by Alan Griffiths
As cloud technology becomes more mature, and PLM, BIM and ALM software providers offer a wider range of cloud-based solutions, adoption by engineering and manufacturing customers is increasing dramatically. But the rich selection of cloud-based offerings and cloud platforms throws up some challenges too.
For the engineering and development groups that use this software, cloud options and subscription pricing can sometimes simplify their software investment decision process. But ‘cloud’ can also complicate decision making – for example, by triggering involvement of the IT group, or raising new questions about on-premise versus off-premise data storage.
For vendors seeking to give customers confidence, there are several approaches – for example; ‘agnostic’, ‘best-of-breed-plus-integration-services’, ‘walled-garden’ and other ‘hybrid’ cloud architectures.
Our research has identified five main questions that PLM, BIM and ALM customers are likely to ask as they develop their ‘cloud’ strategy.
1. Will the cloud improve integration between my PLM, BIM or ALM solution and our design/manufacturing applications?
PLM, BIM and ALM all depend on collaboration between a variety of stakeholders. Successful collaboration requires a secure, performant backbone which the cloud can provide. But to get the full benefits, applications such as CADCAM, visualisation and simulation need to be well-integrated with the cloud platform and to provide excellent performance – otherwise users will revert to using desktop applications and storing their own copies locally.
Examples of vendors’ approach to this question include:
- Autodesk’s ‘Fusion’ product innovation platform which supports PLM (‘Fusion 360’) and a wide range of CADCAM tools used in the product development process.
- Siemens’ Solid Edge, which now includes integration with its Teamcenter PLM solution.
Often it is necessary to keep some data on-premise, separate from the ‘cloud’ data, for reasons such as regulation or security. Customers will want to know if the cloud solution allows this without taking a hit on performance or making it difficult to use?
2. How will the Internet of Things (‘IoT’) cloud align with other cloud strategies that we are deploying?
Most of the larger PLM, BIM and ALM providers are addressing the potential of IoT for which cloud technology is a fundamental requirement – to allow communication between billions of items, the producers that manufacture them, the consumers that buy them and the companies that service them.
Some software providers seek a quick entry into the IoT market via the acquisition of smaller start-ups, whose solutions will include their own choice of ‘cloud’ technology. Others are banking on ‘green field’ development that may pick a different cloud platform.
Examples of software vendors’ IoT approaches include:
- PTC, where the acquisition of Thingworx and Axeda allowed PTC to immediately offer a complete solution using Axeda’s cloud. Then, PTC extended the cloud capability to offer additional cloud options.
- Autodesk’s Fusion cloud platform, which also supports ‘Fusion Connect’ (formerly SeeControl) an IoT cloud service that enables manufacturers to connect, analyse and manage their products.
Major cloud providers also offer IOT-specific capabilities. But this is just the start; there is also a long list of specialists which convert these or their own underlying cloud capabilities into cloud-for-IOT. In addition, IoT cloud developments in the consumer products sector get publicity and mindshare, so IoT platform-as-a-service (PaaS) solutions such as Qualcomm’s AllJoyn, Intel’s IoTivity, Apple HomeKit and Google Brillo, may also be on a customer’s list of options.
And the main PLM, BIM and ALM providers already have cloud solutions that have evolved over many years to support their core engineering software products.
Customers are looking for a clear message. Does the underlying ‘cloud’ choice matter? What are the resource implications of trying to integrate across cloud-provider boundaries?
3. Will Cloud Computing be able to provide the Compute Power and Storage we require for Visualisation, Simulation and Analysis?
Users now expect to see realistic visualisation and ‘real-time’ simulation wherever they are, and on whatever device they are using. To perform the visualisation and simulation locally requires a large investment in multiple, high-power servers with advanced graphics engines.
Cloud-based graphics processing may provide a simpler alternative; for example:
- ANSYS Enterprise Cloud provides enterprise-level engineering simulation platform on the cloud. ANSYS has partnered with Amazon to deliver this using their Cloud Gateway running on the AWS platform with special hardware (‘Nice DCV’) handling graphics.
- Microsoft is working with NVIDIA to provide powerful graphics processing capability on their Azure cloud platform.
4. How will the Cloud support Generative Design?
Generative Design is the concept of automatically creating and testing many possible designs to meet given constraints. It’s easy to imagine how compute-intensive this is; 3D modelling and analysis is intensive enough for a single design, so the processing requirement (and storage of the results) is massive when thousands of iterations are analysed.
- Bentley’s ‘GenerativeComponents’, presented as Computational Design Software, offers this concept in the architecture, building and infrastructure context.
5. Should we just commit to the cloud platform that delivers the best functionality for our application?
Applications are springing up such as marketplaces that allow designers and ‘makers’ to easily share their designs and utilise expensive manufacturing resources like 3D printing (Additive Manufacture).
- Commercial transactions are more easily supported by eCommerce systems such as Shopify, Magento or WooCommerce. These are often best hosted on platforms that support the ‘LAMP stack’ (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP).
In the short-term, it may acceptable for this platform to be different from PLM or IoT, but what about the long-term? And how many different platforms will we need to support? Should the objective be convergence on a single platform or should we allow freedom of choice?
Cloud Platform Choices
There is a tremendous choice of cloud strategies and platforms that both you and your customers will be aware of. The big players such as Amazon, Microsoft, Google, IBM and HPE have made, and continue to make, massive investments in world-wide cloud infrastructure, where datacentres cost billions of dollars.
Each supplier has different advantages and this makes the choice more difficult; but the most important thing is to have a coherent strategy for all products that you offer.
Equip the customer facing team
Your customer-facing team will need to respond to these questions with coherent, deliverable solutions. Good answers to these cloud questions confirm your customer-facing people as trusted advisors and increase your company’s chance of securing new opportunities before the competition.
If you are a PLM, BIM, ALM or IoT software user, do you have answers to all these questions? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.
For the vendors, do you know what your customers are asking? What would you say if they asked the questions of you? Let us know. If you have any good examples, share those too.