Here is why CAD in the cloud is more than mainframe terminal

August 1, 2014

CAD-IBM-mainframe-term

Cloud is one of the topics that I’m following on my blog for a long time. I can see lots of changes that happened in CAD / PLM world for the last few years with everything that related to cloud. I’m sure you remember very turbulent announcement about SolidWorks future in the cloud made during SWW 2010. Since then, I was looking how CAD/PLM vendors were taking different cloud approaches based on their customer base, long term vision and strategy. Here are some of my previous posts speaking about vendors and different cloud strategies – Dassault is going to support all PLM cloud options by 2015; PLM cloud switch and PTC final click; Siemens PLM analyst event PLM public cloud strategies; Cloud and IaaS options; PLM/PDM Why Cloud? Wrong question…

I read Siemens PLM blog post – Is it time to revisit CAD in the cloud? by Matt Lombard. The article raised many question and concerns in my head. So, I decided to share them with you to compare our notes about cloud strategies. My attention was caught by the following two statements: 1/ Cloud has nothing to do with CAD. It is IT; 2/ Cloud in the cloud will send us back to manufacturing/terminal arrangement. Here is the passage from the post about that:

The cloud has nothing to do with CAD, really. The cloud is all about how you deliver the software, and/or about how you store the data. It’s IT. There was a time when all CAD software was delivered across a network to individual terminals, and the data was stored centrally. People about my age who remember this sort of thing generally refer to that as the “bad old days”. Working on terminals that had to log in to a mainframe was inconvenient. If the mainframe was down, no one could do anything.

The personal computer (PC) revolution was such a big hit because it gave you more flexibility. Everyone had their own computer. It took us out of the collective, and made us individuals again. In the mid 90s, along with Windows NT, this meant that we could start using our technical engineering applications on PCs, which were far less expensive and restrictive when compared to mainframe setups.

“CAD in The Cloud” promises to send us back to the mainframe/terminal arrangement. Whether it’s a local cloud, on your company’s LAN or a public cloud on Amazon or IBM, or a private cloud you access over the internet, it’s the same idea as the mainframe/terminal. But is it a good thing, or a bad thing?

These two statements made me think again about completely different approach companies can take in terms of cloud adoption. You can consider cloud as "yet another server" located elsewhere and managed by somebody else (not by the IT of your company). From a very narrow point of view, it is true. However, think for the moment about potential elastic computing power. You might rethink your position. The ability to bring brute computing force will allow you to speed up design and analysis. You can compare variants, visualize your design and re-use early projects in a completely different way. It can change design and decision process completely.

Another aspect is related to collaboration and data access. By moving your PDM server into cloud can gain some benefits. It mostly around IT cost and global access. However, you can achieve much more by allowing people to communicate across departments and extended value chain. It opens many opportunities in communication, business optimization and analytics services.

Another interesting point made by Matt is related to desktop tools. Matt comes with the explanation about relationships between SolidEdge and cloud. Here is the passage from the blog:

For all of these reasons, I like the approach that Siemens PLM has when it comes to the cloud. Solid Edge does not appear to have any cloud aspirations at this time, but there are versions of enterprise software that will allow for local cloud set up. Giving the customer the choice and the control without coercing them is the right thing to do.

I like the way Matt put the connection between SolidEdge as a desktop software and so called "enterprise software that will allow for local cloud set up". I reminded me TechCrunch article – The Return Of The Desktop Productivity App. What I like is the role desktop applications play in the triad of desktop-web-mobile. All together, these applications become part of connected cloud platform. Think about Evernote for a moment. You can use desktop version of Evernote and transparently switch to mobile and web version depends on the situation and need. Your notes remain captured and available to view, edit and collaborate. This is a big deal. This is how we will use software tomorrow. Desktop CAD applications will be seamlessly connected to cloud platforms providing backbone for communication, collaboration and storage.

