What the Dropbox price drop means for engineers and cloud PDM?

September 2, 2014

engineering-cloud-storage-pdm

Cloud storage is an interesting place these days. In my article CAD companies and cloud storage strategy few weeks ago, I discussed the aspect of cloud storage business. Cloud storage companies want your data and for that purpose they will make it very easy for you to sync your data into cloud storage.

Dropbox just made another move and simplified their cloud storage pricing model. Navigate to the following Business Insider article to see some interesting aspects of comparison between cloud storage providers. The most interesting part of the article speaks about specific cloud storage features – view only, password protection, time expiration and remote delete.

Dropbox’s new Pro plan also offers a few collaboration features, including “view-only” permissions, which is helpful for freelancers and contractors that want to show mockups to their clients without letting them make any changes. Dropbox Pro also lets users password-protect their links to any folders or documents, and even apply expiration dates to those items. As PCWorld’s Zach Miners points out, this would be useful for wedding photographers that only want to allow access to a particular album of photos for a limited time. Finally, Dropbox Pro will also let you delete any Dropbox files from a lost or stolen device while keeping those same files backed up in Dropbox’s cloud, which will be a relief for many who have ever worried about losing sensitive data on a misplaced device.

1TB is a lot of data. Even if you think about heavy CAD files, it is a lot. My guess 1TB can cover a storage for CAD and related Office files in many companies. But features differentiation is more important in my view. Dropbox price drop and attempt to introduce important features made me think about future trajectories of cloud storage and how it will related to engineers and growing number of cloud PDM solutions.

1- Cloud sync. Cloud storage will be free very soon. It will not be a differentiation factor to decide what solution to choose. The ability to bring your data to the cloud and bring it back at the time you need in a secure manner will be a key thing to evaluate. You can see how Apple, Google, Microsoft, Dropbox and other vendors are trying to simplify the cloud sync story for their eco-systems. So, think about your tools (CAD systems first!) and they way you work with your data before deciding to sync your files into one of major cloud storage service. To simplify data sync for CAD and other tools can be a first place to show advantages of cloud PDM.

2- Data access control. This is another fundamental functionality. Engineering data contains lots of dependencies. People are re-using the data between projects, working in teams and with different outsource providers. To support access control schema that can support individuals, small companies and teams in large companies can be a challenging task. This is a place where cloud PDM vendors can show a second advantage vs. generic cloud storage providers. For many companies, this is a showstopper to move into cloud solution.

3- Viewing service. It is extremely important to view files and data remotely without downloading file(s) to your computer and mobile devices. Engineering data stored in a very specific formats. To be able to access this data when it located remotely in the cloud can be a third important advantage of cloud PDM tools.

What is my conclusion? The time to pay for cloud storage is almost over. The next battle in cloud solutions competitive race will require to show functionality specifically tuned for engineering data. Cloud sync, access control and viewing is top 3 elements of any cloud PDM solution. The solution that will get it right, has a chance to win cloud PDM competition game. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Why now is the right time to reinvent PDM?

August 15, 2014

re0invent-pdm-now

Product Data Management (PDM) isn’t a new domain. The first PDM systems were invented 20-30 years ago with a simple objective – to manage product data. The scope of PDM was heavily debated and included design, engineering BOMs, ECO and even supply chain. However, the most widely accepted role of PDM is to manage CAD files and their revisions.

For long time, PDM was recognized as somewhat you only need to consider if a size of your engineering department is large enough. Even starting price to implement PDM solution went down significantly for the last 20 years, my hunch average PDM solution starting cost for engineering organization with 10-15 people will be about $30-50K. Cost and implementation complexity made PDM business limited to larger companies and was mostly handled by resellers with special skills and knowledge. Most of them associated with a specific CAD vendor channel.

CAD vendors recognized the need and complexity of PDM. For most of vendors the answer on PDM demand was to develop (or acquire) a dedicated PDM system bundled with their CAD software. As a result of that, most of PDM players were acquired. Most of existing (remaining) PDM vendors are either focusing on a specific geographical niche or developed additional solutions usually branded with "PLM" buzzword and strategy.

My hunch is that until last year, PDM market was somewhat stalled and focusing on replacing of outdated versions of PDM software as well as support of new CAD software releases. Then something happens… For the last months, I can see an increased interested in PDM software. I noticed few focused researches and articles in the field of PDM – Expert Guide to the Next Generation of PDM; TechClarity Expert Guide for Basic CAD management and few others.

Also I want to mention few activities by vendors focusing on basic PDM functionality. It started from more traditional OOTB approach made by PTC Windchill PDM Essentials, SolidEdge SP focusing on SharePoint platform leverage and GrabCAD Workbench using "cloud platform" as a differentiation strategy.

Consilia Vector published CAMScore report for GrabCAD Workbench where CAMS stands for Cloud, Analytics, Mobile, Social. In my view, these major trends are making a renaissance in the space of PDM.

As I mentioned before, because of cost and complexity, PDM software was out of reach for many smaller companies and engineering departments. DIY (Do it yourself) PDM approach combining network file share, Excel files and FTP is a solution for probably 60-70% of market. For many years, to share files using network and USB drives was "good enough solution". But the era of file sharing changed forever with coming trend of social networks, mobile and cloud. So called YAPSA (Yet Another Photo Sharing Apps) became widely available in our everyday life. The question why PDM is so complex and why we cannot manage and access CAD data similar to what we do with photos and videos brings PDM solution back to the innovation room.

What is my conclusion? Cloud, web and social technologies in consumer space reached the level of maturity. It comes to the point where new tech and awareness of cloud and social approach are going to challenge a traditional PDM space. In addition to that, looks like an existing approach to use network drives and file sharing to manage CAD files is coming to logical end. People will be looking how to copy YAPSA approach into PDM space. So, it is time for PDM to change. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Will public clouds help enterprises to crunch engineering data?

