Cloud PLM Systems ease collaboration

While there have been several articles negatively discussing using cloud software for CAD, users should be aware that for the PLM aspects of collaboration a cloud based system is by far the best way to go. Okay, there are a few cons to using a cloud system for access, such as concerns over security and potential downtime over which users have no control. Security may be a major concern for government projects requiring super high levels of secure data requirements. For 98% of users this should not be a concern. That does not mean that you should blithely ignore what security your chosen cloud vendor provides – by all means make sure that your concerns are met. But today’s security and encryption seem more than adequate for most users, providing that it is properly executed and monitored. You might even want to consult with independent security experts prior to committing to a solution.

Nevertheless, there are a quite a few benefits that far exceed the other alternative — that of maintaining an internal server capability.

First I need to make an assumption that a typical user installation has the following situation:

  • More than one engineering facility at which design is done
  • Multiple suppliers that need some type of restricted access to the design data

 

Assuming this is the case (and I’ll bet that more than 80% of users fit in this category), then here are only a few advantages cloud based PLM software accrues:

  • Little or no IT required for installation, setup, updates to the software, or backups.
  • A single copy of the database that does NOT require synchronization among multiple servers.
  • Easy management by database administrators
  • Lower software costs??
  • No personnel and space costs for servers or multiple servers
  • Ready internet access via various speed connections worldwide
  • No special costs for high speed telecomm connections

 

I can think of only two PLM systems that are completely architected for cloud operations: Arena Solutions and Autodesk 360.

Autodesk 360 and Nexus – PLM 1.0: not perfect – but a great start

3 Dec 2011: Errata. I was incorrect in stating that Buzzsaw was a local PDM vault for AEC/BIM. Several people have written me about this, one being Stephen Bodnar of Autodesk. Bodnar stated that “Vault is the on-premise DM solution for both industries, whereas Buzzsaw is cloud-based and is also built on Autodesk’s Cloud, and is intended for design file collaboration between partners/suppliers and other users and does, in fact, have bi-directional push/synchronization with Vault)”

1 Dec 2011: I am on my way back from Las Vegas, where AU 2011 was held. The highlight of the event, at least for me, was the announcement of what I am calling Autodesk PLM 1.0. The announcement was not a well-kept secret, but the content of the announcement was closely held.

Monday’s media day preceded the conference. The actual PLM announcement came late Tuesday morning. Carl Bass retracted his oft quoted remark about PLM not being something customers worried about; instead, it was revised to mean “until the technology was right.” I couldn’t agree more with his reasoning. Most of Autodesk’s competitors PLM systems offer expensive, difficult to use, and almost impossible to install PLM systems, that rarely have met expectations. Even then, it is often at the cost of massive consulting assistance, rarely meeting anticipated timeframes, AND generally involves the implementation of substantially revised business processes.

Different than my analyst peers I have always been skeptical of such large and costly projects. Not being on the implementation side, I could afford to be skeptical. Many such projects, aside from basic PDM, seldom actually get implemented. Most stall. Autodesk estimates that most deliver only PDM. To test this thesis, I tweeted my followers and asked what they had accomplished. With just a few responses, this is hardly scientific. Several stated that did not yet have even PDM fully implemented!

So what was actually announced? The system is being called Autodesk 360. It is based on having locally installed PDM. For mechanical and for AEC this is Vault. Buzzsaw, a cloud based application provides design file collaboration for AEC teams. The third, and new software piece is called Nexus. The dictionary describes the word nexus as a “connector.,” and is a good description of what the software aims to do. In the following discussion I concentrate solely on mechanical PLM. For information on Buzzsaw and how it uses Nexus readers will have to go elsewhere. Try here.

Nexus is cloud based, and comes with 140 or apps. Each app looks like a series of specialized templates, along with customizable (by the user) workflow logic. Delivery is expected by the end of March 2012. No pricing was announced, however, the implications were that it would be modest. It will be sold on a per user subscription basis. All Nexus data and apps will be run in the cloud, using an ordinary browser. The mass of data will remain locally hosted using Vault. Having and maintaining Vault locally solves the issue of loading very large cloud based data while still maintaing some degree of interactivity.

