There is a lot of buzz around cloud computing today, and not all of it is positive. If you don’t know much about cloud computing, the simplest description is to think about a bank of remote computers whose resources you can harness on an as-needed basis. Note that this description omits any discussion of where the computers are located (other than not being attached to your keyboard), who owns the computers, who else can access the computers, etc. The concept of cloud computing itself doesn’t imply answers to any questions about ownership, location, or privacy/security. So let’s dig a level deeper to discuss how these ownership, security, and privacy issues relate to cloud computing, and specifically in the world of PLM.
Although many think of cloud computing as a scary proposition, it really depends on the type of cloud being discussed. Most people are thinking about public clouds when they discuss cloud computing. Public clouds imply systems shared by multiple tenants (people who use the system) where the tenants have no control over who their fellow tenants can be. Private clouds imply systems available for the exclusive benefit of a single company/entity where the data on the cloud is protected and secure. Community clouds are those where only specially selected companies with common or related goals participate in the system (like an OEM and its supply/design chain, for instance). Hybrid clouds are those where a private cloud can extend onto a public cloud for specific tasks/needs as appropriate (the public cloud provides extra performance scalability for the private cloud).
So what about clouds and PLM? There is a lot of discussion by PLM vendors regarding cloud computing and the possibilities for SaaS (Software as a Service) via the cloud. And there has been an equivalent, almost immediate, response from users regarding concerns of security and privacy. The reaction seems to be, “PLM data is my company’s secret sauce – I would never store intellectual property on the cloud.” Implicit in that reaction though is the notion that data on the cloud is somehow public or unprotected. I think that PLM has a tremendous future on the cloud, but that it will be on private, community, and hybrid clouds. Let me take a stab at a couple of cloud-based scenarios that I think could make a ton of sense:
- Private Cloud PLM – This one is easy to see and we have clients doing nearly this today. A company buys computing power (processing, memory, and storage resources) from a managed datacenter provider and scales up or down as needed. They install PDM on the virtual machines that they run on this scalable datacenter, and voila – they are essentially using a private cloud. They control everything about their virtual machines, and only company employees have access to them and the company’s intellectual property; they are given VPN access from their offices to the datacenters. PDM servers are the first step, the next step involves remote graphics workstations in the datacenter, and then we’re accessing rich CAD and PLM via netbooks in the airport (all within the safety of our virtual private environment).
- Hybrid Cloud PLM – Hybrid clouds are a logical extension of private clouds for when heavy-lifting is needed on the computational side. For instance, I might house all of my data privately, but be able to access an analysis (FEA, CFD, etc.) application that can go out to a public cloud to run computations. Because the computation is split across multiple private and public computational resources, and the parts make no sense without the whole, my data is never at risk. But I can run a simulation of a multi-disciplinary non-linear event in 3 minutes instead of 3 days.
- Community Cloud PLM – I like this one the best because I feel like Automotive and Aerospace OEMs want this so badly that they will jump on it immediately. If you’ve ever heard Boeing talk about the details involved in managing their global PLM environment for the 787 program, you’d know what I mean. They expend tremendous resources keeping their internal teams, and their multi-tiered design/supply chains synchronized on the appropriate versions of software, and to work with the correct levels of design. I can imagine the cost/headache savings for an OEM like this if they could bring a new supplier on board by simply giving them a URL and a login. From the supplier side, show me the supplier that enjoys purchasing $100,000 worth of PLM tools for the privilege of working on a single customer’s design program and I’ll show you a unicorn. I think there is tremendous opportunity for community clouds to remove the marketplace friction inherent in tiered/matrix value chains and give entrepreneurial spirit a shot in the arm (I can design brackets for Boeing if my tools cost $500/month instead of $50,000 up-front).
So all of this is my way of saying that I think the future looks cloud-y, and I believe PLM will have a real opportunity to shine through the clouds (you’re welcome for that pun). If PLM vendors can find a model that allows them to protect their investment in software development while making the tools more accessible to designers, inventors, engineers, and tinkerers the world over, I think we’ll be on to something good. What do you think? Please leave a comment below or contact us to see what you could be doing with computing clouds today.