PLM on the Cloud – Tempest or Simply Vapor?


What I learned this week … is a reaction to some of the buzz coming out of SolidWorks World this year. I am not attending the event, but there has been a lot of good reporting from SolidSmack, Ray Kurland, Derrek Cooper, and others. The word of Day 1, it seems, was “Cloud.” So much in fact that @rtara (Roopinder Tara) suggested on Twitter a new drinking where there are shots taken every time somebody said the word. So now “PLM” and “Cloud” are official buzz. I have not spent much time on this, so I thought I would use this post as a starting point. Is this a brave new world, or just another buzzword to throw around?

The Buzz

Don’t get me wrong, buzz is not bad. As long as their is beef behind the buzz. OK, not that I have hopelessly mixed my metaphors, let’s do some definition.

  • Cloud (from Wikipedia, where else?) – Cloud Computing is Internet– (“cloud-“) based development and use of computer technology. In concept, it is a paradigm shift whereby details are abstracted from the users who no longer have need of, expertise in, or control over the technology infrastructure “in the cloud” that supports them. Cloud computing describes a new supplement, consumption and delivery model for IT services based on the Internet, and it typically involves the provision of dynamically scalable and often virtualized resources as a service over the Internet.
  • Cloud (greatly simplified by me) – Is your data and your applications out on the Internet.

It’s not as mysterious as it sounds, data and applications aren’t randomly dispersed, they are just outside of your organization with service provider(s). Any online application can be considered “Cloud Computing.” Amazon is in the cloud. What’s new is that we are talking enterprise applications in the cloud. And even that isn’t so new, is CRM in the cloud, in a “software as a service” or “SaaS” mode. Seems like we could demystify this a bit, no?

So why is there so much buzz? Wouldn’t it be nice to move all of your IT problems outside to someone else? Why wouldn’t you want someone else to worry about capacity, bandwidth, security, OS upgrades, hardware upgrades, etc.? Oleg has also written a lot about the cloud in PLM Twine.

Buzz Kill

So why wouldn’t the cloud make sense? It lowers costs, simplifies infrastructure, and generally relieves a lot of IT burden from the enterprise. I will offer two perspectives:

  • Users Want Performance – For the most part, users don’t care where there data is. But they want to be able to get to there information when they need it, and they want it to be available rapidly. If data (and applications) move to the Internet they will need to maintain an acceptable level of performance. For example, I have two e-mail accounts. One I control on my client, the other is “in the cloud.” When my PC decides to download a new virus definition my Internet-based e-mail slows down. Not just downloading/uploading from my client (which is a bit of a pain), but actually typing an e-mail. The same is true as I am writing this blog post. If my bandwidth goes down or my laptop starts hogging resources for something else, I lose my focus on what I am writing and have to focus on getting the words on the page. If I get distracted by performance issues when trying to write a post or an e-mail, how distracting would it be to an engineer trying to solve a design problem?
  • Corporations Need Control – Of course we would like to move our IT problems to someone else. But who can we trust? Who will we work with if the performance our users demand isn’t there? Is it the application service provider’s issue, our Internet Service Provider’s (ISP) problem, our network? How do we guarantee our precious product data is safe? Can we trust our service provider’s employees? Is there more inherent risk when my data and my competitors’ data is on the same infrastructure? Facebook made a mistake and gave access to profile data to the wrong people. Oops. What if that was your CAD data? These are just a few of the questions.

None of the issues are insurmountable. We are moving this direction. It has been an evolution, but more and more of what we do is happening off or our personal machines and outside of our firewall. I do think that trend will continue for cost and simplicity purposes. But the infrastructure and business models for the cloud are just developing for areas like PLM. Stay tuned.

Implications for Manufacturers

The implications from my perspective are clear:

  • The Cloud is Compelling
  • The Cloud Must Perform
  • The Cloud Must be Able to Answer some Serious Corporate IT Questions

Look for evolution when it comes to moving PLM to the cloud, not revolution.

So those are some early thoughts on PLM and the Cloud, I hope you found it interesting. This will be an interesting evolution to see unfold. There will be bumps in the road (maybe some big ones), but the benefits are compelling. What do you think? Are you ready to give it a try? Have you?