Cloud PDM hack with Google Drive and other tools

November 6, 2014

google-drive-app-launch

Earlier this week I talked about future of ubiquitous CAD cloud drives. My hunch CAD and other engineering software companies will be trying to use new cloud technologies to improve the way people collaborate on design. The question what tool to use for CAD file collaboration is not simple. I discussed it last year – Top 3 pros and cons to have a special CAD file sharing tool.

Engineering software vendors are trying to bring values such as collaborative viewing, redlining and even project collaboration. At the same time, companies focused on generic file sharing and collaboration are in a full swing to improve their mainstream solutions as well.

Some interesting news came from Google yesterday. Read Google blog post – Launch desktop applications from Google Drive in Chrome. The story is quite simple – Google is chasing Dropbox in the way how to make Google Drive even more transparent to work with desktop tools.

But here’s the catch: when it comes to browsers and installed applications working well together, they aren’t quite on the same page. To change that, today we’re launching a new extension for Chrome that lets you open files from Google Drive directly into a compatible application installed on your computer. This includes apps like advanced image and video editing software, accounting and tax programs, or 3D animation and design tools. So, no matter what you keep in Drive, using the web to access and manage files doesn’t mean you’re limited to using applications that only work in your browser.

Unfortunately, CAD files are not in the list of supported file types. I guess, it may change in the future. A transparent sync of files between cloud and local file storage can open a new opportunity and hack the way to simplify future cloud PDM solutions. Still, majority of tools used by engineers today are desktop tools.

One of the biggest challenge I can see here is speed of synchronization and work with multiple dependent files. It can create an opportunity for cloud PDM vendors to innovate. Some of these problems can be solved by software technologies – cloud PDM and Dropbox Streaming Sync. CAD vendors are looking how to innovate in cloud PDM as well. Example – Autodesk adds PDM functionality to PLM360. Alternatively, I can see some potential in hardware solutions to create virtual cloud file system. Here is one possible example of such solution – Panzura Global File System.

What is my conclusion? Cloud to desktop transparency is a big deal. There is no magic. If you want to use desktop tool you need to sync files. However, technology that can make it transparent can simplify user experience and make users unaware about actual location of files and the way files are going to be synchronized. It will allow to use existing CAD tools but and manage and collaborate using cloud. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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


Cloud PDM and Dropbox Streaming Sync

May 30, 2014

cloud-CAD-PDM-dropbox-sync

Few days ago, I captured the idea of building cloud PDM system on top of Dropbox infrastructure. It is hard to me to say if manufacturing companies will be ready to put CAD data into Dropbox servers. At the same time, Dropbox infrastructure is starting to make even more sense for management of CAD files on the cloud. Here is an interesting piece. My attention caught the following LifeHacker article – Enable Dropbox Streaming Sync for Faster File Synchronization. Read this article. It is short and sweet. Dropbox made another optimization of the infrastructure to synchronize files. The following passage explains the idea:

When you upload a file to Dropbox, it’s first sent in its entirety to Dropbox’s servers and then it’s downloaded to any synced computers. In a new, experimental version of Dropbox, however, you can enable streaming sync that starts downloading on the target computer while you upload.

The new desktop client (version 2.9) allows users to download files as they’re being uploaded to Dropbox. Only the downloading machine needs to be updated to 2.9, so using the experimental client should speed up downloads for shared folders as well as from your other devices, regardless of whether anyone else upgrades.

It made me think about interesting and typical scenario that happens in many engineering teams. Think about small group of engineers doing some work together and using any existing CAD desktop software (Autodesk Inventor, AutoCAD, SolidEdge, SolidWorks, etc.) In case they work in one organization, they can easy put all their files on so called "Z-drive" shared in the company. However, what happens if they work in a distributed way (Starbucks coffee shops, home, separate offices, etc.). To buy a traditional PDM system will be too complex and expensive. New Dropbox feature will allow to optimize large CAD file synchronization between their desktop systems and rest of data in the company. Quick and dirty. But it works.