How will it interface with Vault and other PDM systems? Very well with Vault. No connectors were announced to integrate with other PDM systems. Autodesk hinted that this is a good opportunity for third party developers and VARs. Connections with Nexus could be implemented via as yet unannounced APIs.

Today, the connection between Vault and Nexus is one way. CAD data cannot be sent from Nexus to Vault. Nor is it synchronized among Vaults, as is done among Apple’s iCloud apps. However, Vault data is automatically synced up to Nexus. Expect bi-directional sync in the future.

Is it easy to install and operate?

Keep in mind that my total exposure to Autodesk 360 Nexus comes from a 30 minute, main stage presentation, followed by a 60 minute working session where about 20 people per workstation watched a very capable Autodesk developer demo and responded to questions, often by showing us how Nexus would solve the proposed question.

Nexus appears to be an out of the box system. Nexus comes with predefined templates and workflows. Yet they can easily be added to and/or modified. Fields within templates (apps) can be defined on the fly and their characteristics (such as numeric, values, dates, etc.) as well. A Visio like graphic interface defines workflows. Many are offered in the starter system. A typical administration system allows assigning users to tasks and roles. Somehow, data fields can be interconnected, allowing visibility to see what drives or is driven by what.

So. There you have it. I imagine Autodesk will soon, if not already, have many seminars and pre-recorded AVI’s showing the software. Try here: http://usa.autodesk.com/360-lifecycle-management-software/

My conclusions

I think the product is outstanding. Being cloud based resolves many operating issues. Some users might question the security aspects of hosting much of the data remotely, and would do well to satisfy themselves that either this is not an issue, or otherwise. I think, that perhaps except for very special circumstances, the cloud-based security might even be vastly superior to what they could do locally. I think this is a non-issue.

Cost wise, I think this will prove to be much less expensive, long term, than most of today’s solutions. Again, this is a non-issue. Just take a look at the slide Stephen Bodnar of Autodesk, VP of Data Management, presented below that compares some costs for a 200 user deployment.

For collaboration, data can be uploaded, either in summary format, or detailed CAD files. Nexus has controls over what user sees what data.

Included are project management capabilities that allow rolling up from completed sub-tasks automatically. Defining projects involves defining sub-projects with easily configurable tasks and reporting procedures. If you have already implemented workflow as part of Vault, then is should be redone using Nexus. It allows more flexibility and better visibility.

If you want visibility by projects, by project managers and contributors, with flexibility to change workflows and processes to meet how you do business, it’s all there. My only question is how soon can I get it?

Ray with his skeptical face during AU2011 —-

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Here are a few slides from the presentation to give you an idea of what Autodesk presented. Sorry for the quality – I used my phone.

The overall concept of Autodesk 360.

Stephen Bodnar discussing their view of PLM:

Why is it called 360? Showing how the Vault and Buzzsaw make up local PDM systems:

Brenda Discher discussing why users don’t like competitive PDM systems.

What Autodesk is doing about it with Nexus.

Autodesk Takes Simulation Mobile with New ForceEffect App for iPad

If you have not yet had a chance to see how Autodesk ForceEffect works, visit http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL4F9264A84AD2085B for a series of videos on how this 2D force simulation app works.

Autodesk ForceEffect, a new mobile simulation app for iPad allows engineers to quickly and easily simulate design options during the conceptual phase, and is now available on the App store. Autodesk, as it has done with other iPad apps, offers Autodesk ForceEffect for free.

ForceEffect provides an easy to use environment for drawing, constraining and simulating concepts using free body diagrams by tapping objects to select, move, rotate and scale. Real time solving capabilities provide immediate feedback on the static stress performance of a design, enabling users to use engineering analysis in the field.

Users can send the geometry as DXF files, via email, for further analysis.

It’s not quite clear how or whether Autodesk plans to generate revenue from these free apps, yet their thinking is way out in front of their competitors in exploring new ways to use mobile computing and simultaneously explore potential uses of cloud technology. It’s refreshing that the company is forging ahead, exploring new ways of delivering software and testing the waters for new paradigms, both in software and pricing models.

Inforbix $ errata, Autodesk Vault to the cloud

In my previous blog, I made an error on the pricing of Inforbix, which I have since corrected. I wanted to make sure you all have seen that correction. In the pricing example that was given, for a company of 100 persons, with 30 engineers, Vic Sanchez estimated that they might have 100K to 200K files to be indexed. The annual price for Inforbix for that size customer would be $10K to $15K. A great price range for the service provided. In fact one that is very compelling.

