be just crazy.

What is my conclusion? File-paradigm was born as a technology. However, for the moment, it is just a matter of usability and portability. The internet creates new paradigms that will proliferate into engineering system space. The dilemma to store CAD data in a file vs. database will become an issue of technology. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

[categories CAD, Cloud, Database, Files, Dassault, Autodesk]

PLM And Management Of CAD Files

April 23, 2010

One of the questions that disturbs me when I’m thinking about PLM is a complexity. In a modern enterprise manufacturing organization, complexity kills. When I’m thinking about the way data management passed since the first introduction in PDM systems, I see a huge amount of blocks built on top of basic PDM functions. In the beginning, PDM was about managing of data records about file. After, additional silos of data were added to represent various aspects of products – Bill of Materials, ECO, Requirements, Projects, Supply, etc. Then we got a mess…  I’d compare it to the situation happened with MRP/ERP industry about 15-20 years ago. Started at the early beginning as MRP and lately a MRP-II, it comes long way to acquire all possible and impossible islands of enterprise data to become, finally, ERP. We are facing a very similar situation these days in PLM.

CAD Files Control Dilemma
For every PLM system, the management of CAD files is a fundamental question that needs to be answered at the early beginning. This is Shakespeare’s “to be or not to be” question of all PLM vendors. Touch CAD files or do not touch CAD files? I see a lot of advantages in management of CAD files: you are getting control on valuable design and engineering information, there is an ability to have a system that has deep and tight connections to the daily life of people in the organization via CAD system operation and many others. On the other side, control of CAD files put a lot of restrictions on users, increase the overall system complexity and in the end create dependencies on vendors of CAD products.

Invisible CAD Data Management
There are two examples I want to talk about in the context of CAD data management: CATIA V6 and Google Apps. Do you see something in common between them? Yes, I do. In both systems, data management and version control are embedded parts of products. You have a built in mechanism to manage version of CAD models as well as Google Apps document. You still need to take care about next version, lock and un-lock operations in CATIA. However, you shouldn’t care about version of your files in Google Apps. The idea I had is a notion of “invisible CAD data management”. It happens, but users should not care about that.

What is my conclusion today? I think, dependencies on CAD were born in the beginning of PDM. We need to revise our technological decisions came from early days on how we can keep control of CAD files and management their revision. The connection between the CAD version management and overall product development (PLM) processes need to become less restrictive and more flexible.

Just my thoughts…
Best, Oleg


6 Questions About Your Future Cloud CAD/PLM

April 16, 2010

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 platform provided by 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.

Application Cost
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?

Best, Oleg


PLM and The Future Of Files In Organizations

March 30, 2010

Thanks for one of my readers who sent me the link to Wrench Enterprise. Their presentation about project collaboration and file sharing, made me think about files in enterprise organization. I think, even after many years of web oriented applications and implementations, files remain a very important piece of every enterprise organization. The collaboration between different people in the organization with involvement of files is growing, in my view. I see few interesting trends in the future of files in the engineering and enterprise organizations.

First, let’s where all these files are coming from. The significant piece of files comes from CAD/CAE applications. They have been targeted by multiple PDM Applications for the last 15-20 years with variable success, in my view. Another significant chunk of files comes from Office applications – Emails, Word, PowerPoint and, of course, the King of the road – Excel (or an alternative spreadsheet application). The third big part of files is various outcomes / reports from multiple engineering and enterprise applications. So, what will happen with all these files in the future? What organizations will do with this huge amount of files?

Here is my take on this. I can see possible three trends related to the future of files in the engineering organization – (1) Dissolve in Web Apps; (2) Acquisition by Content Servers; (3) Migrate to Cloud Storage(s).

Dissolve in PLM Web Applications
This trend will present the future move to web type applications from desktop applications. In my view, it represents a strategic move, but at the same time it will be a relatively slow process. Enterprise and engineering organization is very conservative, and it will take a lot of time until the majority of web apps in the organization will be web based.

