Keeping PLM Grounded as Cloud Adoption Becomes Mainstream

  • August 10, 2015
  • Feature

By Chuck Cimalore, Omnify Software

There is a lot of talk about cloud computing today, and its exponentially growing presence among enterprise technology, particularly Product Lifecycle Management (PLM).  While PLM “in the cloud” is available today, its adoption can be slow.  Customers are having a difficult time deciphering when, how and even whether to use PLM in a cloud. 

PLM provides a central and secure location to track and manage product data throughout the product lifecycle including: component data, Bill of Materials (BOMs), product documentation, engineering changes and revisions, as well as quality and compliance information. With the type of sensitive information that is managed in PLM (a company’s Intellectual Property) there has been some apprehension about moving to the cloud. According to survey results collected from the 2013-2014 Metrics that Matter research study conducted between LNS Research and MESA International, adoption of manufacturing software in the cloud is slowly gaining momentum as more companies see the available options and advantages.

What is leading to this gradual yet increasing adoption of PLM in the cloud?  Once only seen as an enterprise solution for large manufacturers, PLM software is branching out into smaller organizations developing next-generation products. Due to this move, cloud-based PLM is receiving more support and higher adoption as these companies, new to PLM, start to deploy newer business technology and more evolved IT (Information Technology) computing environments.  However, there is still quite a bit of education needed of cloud-based PLM in the market overall.

Four Cloud-based PLM Strategies

The easiest explanation of cloud computing is to view it as a grouping of remote computers whose resources you can harness on an as-needed basis regardless of where the computers reside, who owns them or can access them, etc.  Most people refer to public clouds when they talk about cloud computing.  There are four types of cloud strategies being deployed in PLM/software applications.  “Public clouds” are typically systems that are shared by multiple people who use the system and have no control over who their fellow users can be.  “Private clouds” infer systems available for the sole benefit of a single company/entity where cloud data is secure and protected.  Then there are “community clouds” where only specially selected companies with common or related goals participate in the system (like partners, channels, supply/design chain, for instance).  And lastly there are “hybrid clouds” where a private cloud can extend onto a public cloud for specific activities and on an as-need basis. The benefit of a hybrid approach that incorporates a public cloud is that it provides extra performance scalability for the private cloud that would be in use.

Identifying Cloud Services: SaaS, PaaS and Iaas

In addition to the four types of clouds described earlier, there are three segments of cloud-based technology called SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS.  The first, SaaS, short for “Software as a Service” or sometimes referred to as “software on demand” deploys over the internet and is made available to users when requested.  It is usually served as a payment per-usage or on subscription basis. SaaS is the oldest and most mature segment of cloud computing.

PaaS, which stands for “Platform as a Service,” is a combination of a development platform and solution stack that is delivered as a service on demand.  It is an infrastructure that can be used to develop a new software app. or extend existing ones without the initial cost of buying and implementing additional hardware and software. PaaS often can extend the capabilities of existing SaaS solutions.

Lastly IaaS, which is “Infrastructure as a Service,” provides an environment for running user built virtualized systems, sometimes termed as a platform virtualization environment. It encompasses service, software, data-center and network equipment delivered as a single bundle. Examples of IaaS environments include Amazon EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud), GoGrid, and Flexiscale.

Product Lifecycle Management is a set of diverse business strategies, processes and applications. To identify the right projects, processes and problems that can be solved by introducing cloud-based PLM solutions can be a tall order when you factor in the importance of addressing ownership, location and privacy/security issues. There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing a PLM cloud strategy. Certain models are not a fit for all manufacturers, but when implemented with a well thought out plan, it can provide a great return.