In the meantime it looks like Autodesk is planning to announce that their Vault will now be cloud hosted. I have no other details than some early teasers that were provided by Autodesk. It will be interesting to compare these offerings. I am planning on attending Autodesk University and will be there Monday through Wednesday, Nov 28-30. Say hello if you see me. I will report on this upon my return.

Inforbix – a new approach to cloud based PDM

18 Nov 2011: Oleg Shilovitsky, one of the more prolific bloggers in the PLM industry recently announced his new venture – Inforbix LLC.

Last week I had the chance to speak with Oleg, the CEO, and his partner, Vic Sanchez, about what their new offering was all about. Of course, I suspected that the new company, with Oleg’s background as a development manager of PLM systems, might be about PDM or PLM. Of course I was right. But, I wanted to find out what the product was all about, who founded the new company, what its objective was, a little bit about the technology, and who might use it and what it might cost.

Oleg and Vic were most accommodating in helping me understand and ferret out answers to the above questions.

Background

Inforbix began development on its product in early 2010. The product was officially launched in last October, 2011, and has been in Beta since last April. Shilovitsky teamed with a Russian development team to bring the product to fruition.

About the product

In a nutshell, here is what I learned. Inforbix, today, consists of a product data crawler app that is installed onto the target system or local network containing the product data to be indexed. After user customization of the crawler app, which basically tells it where to find the data to be indexed, the app goes to work finding relevant product data, exploring the metadata stored within the data files, and indexing the data. No actual data files are uploaded to the cloud, only metadata and where the files are located. What makes this exciting is that the crawler can crawl through many data types and vaults, and decode the inherent metadata and product structure.

Targeted at small and medium sized CAD companies, the object of Inforbix is to “help people find, reuse, and share product data.”

Both the crawler app and the cloud based search environment are optimized for manufacturing and design companies. I like that non–vaulted data such as Word docs and pdfs can be “related” back the products.

The system today supports crawling CAD and PLM data from Autodesk, PTC, SolidWorks, and Siemens. More will be coming in the future. Also supported are pdf, Word, and Excel files.

A few niceties

It is secure since no files are changed, moved or uploaded. Being cloud based, little maintenance or local support is needed. It is affordable and seems to be priced right – the first 20K files are free. Each 20K files after that cost $600 per year. Sanchez estimated that a typical medium sized company with 100 people and 30 engineers might spend $10K to $15K per year, a seemingly small cost considering that no hardware and no support staff is needed for the service. Also, it immediately allows accessing the data worldwide using a browser. Asked about what happens if indexed data moves, Shilovitsky said that the crawler monitors and tracks the new location, and updates the cloud.

Inforbix offers many ways to present the data to make sense of the product connections. These include Excel like tables and filters.

I see a few drawbacks and improvements needed

The original data still needs to be maintained along with support and local data backups. A local PDM system might still be needed to support applications that depend upon understanding the product data structure. Further discussions are needed as to how the system allows role-based access to the data. For instance, how can suppliers access the data? Data being relocated might have a delay before the indexes are updated on the cloud.

Conclusions

I really like the concept and the possibilities for extending the concept to other areas of a company. It seems that it would be relatively straightforward to have different crawlers looking for different data types. Think of it as a private Google for the data in your entire company or how to get organized without the fuss. If you are a company without a PDM system (and some 75% of companies are), then this is a perfect way to get started.

Try it out

With a free entry price, it makes sense to give this a try.

A few ways to learn more

The company: www.inforbix.com

The latest press release: http://www.inforbix.com/inforbix-launch-press-release/

Oleg shows how to start using Inforbix in 20 min: http://www.inforbix.com/how-to-start-using-inforbix-in-20-min/

The Cloud Lives!

18 Nov 2011: Ralph Grabowski proposed his opinion that the cloud is dead. He couldn’t be more wrong. Consider users at the Siemens NX CAE Symposium that ended last week. Virtually all of the eight users at a panel noted that cloud computing would definitely be part of their plans. Assuming that some minor issues such as security, cost, and application software licensing could be solved, all seem to have or want it in their future plans.