What is my conclusion? There is a tremendous value to use specialized CAD sharing and management systems. I covered these values in my article here. However, when it comes to ease of use, simplicity and very low cost, Dropbox can be a good alternative. For years, Microsoft Excel was (and still is) an alternative PDM/ PLM solution to manage data. Dropbox is coming to the same spot. CAD/PDM companies need to pay attention and take note about how to leverage technologies and ideas developed by engineers from Dropbox. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Dropbox Webhooks and Cloud PDM Pivoting

May 27, 2014

cloud-pdm-pivoting

Regardless on what CAD and PDM vendors want, engineers are going to share files on Dropbox and similar file sharing services (Google Drive, One Drive, etc.) Do you remember my PLM cloud concerns and Dropbox reality for engineers post two years ago? 34% of people in engineering departments are using Dropbox to share data. I don’t know what is the number now, but my hunch – it is not going down.

I’ve been reading about interesting functionality added to Dropbox- Webhooks. Navigate to the following Computerworld article to read more – Dropbox plays more nicely with Web apps. The following passage explains what service does:

Web developers can now configure apps to be notified immediately of changes that users make to their Dropbox files, taking some strain off Web servers and potentially giving end users a better experience. The functionality comes via a new "webhooks" API (application programming interface) for Dropbox, which lets developers set up real-time notifications for their Web apps whenever users modify a Dropbox file.

More explanations can be found in Dropbox blog – Announcing Dropbox webhooks:

In general, a webhook is a way for an app developer to specify a URI to receive notifications based on some trigger. In the case of Dropbox, notifications get sent to your webhook URI every time a user of your app makes a file change. The payload of the webhook is a list of user IDs who have changes. Your app can then use the standard delta method to see what changed and respond accordingly.

You can ask me how is that related to cloud PDM? Good question. In my view, this particular piece of Dropbox technology can simplify development of any cloud PDM system. Dropbox developed reference application in the tutorial. Another product referenced in the announcement is Picturelife. Simplify – doesn’t mean cloud PDM will ultimately relies on Dropbox. Many companies don’t want to put their data on Dropbox. Maybe your remember my blog post – How to evaluate PDM before it will ruin your personal productivity? Here is the thing – for most of cloud PDM developers, user experience is the biggest issue. Dropbox is an ideal environment to kick off your cloud PDM development experiments. The majority of companies that not using PDM these days are using Dropbox. For these users cloud PDM on top of Dropbox can be "no brainier". Later on, additional infrastructure can be build and used.

What is my conclusion? To get user traction is priceless. It requires lots of UX pivoting. To find right experience is one of the most critical first steps. Future technologies can be improved and fixed. There are many open web infrastructure these days that can be used to build enterprise products (including PDM). Startup companies can pivot and experiment with user experience with Dropbox based cloud PDM… Actually, established vendors can do the same. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

picture credit http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/


Dropbox Harmony will knockdown PLM collaboration

May 1, 2014

File sync and sharing became the most requested feature to enable collaboration. The days when everybody were co-located in the same office and working from desktop computer are gone. According to Forrester review file sync and sharing can bring real business value. One the picture below you can see what are the most typical tasks for users related to file sync and share.

file-sync-share-tasks-forrester

Few days ago, I was reading ReadWrite article about Dropbox "Harmony Project". In a nutshell Dropbox allows to work virtually on the same files, while physically files are synced and distributed across the network via Dropbox. The following quote is important.

Document sharing can still be a painful process, and Project Harmony appears to have some handy features for sidestepping the back-and-forth with emailed documents many people experience in business settings. When Dropbox files sync, a little green check mark appears to let users know everything is uploaded; with Project Harmony, that little checkbox takes center stage.

When a user opens a PowerPoint presentation in Project Harmony, for example, that green check mark lives on the right side of the window. When a collaborator joins that presentation, a plus one (+1) appears. This lets everyone know there is more than one person working on a document, and all involved can use an instant messaging tool right inside the document.