Acquisition by Enterprise Content Servers
This is an interesting one, in my view. Content Management can grow in enterprise organization. Content Management has a small presence in engineering compare to the traditional PLM folks. The growing amount of SharePoint-like solution, reminds me about the the future movement in this direction.

Migrate to Cloud Storage
The most un-realistic for the short term. Organization in general and engineering organization specifically wants to keep their data closely and this is directly related to IP protection. The security concerns are still high. However, I’d expect an interesting trend for small organizations to outsource and host their servers. And it means the solution will become a very practical soon.

I’m interested to hear your comments and thoughts, as usual.
Best, Oleg


Future CAD-PLM and Assembly Version Management

March 12, 2010

I was reading SolidSmack’s post about how to manage versions of the assemblies. Creating versions of drawing and models is one of the most fundamental activities during your design process.

For the long period of time, I assumed that this field of PDM/PLM activity is well explored – done deal! If you need versions, you need to move to the one of the available PDM systems (whatever fit your CAD system and vendor choice). Sounds like pretty straightforward… Finally, if you don’t want to move to PDM burden, you can follow Josh’s rules and options.

But, what if…?

What if we will be able to automate this painful version management mechanism. Think Google Docs for the moment. You actually can manage versions of your document and Google Doc is taking care of your changes. You can revert to any version you want, compare versions, etc. Sounds simple. I know, you can tell me CAD data is complex, lots of dependent information and not clear how to manage version with actually designer involvement. However, the actual problem, in m view, is not a complexity of design and assemblies. The main problem is the way today PDM systems manage it. In the typical environment, the data is located on your local disk (or shared network drive). Data Management software (PDM or PLM system) is taking care of moving your data to the secured location (vault). Each time you are doing it, the very painful check-in / check-out process needs to happen.The fundamental problem is data management procedures. So, maybe we finally need to remove and reorganize it?

Let me dream about different data management scenarios and work organization. We can split version-related data management process in two separate activities. 1/Save all changes all the time; 2/Tag versions.

Unlimited Storage and Save Command
The storage is cheap these days. Even if you think it is not yet as cheap as you want, the trend is going down. Let assume we have an unlimited online storage that will allow us to keep track of all CAD activity and changes you are doing. Basically, we will reduce the need for <Save> command. Still, you may have it, but normally you’ll not use it anymore.

Revision As Tagging
Think about Version as a tag of the particular design state. When you are coming to this state, just tag all you have with a specific tag (actually you can use lovely revision schema you have in your organization).

There is no magic. The biggest problem is to optimize a process of data saving between CAD software and storage. I think, the network speed improvements and CAD vendors efforts will move us in the right direction. And finally, an alternative is to move your CAD system on the cloud and run it in a browser. Do you think, I’m overwhelmed by the simplicity of some online sotware available today? I don’t think so. Time ago, CAD systems had a problem to optimize save procedure to the disk. Today, they are in a pretty good shape and can optimize loading of huge assemblies in a very efficient way.

So, what is my conclusion? The “second movers” innovation is very important. The problem is on the plate. Today’s PDM Versions mechanism is outdated. Don’t give up and accept “it is as it is” statements. There are some fundamental CAD/PDM activities that can be improved and need to be improved.

Just my thoughts…
Best, Oleg


PLM Open Source: Business or Social Need?

December 1, 2009

The following NYT article drove my attention yesterday – Open Source as a Model for Business is Elusive. I already had chance to discuss open source and PLM on plmtwine. If you just came to my blog, you can review the following posts:

SaaS and Open Source: PLM Future Rides
Open Source: Is the Game Changing for PLM?
What will be PLM Open Source secret sauce?

Discussing various aspects of MySQL acquisition as part of Sun by Oracle, NYT dropped a very interesting argument related to the social aspects of open source.

“European regulators view MySQL as sort of a database of the people, a low-cost alternative to Oracle’s costly proprietary products. The regulators worry that Oracle may stop improving MySQL in favor of protecting its core traditional products, and customers will lose an important option in the database market.”

Another interesting point was related to the development of open source projects. Actually, and this is not a top secret is that companies like Google and IBM are heavily sponsoring development of Open Source products.