What is my conclusion? Think about web and cloud as a new platform. It will bring a completely new paradigm of design and engineering. As a first step you can think about it as an old "mainframe/terminal" or "yet another server located elsewhere". However, cloud trajectory will take us much further. It will bring new connected platforms that will change the way we communicate and collaborate. Elastic computing platforms will help us to find optimal design solution and intelligently use customer data for analysis. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

The photo courtesy of computerhistory.org


Cloud PDM can make file check-in and check-out obsolete

July 21, 2014

cloud-pdm-checkin-out-need-1

Management of CAD files (PDM) is heavily associated with desktop workflows. Lots of CAD files live on engineering desktops and shared company network drives. Originally, one of the main PDM functionality was to vault CAD data and manage CAD files revisions. One of the most widely used scenario to support this functionality is so-called Check-in / Check-out process. CAD files are checked-in from working folders (working space) into secured File vaults located on PDM servers. In case engineers want to make a change, you need to check-out file. The same mechanism can insure released CAD files won’t be changed without approval and prior check-out. The implementation of PDM check-in/check-out process is not simple because of CAD data complexity. File relationships and dependencies need to be taken into account if you want to make an update CAD 3D design and drawings.

Cloud is changing existing working habits. For long time, engineers were tightly connected to their desks. CAD, engineering analysis, Excel spreadsheets… this is only a short list of tools that live on engineering desks. Not anymore. These days our workflows are heavily impacted by cloud software. Web email, cloud file sharing, cloud and mobile applications. We don’t need to be at our desk to do a job in many situations. Cloud is providing new complementary workflows. However, in some cases, we can see a total replacement of existing workflows.

I’ve been discussing how cloud technologies are changing CAD file sharing, CAD data management and PDM. Navigate to my previous post – What makes cloud a good alternative for PDM system?. One of the most widely debated questions is related to the ability of cloud system to handle large size of CAD files. The capacity of public cloud systems to handle large data scale is well known. Cloud storage cost is getting down. The speed of changes is significant and the numbers from my 2 years old post – Cloud PDM and 10GB emails can make me smile today.

At the same time, a very important and critical aspect of cloud technologies is synchronization of data between cloud and desktop / local networks. Web giants like Google, Amazon, Microsoft and others are working to improve sync technologies. In few of my posts, I covered some specific examples about how companies like Box, Dropbox are providing specific techniques to improve data and file sync. But CAD data is different. Not like photos, office files and even videos. To solve the same problem for highly dependent and intertwined CAD data can be a big deal. When it done, it can be a significant leapfrog for any company in the market of cloud PDM solution.

Future CAD file management trajectories can take us from the original idea to check-in/check-out files between secured PDM vault and local working folders towards different workflows. Cloud file systems can support a new way to manage CAD files and provide access to them for design tools and other services. Long term goal can be a future without CAD files. The potential file storage transformation can raise lots of question about how CAD systems will operate without local storage? All these questions are relevant for both private and public cloud solutions.

What is my conclusion? Cloud will change PDM. I can see a potential transformation in fundamental CAD/PDM scenarios – check-in/check-out. Modern cloud PDM can take an approach of seamless and transparent data synchronization and simplify PDM. New workflows can potentially exclude engineers from time consuming and complicated file retrieval between desktops and servers. New way of work will be more simple and focus on design release and approval only. I can see this approach well aligned with future cloud design systems eliminating local file storage completely. So, future cloud PDM without check-in/check-out? What do you think? These are just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Why cloud engineering collaboration tools are slow to ramp up

July 15, 2014

cloud-engineering-collaboration-user-adoption

Few weeks ago I attended Boston Tech Jam and learn new buzzword – YAPSA. Which stands for Yet Another Photo Sharing Application. The amount of cloud files and data sharing applications is skyrocketing these days. It inspired many developers to re-think how to share and collaborate with engineering data. Cloud technologies made people to bring back lots of web-collaboration initiatives from earlier 2000s. Web collaboration was hard 10 years ago. IaaS initial cost and availability made deployment and hosting of collaboration tools simple. 10 years of web 2.0 and photo sharing application experience provided good foundation of open source technologies to implement basic set of features. The straightforward set of every engineering collaboration is down to 5 basic functions: upload CAD files, web/mobile viewing, versions, project organization, comments and reviews.