Several customers represented companies that already have with HPC clusters. While this ideal “local cloud” met their expectations, the cost of such a cluster is very high and not a solution for smaller companies.

I agree that the use of cloud computing for interactive applications is a bad idea. However, the vast computing power, parallel processing, and expected low costs make it a very appealing idea for tasks that require modest bandwidth and have high computational needs. Autodesk’s CEO, Carl Bass, clearly has the right idea. Autodesk, over the past two years has introduced several applications that span the range of interactive hardware and relying on the cloud to ramp up compute speeds. At AU last year I had the chance to listen to Bass and speak with him about his ideas for best utilizing the cloud. As I wrote in that article, Autodesk’s concept is to “Don’t replicate desktop solutions on the cloud. Instead make maximum use of desktop and mobile systems, utilizing the cloud where it makes sense.” Still makes sense today. Here is a link to that article http://wp.me/pvn8U-3e.

Oddly enough, with the possible exception of DS, Autodesk’s competitors don’t seem to get the concept. For example, while I interpreted from Siemens customers that they were excited about potential use of the cloud, Siemens PLM Software, except for licensing issues, seems to have no plans to enable them. The same goes for PTC.

Let me know what you think.
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At Autodesk University – mobile computing and infinite computing rule!

2 Dec 2010: iPads everywhere. Or so it seems. And supported by amazing cloud apps!

I wrote this on my new iPad while flying back home yesterday after spending two days at Autodesk University (AU). On Monday Autodesk ran a special media event at AU in Las Vegas. Most of Autodesk’s industry verticals reviewed their products and strategies. Yesterday Carl Bass, Autodesk president and CEO opened the conference, highlighted by a series of customers presenting how they make an impact (the conference theme) with design.

Luckily, Bass made himself available to the media for a one hour Q & A session. Bass is simply amazingly on top of Autodesk’s product plans. He continually highlighted how Autodesk is using and plans to use cloud computing to “do things that were not possible before.” For example, recent technology makes use of GPU parallel computing to spawn multiple processes, thus speeding up overall compute time. The only trouble is that developers need to modify their code for a parallel architecture. With the cloud, why bother? Just initiate multiple processes and let them run to completion. Computing cycles have become so cheap and the cloud represents so much resource, that this is now possible.

Different than some other CAD software companies, Autodesk’s view of how cloud computing is brilliant! Some examples: instead of serial rendering, perform many rendering solutions at once, letting the renderer itself choose various lighting schema; instead of a laborious trial and error process for optimization, give the close apps parameter ranges and let the software solve for best fit or design optimizations; deliver solutions to mobile devices, engaging cloud computing to boost their solution speeds; and so on.

I am impressed with Autodesk’s focus and thinking outside the box. Don’t replicate desktop solutions on the cloud. Instead make maximum use of desktop and mobile systems, utilizing the cloud where it makes sense. Jeff Kowalski, Autodesk CTO explained how their software, to support different platforms (think AutoCAD for the Mac), has been redesigned to isolate it self from the platform, thus making applications easier to transport to iPads and similar tablets, when they appear.

See for yourself. Autodesk now has several iPad apps, which you can download from iTunes: AutoCAD WS, IPM Viewer, and Sketchbook. AutoCAD WS makes dwg files portable and practical on the iPad, including mobile alterations of data and markup. IPM Viewer views Publisher animations and other documentation. Sketchbook on the iPad makes sketching imminently practical. At AU, 7 artists were awarded best in class for their mobile art pieces — and they are spectacular. See for yourself at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HsWIL0k-Fos .

I asked Bass about when we might see clear examples of specification driven design. He told me about some work they have recently done with mold analysis. In cases where the mold fill is not satisfactory, designers often need to play with different product or mold alternatives to get a better solution. He asked his developers, instead, to imagine a cloud solution. Instead of serially examining shell size, different materials, and possible added injection gates, initiate a cloud solution that would examine these alternatives and suggest the more practical ones to the designer.

Contrast this kind of thinking to some of their competitors. PTC seems to be focusing all their energy on revitalizing their desktop suite to their Creo product line. PTC’s CEO, also a product dude, at the Creo product launch, wondered where cloud computing might be useful. SolidWorks seems only to be toying with some type of collaborative solution.