The following picture presents chat window that allows to two people to collaborate on the same document.

dropbox-chat-doc

The source of the picture in the following Dropbox blog article. The new functionality is coming as part of Dropbox for business. While it is clear that main Dropbox goal is to compete with Google Apps/Drive and Microsoft OneDrive and new Office apps, it may provide some benefits to people looking today for PLM software.

PLM is not only about complex 3D models of aircraft and automobile. It is about zillions of other documents – requirements, bill of materials, spec sheets, visualizations, product presentations, etc. These documents are part of the everyday activities in manufacturing companies and engineering organizations. Today, Microsoft Office files and pdf documents are representing a majority of these documents. Excel is clearly a king here. To be able to share bill of materials in Excel via Dropbox and work on this with my supply chain partner, can be an easy option. Yes, it is not fully functioning BOM tool, but to have 80% of functions for near zero price is very cool.

Thinking more about it, I can see some opportunity to use the same technological approach to bring CAD collaboration to the cloud. It will be a bit more tricky to intercept CAD desktop tools to synchronize activities between two desktops, but it is not impossible tech task. While CAD companies are not running fast forward with pure CAD in browser tools, it can be a good technological path to implement collaboration between engineers and re-use Dropbox (or alternative horizontal storage) for files.

What is my conclusion? File sync and share is must have tool to improve the collaboration. The ability to see the same document when working with other people provides huge value and as Google Doc user I can confirm that. To provide an easy path to Excel and maybe desktop CAD users to collaborate via Dropbox for the price of storage can be an interesting tech approach and interesting business opportunity. CAD and PLM collaboration tool will see an additional competitive pressure coming from Dropbox tools. It is a time to think about unique CAD/PLM collaboration features to compete with Dropbox economy of scale. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


PDM: Bring Your Own Cloud Or Die?

November 16, 2013

my-pdm-cloud

Cloud is not a "new black" in PLM industry these days. It is hard to find vendor that not associating itself with "sort of cloud solution". However, here are new a trend on horizon – bring your own cloud. Dropbox, a very successful in all means these days is trying hard to get in the enterprise business. Which made it very interesting from the standpoint of engineering and manufacturing business. Especially for companies focusing on design disciplines.

I was reading Dropbox is getting down in the business on ReadWrite.com. In a nutshell, the problem Dropbox is trying to solve is related to accounts and identity management. Navigate here and you will see how Dropbox is preparing to solve the problem of multiple accounts and security. The message is clear – for whatever it worth, you will be able to get a "piece of your cloud" secured for you and for your company if you need it. Dropbox claims full redesign of security system. Here is the passage:

“We didn’t just re-do Dropbox for Business,” Houston said. “We re-did the [whole] foundation of Dropbox.” The company redesigned the service across the desktop, mobile and the Web. The changes also include advanced security and access controls, which should help mollify company IT managers. Businesses can, among other things, manage (or block) sharing to outside users, prevent sensitive docs from going into personal accounts, monitor all activity around work files, and even remotely wipe files from the devices of former employees.

activity-log-sharing

Another piece of news also came few days ago from Amazon. Navigate to the following TechCrunch article and read Amazon Launches WorkSpaces, A Virtual Desktop Service On AWS. Amazon workspaces will allow you to have virtual working space from the cloud for less cost. Here is the quote from the article:

The news plays into the company’s effort to take more business from enterprise providers by providing customer-centric services with security that is sufficient for companies with significant operations at a lesser cost.

amazon-workspaces

You can ask me how these two news related to PDM. Here is the deal. In my view, CAD will be the last engineering system that will migrate to the cloud. Hardi Meybaum and I had an interesting discussion about it in one of GrabCAD blog posts here and my post here. Solutions provided by Amazon and Dropbox made me think about about a possibility to make current desktop CAD system "cloud-enabled" without even changing their desktop nature or significant re-write. Of course, all these solutions won’t stop (and don’t need to stop) future cloud design product development. However, the combination of secured cloud solution together with some virtualization technologies can make cloud based collaboration possible today (not tomorrow).