So, you can ask me – what is wrong here? The challenge of all cloud based tools is user adoption. The obvious dream of every vendor in this space is to make tools to scale within organizations. Here are few widely used associations and buzzwords – Dropbox for CAD, Facebook for engineers, Google Drive for collaboration. However, to make engineering organization to use these tools is not a simple task. I want to bring 3 main roadblocks. In my view, most of cloud collaboration tools ignored them in their initial and sometimes even second incarnation.

1- The ease of data upload.

What is good for photo, doesn’t work well for engineers and CAD tools. Photo is all about how to upload a single file or a folder with bunch of photos from your last vacation. CAD design contains multiple files often located in several folders with references on standard parts, etc. File/Upload function doesn’t fit here.

2- Organizational security and data access.

Every organization, even small engineering firm is taking care about file access. Integration with directory service such as LDAP is probably "must have". However, very often, access rules can go even future and integrate with security access of existing applications – PDM/PLM, ERP, CRM, etc.

3- Integration with desktop tools.

Integration inside CAD (and other desktop tools) can help people to start sharing data easier. As soon as you come close to basic PDM function of revision management, integration with desktop tool is must. To integrated with desktop tool is not simple. Many cloud collaboration tools are ignoring it from the beginning.

What is my conclusion? Cloud collaboration tools are going through the difficult time of maturity. The time when website allowed to everyone to upload CAD file(s) for free and watch it on iPad is over. To remove organizational roadblocks preventing engineers to use tool broadly in an organization as well as to provide interesting capabilities to collaborate efficiently is more important. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


The complexity of Part Management in PDM

July 11, 2014

part-management-pdm-complexity

How to manage Parts? It sounds like a trivial and simple question. Every manufacturing companies and engineering organization is facing this problem. However, it is not as simple as you might think so. The information about Parts (aka Items) is often scattered between CAD drawings, multiple Excel files, PDM and ERP systems. One of the biggest problem is to how to manage revisions and changes for Parts. I captured this problem in some of my previous writings. Future CAD-PLM and Assembly Version Management; Why versioning is complicated in PDM?; PLM, ERP and Managing of Effectivity; Revisions in CAD/PLM/ERP: Old Problems or New Challenges?

Recent GrabCAD blog – Part Revisions: Deal or No Deal made me think again about why is so complex to manage parts in every PDM environment. The following passage explains what means Part has no revision:

Documentation can be revised, but the part itself should not. If a part changes, the revised part is issued a new part number. In the case of PMI, where the "documentation" portion is integral to the part, revisions are more esoteric. Allowable PMI revisions in that case depend on whether the documentation portion is being updated or the part model is being physically changed.

The following passage explains one of my 5 Don’ts in BOM management – Don’t use the same ID for Part Numbers and Drawing Numbers:

In many cases, the documentation is a fully dimensioned engineering drawing, though these days it might also be Product Manufacturing Information (PMI), if you’re riding the technology wave. In the case of a drawing, the documentation also carries an identifying number. While it may be tempting to make the part and drawing numbers the same, such an approach aims to misbehave. For example, a drawing is often changed for very different reasons than the part it describes, often in a fashion that has no impact on design. In addition, drawings may describe multiple parts. In other words, drawing and part life cycles are unique, so the identification number for each must also be unique.

Now, let me go back to the original question. Why is so complex to manage parts in PDM? Here are two main reasons:

1- Complexity of two lifecycles – CAD and Items

CAD documents and Part lifecycle is fundamentally different. PDM system manage CAD files revisions and dependencies between files. Parts (Items) requires Part Numbers and Effectivity to control FFF (Form, Fit and Function) also known as interchangeability rules. Revision can be applied, but it won’t be used to identify a part.

