Time to Flip the Switch on Cloud




For most major enterprise applications—think ERP, CRM, or even Business Intelligence—the question isn’t whether or not to go to the cloud, it usually boils down to a matter of when.

That same clarity of cloud vision has been lacking for engineering design tools, especially when it comes to CAD and PLM. While there’s a great case to made for harnessing the near infinite horsepower of the cloud to rev up highly complex, compute-intensive simulations, there’s been far more reticence on the part of engineering organizations to flip the switch on a cloud delivery model for other core engineering tools.

Security has been a red herring for engineering shops, which are concerned that core design intellectual property (IP) might be compromised if entrusted to a third-party cloud provider. Performance issues are another classic deal breaker. Unlike transactional enterprise applications like ERP, design tools such as CAD are all about 3D visualization and complex modeling so if Internet bandwidth is lacking or the software isn’t architected just right, a cloud-based system could potentially be too sluggish to facilitate effective design collaboration.

The truth is that most of these objections are far less an issue today than even just a few years back. As companies flock to the cloud in droves, their comfort level with cloud security has grown and most acknowledge that a third-party cloud provider is more likely to enforce a stricter security regimen than the average IT shop. Also, with cloud services comprising a greater slice of the enterprise footprint, engineers have become acquainted with the paradigm and are more at ease with the possibility of design software following suit.

Projections from market research company TechNavio seem to bear this out. According to their findings, the PLM market will grow at a 9.7% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) between 2011 and 2015, much of that gain driven by new cloud-based PLM applications.

 It’s Show Time

In anticipation of escalating demand, most existing CAD and PLM vendors have gone back to the drawing board to either reboot existing cloud initiatives or pushed forward and announced their first cloud offerings. There are also plenty of newbies in the category touting the cloud as an enabler to put a totally different spin on CAD-based collaboration and 3D design management.

There’s a pretty strong case to be made for this new class of cloud-based design tools. PLM, for example, has historically been out of reach for many small and mid-sized companies due to its high cost and complexity related not just to the software, but also to the hardware and IT support required for implementation and on-going maintenance. Cloud PLM removes that burden, promising a nearly turn-key process for a company of any size to buy and deploy the enterprise software in a matter of days or weeks—not months.

PTC, like many of its competitors, has seized the opportunity to get in the game with cloud-based PLM. The company offered an on-demand version of PTC Windchill, hosted on IBM hardware, back in 2006, but there was little traction for the product as it was still early on in cloud adoption and engineering departments were no where ready to take the plunge. Nearly a decade later, PTC is back with PTC PLM Cloud, a true Software-as-a-Service version of PTC Windchill that is available for a monthly price that covers all of the hardware, software, storage, setup, and upgrades necessary for keeping the system up and running.

Not only can users get up and running on PLM in short order with this new offering, PTC’s new model addresses some of the pain points around cost, even as it relates to cloud software. Unique to PTC’s cloud approach is “Active User Licenses,” which means companies pay for the software based on actual use, not according to the number of users. PTC PLM Cloud also touts multi-CAD integration as a key benefit of the service, delivering support for PTC Creo, AutoCAD, SolidWorks, and Inventor available at no additional cost.

Of course, PTC PLM Cloud–or any other cloud-based design tool for that matter–is not a panacea to all of the issues related to collaboration and product design. Certainly, there will be challenges with this software delivery paradigm and not everything will be as promised. It also goes without saying that not every engineering group or company will be a fit for the cloud-based software—as with any implementation, it comes down to a variety of factors, including the use case and corporate culture.

But as the cloud becomes more entrenched in business, the time is ripe for engineering organizations to at least consider the new paradigm. Sticking with the same old, same old just because it’s easy or entrenched is never the right answer, and the promise of cloud-based design tools is just too compelling to ignore.