What is my conclusion? Nowadays, we can see concurrent development of different technologies related to cloud – virtualization, file sharing and others. All together, combined with existing engineering and design software they can be used to build future cloud collaborative platforms. Product Data Management (PDM) can leverage these platforms in order to build secured, cost-effective and simple solution to manage files and have collaborative access to them. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


CAD File Sharing and Integration Challenges

October 15, 2013

CAD-integration

My recent post about top pros and cons to have a special CAD file sharing tools drove some interesting conversation and controversy from Hardi Meybaum of GrabCAD. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can start here – Why using Dropbox, Github or Box for CAD sharing is a mistake, then go here – Top 3 pros and cons to have a special CAD file sharing tool and finally here – Debunking the cons to CAD file sharing tools. Hardi brings up the discussion about integration and invited me to speak about it in his twitter message: Look forward to hear your perspective about integration RT @olegshilovitsky: Interesting conversation about CAD files sharing with GrabCAD

Look forward to hear your perspective about integration RT @olegshilovitsky: Interesting conversation about CAD files sharing with GrabCAD

— Hardi Meybaum (@hardi_meybaum) October 9, 2013

Integration is a very loaded word when it comes to an enterprise organization. Back in 2009, I identified integration as The Biggest PLM challenge on the cloud . Debates about challenges of enterprise integrations are going well beyond the point of CAD File Sharing tools. Navigate here to read more – PLM and Enterprise Integration Game and PLM Integration Failures. However, let me get back to the CAD Files Sharing.

Why Integration is an issue for CAD files sharing?

I can see three main reasons why integration can become an issue for CAD File Sharing – CAD licenses, mobile devices and web access and publishing process. Let me speak about each of them separately.

1. CAD licenses. You don’t want to buy an extra CAD tool to view files. You expect special CAD Files Sharing tool to solve this problem. It is actually goes back to #1 benefit of special CAD file sharing tools – viewers. In the world of expensive CAD licenses it can be an issue and big benefit.

2. Mobile Devices. In a modern world, you don’t really want to be at your desk to get an access to CAD files you are sharing. You want to leverage mobile devices to get access to shared files. This problem cannot be solved by "just providing an access to the file" using generic tools like Dropbox, but need to have a special mobile application to view files. CAD vendors are providing their own apps, but you always can expect something better.

3. Publishing process. Even you consider to use generic cloud file sharing tools like Dropbox and/or others, you might face a problem of how to publish right files. The strategy to publish a whole working directory can be not an option for different reasons (for example security). The nature of CAD files to have lots of dependent files. Even simple AutoCAD file might have dependencies on XRefs. Advanced 3D modeling tools such as Autodesk Inventor, SolidWorks, and others are usually tend to provide a special tools to get CAD assembly or project extracted from the context and places in a separate place.

Complexity of CAD data integration

Traditionally CAD vendors were very protective with regards to other vendors and developers accessing proprietary CAD formats and libraries. If you are not a novice person in CAD business, I’m sure you pretty aware about that. You need to use sophisticated APIs in order to get data access as well as extract relevant information that can help you to publish right data online.

Integration beyond CAD Files publishing

Hardi is taking the conversation about integration much beyond something that consider related to CAD files publishing. In his final passage Hardi speaks about broader scope of integration challenges, migration to fully cloud based ecosystems and integration of cloud and non-cloud tools. This is a separate conversation and I hope to address it in one of my future posts.

What is my conclusion? CAD is a very specific data source. You can use mainstream file sharing cloud services to move CAD data around. However, in order to add viewing capabilities, get data on mobile and improve data sharing experience, you need to spend a great deal of integration effort. So, vertical vendors can provide value here. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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