2- Disagreement about where is "master" of part information and cross system integration

Part information is scattered between PDM, ERP and supply chain management systems. Organizations are having hard time to agree WHO is controlling Part creation process. When changes happens or new parts is created, information must be synchronized between multiple systems. It raises the complexity of overall integration and data management.

What is my conclusion? Complexity of two lifecycle management is a key problem in part management in PDM. It is hard to combine part lifecycle including interchangeability rules and effectivity with proper management of CAD documents. The user workflows are getting complex and engineers are having hard time to use the system. While the reality of manufacturing is that both documents and parts need to managed in an appropriate way, PDM vendors facing real challenges to get efficient Part Management processes in place. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Will GE give a birth to a new PLM company?

July 9, 2014

ge-datamanagement-initiative

Navigate back into histories of CAD and PLM companies. You can find significant involvement of large aerospace, automotive and industrial companies. Here are few examples – Dassault Systemes with Dassault Aviation, SDRC with US Steel, UGS with McDonnell Douglas. In addition to that, involvement of large corporation as strategic customers, made significant impact on development of many CAD/PLM systems for the past two decades. Do you think we can see something similar in the future?

Inc. article GE’s Grand Plan: Build the Next Generation of Data Startups made me think about some potential strategic involvement of large industrial companies in PLM software business. The following passage can give you an idea of how startups will be organized.

A team from GE Software and GE Ventures has launched an incubator program in partnership with venture capital firm Frost Data Capital to build 30 in-house startups during the next three years that will advance the "Industrial Internet," a term GE coined. The companies will be housed in Frost’s incubator facility in Southern California.

By nurturing startups that build analytical software for machines from jet engines to wind turbines, the program, called Frost I3, aims to dramatically improve the performance of industrial products in sectors from aviation to healthcare to oil and gas. Unlike most incubator programs, GE and Frost Data are creating the companies from scratch, providing funding and access to GE’s network of 5,000 research assistants and 8,000 software professionals. The program has already launched five startups in the past 60 days.

This story connects very well to GE vision and strategy for so called Industrial Internet. The following picture can provide you some explanations of what is the vision of GE industrial cloud.

industrial-internet-applications

What is my conclusion? Industrial companies are looking for new solutions and probably ready to invest into ideas and innovative development. Money is not a problem for these companies, but time is very important. Startups is a good way to accelerate development and come with fresh ideas of new PLM systems. Strategic partnership with large company can provide resources and data to make it happen. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Picture credit of GE report.


PDM weakest link

July 8, 2014

cad-file-transfer

You’re only as strong as your weakest link. The article Are You Still Using FTP for CAD File Transfer? on Engineering.com by Scott Wertel caught my attention few days ago. The article compares FTP, cloud file sharing and cloud based PDM. Read the article and draw your opinion. I found something common between all these approaches – you need to transfer files between desktop or LAN server and some other (usually remote) locations – FTP, virtual cloud drive or similar storage used by cloud PDM. Here is my favorite passage:

Let’s look at a product development scenario. A designer has finished the preliminary design of a brand new widget. He is in a small design shop, so he keeps the files on his personal computer. He wants a rapid prototype of the design made so he emails the file to a service bureau. As the bureau is working up a quote for the prototype, the designer notices a few things and makes some tweaks. The file size is too big now, so he uploads it to his company’s FTP site and emails a notification to the bureau. But, because the project is still in development and no files have been released, the designer doesn’t change the revision on the file. It’s the same filename on the FTP site as was emailed previously to the service bureau. Now the bureau has two files downloaded to their system. Both with the same filename and both contain relatively the same time stamp caused by saving the email attachment at about the same time they downloaded the file from the FTP site. Rather than being able to quickly quote the part and begin shooting laser beams, they have to spend the time to reconcile the files, also taking up the designer’s time.

So, in my view, the need to send files between local computer and remote location is the weakest link to make that work efficient. Both PDM and any other file sharing service will face this challenge. And, forget the cloud and internet for a minute) it was the same challenge back in every PDM system developed in the past. PDM developers used different techniques to optimize file transfer, but the problem remains the same – slow connection and large files.

