Open Source PLM Explained – Aras Style


I had the chance to talk with … Aras recently to get an update on their open source PLM offering. I find there is a lot of confusion about open source software, and talking to Aras offered a very simple view of what open source means to them (and their customers). Aras logoIn a nutshell, they say, open source PLM means “no more PLM license fees, ever.” Pretty compelling. But what do you get for free? Cost is only one part of the equation, manufacturers need to focus on the value they will receive. And license costs are only one part of cost. So what’s the deal?

What do they Do?

To be clear, Aras is not a charity or a non-profit organization. They are a serious software company. They just chose a different business model. They are not a bunch of open source zealots trying to change the world. They are PLM savvy software people that intended – and still intend – to bring a full feature PLM product to market and run a profitable business at the same time. Is that open source? Yes, that is practical open source that makes sense for both the vendor and their community (customers).

Yes, Aras has customers. Those customers pay them. The software comes free, you just download it from the Aras site. But companies pay a subscription fee for maintenance and support should they choose them. And let’s face it, most do unless they are just in an exploratory or pilot mode. I am sure that there are some that envision open source as a purely collaborative group of individuals from different companies, diligently working away in their spare time. There is some truth the the value of the community in development, but in general the core development is done by Aras developers. There are community donated solutions to extend Aras, they claim 60 such “projects” available at this time.

One other key aspect of the “Enterprise Open Source” model Aras is promoting is that manufacturers pay a flat subscription fee. This means as companies expand their usage of the solution, their software costs do not rise. There is no user-based fee, which for example might allow a larger company to expand to other divisions for no additional charge. It also means adding users outside of Engineering does not add to the software cost. Again, a pretty compelling model.

What do they Offer?

But even free only makes sense if the solution provides value. PLM systems take time and resources to implement, and there will still be costs for hardware and other supporting infrastructure. If the value is low, even free doesn’t make it worthwhile. One thing that is important to remember about Aras is that they did not start from scratch. Aras was already developing a PLM solution (and one with some very nice architecture, by the way) before they adopted the open source model. So their solution is broad, and includes capabilities that even the biggest vendors don’t necessarily have. An example is APQP (Advanced Product Quality Planning) to support Quality Lifecycle Management in the PLM context. So don’t expect Aras to be a PLM “starter kit” for a custom solution. It is a standard solution, developed by a real software company. They have just chosen a different business model.

Does open source work? Open source solutions are not for everybody. But Aras is certainly worth looking at if you are considering a PLM implementation (or extension). And as far as Aras is concerned, they have managed to grow in a down economy. So it is clearly working for them. For more on Aras, see my previous post One-to-One: PLM? Microsoft? SOA? Open Source? Aras says yes.

So that’s what I hear from open source PLM vendor Aras, I hope you found it useful. I hope it gives a clearer picture on the realities of open source. What do you think? What else should I have asked them?