“Many of the top open-source developers are anything but volunteers tinkering in their spare time. Companies like I.B.M., Google, Oracle and Intel pay these developers top salaries to work on open-source projects and further the companies’ strategic objectives.”

Let’s get back to our CAD and PLM space. I could see few projects that are trying to develop open source CAD products. The most visible is ITC developing IntelliCAD platform. The concepts of IntelliCAD are complex and related to the history of DWGDirect and ODA, but it is very close to the open source concepts. IntelliCAD positioned as a cheap and no-cost alternative to Autodesk/AutoCAD product lines. Another player in PLM Open space is Aras made long road from licensed PLM software and now also positioned as an alternative to very costly products licensed by top PLM providers.

So, the conclusion I can make is very close to the assumption done in NYT- there is strong demand for open source as a cheap alternative for heavy priced licenses. At the same time, open source successes are limited, even if they are very visible (Linux, MySQL, Mozilla). To make a success for the future of PLM open source the following two questions need to be answered, in my view:

1. Who will play a role of major driving force in adoption of open source PLM products? In other words, who will play the role of Internet (like it was in cases of Mozilla and MySQL) to develop large open source PLM community. The potential candidates are very large Autodesk related customer community in case of ICT. In case of Aras, it can be Microsoft and related SharePoint business community.

2. What companies will be interested to sponsor top PLM developers and evangelists to work on the open source PLM products to bring them on the level of excellence and mass adoption? Will Autodesk be interested in development of ICT community? Maybe Microsoft will will be interested to sponsor Aras and put few bucks to support the development PLM for SharePoint?

Just my opinion. I’m looking forward to your thoughts and opinions.
Best, Oleg

PLM and Collaboration Platforms: Partnership or Buzzworks?

November 3, 2009

Collaboration is very important for product development including different phases – design, engineering, manufacturing etc. “Collaborative factor” is playing a very important role in development of CAD, PDM, PLM etc. I have to admit that engineering activities are very much different from areas like accounting and some others. For many years, development of capabilities to collaborate, was a very interesting and innovative factor related to development of CAD and PLM system.

However, time is moving forward together with technologies and collaboration is coming to our everyday life together with internet, mobile devices, office automation and other innovative technologies. So, everything becomes very “collaborative”. Question I want to ask today in simple way – should CAD/PLM related product think about wider adoption of collaborative capabilities coming from non-specific engineering and manufacturing world.

I was looking on the latest report in this area made by Forrester “Forrester Wave(TM): Collaboration Platform Q3 2009“.

Picture 34

According to the Forrester, the following functional areas considered as primary criteria to include vendors into their research:
-Collaborative workspace capabilities. This includes the ability to store and manage multiple
artifacts with the space, not just the ability to share content over a network.
-Basic content management capabilities. These capabilities allow users to access a single copy of
an artifact through the network.
-The ability to customize the space for specific business purposes. Personalized dashboards,
workspace templates, and workflow capability are examples of customizability.
-Enterprise capabilities for security and authentication. Access-control lists (ACLs), single-
sign on through Active Directory or LDAP support, and enterprise rights management
capabilities (ERM) are some of the key components for enterprise security and authentication
offered by these vendors.
-A development environment for building custom collaboration applications. The evaluated
vendors provide development options for firms with very specific internal needs or for power
users who want to self-provision custom applications.

From the standpoint of Product Lifecycle Management and Collaborative Product Development, I can see a lot of things are missing in this list to allow designers and engineers to collaborate. However, mentioned above capabilities fit very well tool. Special interest, in my view, also need to be done on the latest focus of collaborative platforms on the intersection between a content creation, traditional collaboration and social elements.

So, what is my intermediate conclusion? Collaborative platform’s evolution brings them more and more in the space of traditional product design and development collaboration.  Is it relevant and make sense to marry them, or we are just talking about “yet another collaborative buzzworks”? Is there overlap in platforms and functionality provided by PLM vendors? Do you think a notion of collaboration is so different in product design and development that make appropriate to develop specific platforms?

Just my thoughts.
Best, Oleg


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