The move to the cloud, actually, doesn’t change much. The connection is still slow (relatively) and files are still big (or even getting bigger). As I discussed few days ago in my How to move CAD files to the cloud post, a special technology needed that will break CAD files synchronization process and make the process transparent. At the same time, user should be able to work on the same file to satisfy the scenario described in the beginning of this post. Whoever will be able to accomplish so, will take a huge advantage of knowledge about CAD files and improved user experience. Read more here – CAD companies and cloud storage strategy.

What is my conclusion? The weakest link of PDM is the ability to sync large multi-file design between local discs and cloud (server) storage. It was the problem back to PDM development in 1990s and it remains the problem today. Until now, cloud doesn’t change much, since most of cloud PDM and file-share vendors are taking CAD files with existing boundaries. To break these boundaries and develop technology to move file efficiently while allowing to user to work on the same files at the same time, can be a deal breaker and huge step to fix the weakest link. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


What PLM Architects and Developers Need to Know about NoSQL?

July 7, 2014

plm-no-sql-guide

People keep asking me questions about NoSQL. The buzzword "NoSQL" isn’t new. However, I found it still confusing, especially for developers mostly focusing on enterprise and business applications. For the last decade, database technology went from single decision to much higher level of diversity. Back in 1990s, the decision of PDM/PLM developers was more or less like following – "If something looks like document, use Excel and Office. Otherwise, use RDBMS". Not anymore. My quick summary of NoSQL was here – What PLM vendors need to know about NoSQL databases. You can go more deep in my presentation – PLM and Data Management in 21st century. If you feel more "geeky", and considering maybe summer development projects, I can recommend you the following book – 7 Database in 7 weeks.

John De Goes blog post The Rise (and Fall?) of NoSQL made me think how to explain the need of NoSQL for PLM implementers, architects and developers. In a nutshell, here is the way I’d explain that – NoSQL databases allow you to save variety of specific data in a much simple way, compared to SQL structured information. So, use right tool for the right job – key/value; document; graph, etc.

So, NoSQL is accelerating development of cloud and mobile apps. It became much faster since some specific NoSQL databases tuned for particular type of non-structured data:

With NoSQL: (1) Developers can stuff any kind of data into their database, not just flat, uniform, tabular data. When building apps, most developers actually use objects, which have nesting and allow non-uniform structure, and which can be stored natively in NoSQL databases. NoSQL databases fit the data model that developers already use to build applications. (2) Developers don’t have to spend months building a rigid data model that has to be carefully thought through, revised at massive cost, and deployed and maintained by a separate database team within ops.

However, everything comes with price. The important insight of the article is to point on how data can be reused for reporting and other purposes. The following passage summarizes the most visible part of what is missing in NoSQL:

It’s quite simple: analytics tooling for NoSQL databases is almost non-existent. Apps stuff a lot of data into these databases, but legacy analytics tooling based on relational technology can’t make any sense of it (because it’s not uniform, tabular data). So what usually happens is that companies extract, transform, normalize, and flatten their NoSQL data into an RDBMS, where they can slice and dice data and build reports.

PDM and PLM products are evolving these days from early stage of handling "records of metadata" about files towards something much more complicated – large amount of data, unstructured information, video, media, processes, mobile platforms, analytics. CAD/PLM vendors are pushing towards even more complicated cloud deployment. The last one is even more interesting. The need to rely on customer RDBMS and IT alignment is getting lest restrictive. So, the opportunity to choose right database technology (aka the right tool for a job) is getting more interesting.

What is my conclusion? Database technologies universe is much more complicated compared to what we had 10-15 years ago. You need to dig inside into data management needs, choose right technology or tool to be efficient. One size doesn’t fit all. If you want to develop an efficient application, you will find yourself using multiple data management technologies to handle data efficiently. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 255 other followers