August 6, 2014

google-data-center-crunches-engineering-data

The scale and complexity of the data is growing tremendously these days. If you go back 20 years, the challenge for PDM / PLM companies was how to manage revisions CAD files. Now we have much more data coming into engineering department. Data about simulations and analysis, information about supply chain, online catalog parts and lot of other things. Product requirements are transformed from simple word file into complex data with information about customers and their needs. Companies are starting to capture information about how customers are using products. Sensors and other monitoring systems are everywhere. The ability to monitor products in real life creates additional opportunities – how to fix problems and optimize design and manufacturing.

Here is the problem… Despite strong trend towards cheaper computing resources, when it comes to the need to apply brute computing force, it still doesn’t come for free. Services like Amazon S3 are relatively cheap. However, if we you want to crunch and make analysis and/or processing of large sets of data, you will need to pay. Another aspect is related to performance. People are expecting software to work at a speed of user thinking process. Imagine, you want to produce design alternatives for your future product. In many situations, to wait few hours won’t be acceptable. It will be destructing users and they won’t use such system after all.

Manufacturing leadership article Google’s Big Data IoT Play For Manufacturing speaks exactly about that. What if the power of web giants like Google can be used to process engineering and manufacturing data. I found explanation provided by Tom Howe, Google’s senior enterprise consultant for manufacturing quite interesting. Here is the passage explaining Google’s approach.

Google’s approach, said Howe, is to focus on three key enabling platforms for the future: 1/ Cloud networks that are global, scalable and pervasive; 2/ Analytics and collection tools that allow companies to get answers to big data questions in 10 minutes, not 10 days; 3/ And a team of experts that understands what questions to ask and how to extract meaningful results from a deluge of data. At Google, he explained, there are analytics teams assigned to every functional area of the company. “There’s no such thing as a gut decision at Google,” said Howe.

It sounds to me like viable approach. However, it made me think about what will make Google and similar computing power holders to sell it to enterprise companies. Google ‘s biggest value is not to selling computing resources. Google business is selling ads… based on data. My hunch there are two potential reasons for Google to support manufacturing data inititatives – potential to develop Google platform for manufacturing apps and value of data. The first one is straightforward – Google wants more companies in their eco-system. I found the second one more interesting. What if manufacturing companies and Google will find a way to get an insight from engineering data useful for their business? Or even more – improving their core business.

What is my conclusion? I’m sure in the future data will become the next oil. The value of getting access to the data can be huge. The challenge to get that access is significant. Companies won’t allow Google as well as PLM companies simply use the data. Companies are very concerned about IP protection and security. To balance between accessing data, providing value proposition and gleaning insight and additional information from data can be an interesting play. For all parties involved… Just my thoughts..

Best, Oleg

Photo courtesy of Google Inc.


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 Siemens PLM can develop PaaS option

July 16, 2014

cloud-paas

PaaS is a category of cloud computing service providing platform and solution stack. This service model is including not only computing infrastructure (IaaS), but also application design, development, testing, team collaboration, integration features, database integration, scalability, security and others. In addition to that, it might provide service management capabilities such as monitoring, workflow management, etc.

As cloud market becomes mature, IT, customers and application development are looking into complete solutions. All PLM vendors are in full swing into IaaS cloud PLM option. Cloud PLM experience brings the need to dig more into nuts and bolts of cloud business. It includes understanding of cost, scale, service maintenance, application development, partnership. So, fundamental question many vendors and customers have is what is the best way to make cloud PLM efficient? Understanding of PaaS option is an important step. I shared some of my thoughts about PaaS and PLM before- Cloud PLM and PaaS dilemma, Will cloud PLM develop PaaS options?

My blogging buddy and well known PLM analyst Chad Jackson tweetstormed what he learned at Siemens PLM about furure TeamCenter platform development. While I’m still waiting for full blog post on Chad’s Lifecycle Insight, the following filtered tweetstorm can give some idea about Siemens PLM platform strategy:

chad-jackson-siemens-plm-tweetstorm

It resonated with my previous thoughts about cloud PLM and PaaS and made me think why Siemens PLM as well as any other PLM vendor can consider PaaS as a right option for their cloud PLM strategy. Here are my 3 reasons to develop PLM PaaS:

1- Agile development.

Vendors should be able to go fast in the development of applications, ability to customize existing features and supporting new opportunities. Businesses are much more dynamic these days. Everyone wants to be agile. PLM vendors too. So, to get up to speed with business, PLM vendors need to have a stable platform to build on. PLM PaaS can be one.

2- Better upgrade strategies

Let’s take marketing gloves off. Regardless on deployment options (on premise; private cloud; public cloud), you need to deal with upgrades. Databases, services, data model changes- this is only a very short list. PaaS can hide upgrades from customer and application developers by providing a stable platform layer. This layer requires less frequent upgrades.

3- Scaling factor and cost.

Cost is important. Cloud is not cheap as many of us thoughts from the beginning. Customers are demanding new business models and optimized cost. The development and customization cost is another problem. Scaling and keeping cost low is also huge challenge. Utilization of enterprise servers is still relatively low. PaaS can answer on the question how to share resources and scale with low cost.

What is my conclusion? Most of PLM vendors took IaaS option as a starting point to develop cloud business. It is okay and will provide important experience from different perspective – technologies, business, user interface. However, IaaS won’t remove fundamental enterprise PLM issues – implementation complexity, upgrade challenges, high diversity of requirements and business changes. PaaS option can become the next logical step to optimize platform and application for agile delivery. It looks like Siemens is making steps towards this direction. 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


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