Case in Point: Hybrid Cloud Offers Cost Savings and Scalability

What does cloud computing mean for business strategy? How will cloud computing impact any enterprise more broadly?  For Mevion Medical Systems, Inc., a radiation therapy company dedicated to advancing the treatment of cancer, its workforce is distributed throughout the globe and requires its business solutions to be available 7x24 on all company-supported platforms (PC, MAC, Linux, DROID, and IOS).   Mevion is leveraging a “hybrid cloud” in order to be able to scale quickly and efficiently to distributed cloud data centers at far less cost than purchasing expensive equipment or renting/building out corporate data centers. The IT department can leverage the advanced international infrastructure already in place by leading cloud computing companies and activate and pay only for the services that its business needs.

Achieving agility is a key component to the company’s business plan.  As a pioneer in modern proton therapy systems, Mevion always tries to leverage technology and solutions that provide a distinct advantage.  In this case, it is cloud computing because it will allow Mevion to expand quickly while providing a wide range of solutions.  It also allows the company to decrease overall technology costs and provide a reliable, agile IT infrastructure.

Integrating SaaS, PaaS and IaaS within One Computing Architecture

The Mevion “hybrid cloud” computing architecture utilizes both internal and external cloud solutions that will provide SaaS, PaaS and IaaS solutions. The architecture will support a distributed work force utilizing key security measures; integrate with the corporate data center to ensure data integrity, and scale across multiple external solutions to ensure reliability and uptime.

 “IT researched this strategy for three years before implementing, so it does not happen overnight. Our IT group needed to ensure that their “hybrid cloud” computing strategy would ensure data security, integrity, and reliability. Going forward, all business solutions must adhere to this architecture,” said Quinn. 

“Our entire company will be on the Mevion “hybrid cloud” architecture, depending on the employee’s job function.  All employees in the company utilize PLM on a daily basis from their computers, smartphones, and tablets; both within the Company Network and through remote secured VPN connections,” Quinn continued. “When we move the PLM to a secured cloud platform, the usage may also expand to support authorized company business providers/partners.”

Advantages of PLM in the Cloud

Key advantages of leveraging a cloud-based PLM solution focus primarily on accessibility, cost and scalability. A cloud-based model facilitates easier collaboration with external partners such as Contract Manufacturers and suppliers. Time zones and language barriers are no longer an issue. Information can be accessed anytime from anywhere. Lower IT investment and overhead costs have always been a big benefit with the cloud and continue to be a major advantage, particularly for smaller companies.

When LoneStar Heart, Inc., a developer of cardiac restorative therapies for patients with heart failure began searching for a PLM solution, choosing a hosted PLM model made the most sense due to the fact that their existing infrastructure (email, data warehousing, etc.) was already cloud-based. Their goal was to find a cost-effective, cloud-based system that would scale as the company grew. “Our existing IT infrastructure was cloud-based so naturally when we were looking for a PLM system we wanted it to be cloud-based as well,” stated Manoj Raghuraman, Program Director, Algisyl for LoneStar Heart, Inc. “In addition, not having to install and maintain local servers would save us a substantial amount of money annually.”  

LoneStar Heart also has employees who travel frequently and who are based outside of the company headquarters. A hosted PLM system facilitates access to necessary product information/documentation for all employees and eliminates any potential issues with having to use VPN connections to access local servers. In addition, a hosted model makes it easy to offer secure access to external partners (consultants, development partners and suppliers) in order to improve and speed communication processes.

Not Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining

There are some precautions that should be considered when moving to the cloud. Companies such as medical device manufacturers must be cautious when opting to transition their product design and manufacturing software to the cloud. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) required Software Validation can be greatly impacted by product upgrades. SaaS solutions typically deliver automatic upgrades where the customer’s environment is can be altered and processes must be re-validated in order to maintain compliance. This is something that can cost a tremendous amount of time and money for the device manufacturer.

As a medical device manufacturer, LoneStar Heart had to be careful when selecting a cloud-based solution. “Based on our research, we found that there are very few cloud-based PLM/Document Control systems out there that are cost-effective while ensuring that there are no compromises on features and controls required for meeting regulatory requirements,” stated Mr. Raghuraman.

Customers Have a Choice

We allow customers to decide which strategy is best for their business based on resources, business processes and budget. Recognizing that companies will have different deployment strategies, and that these strategies may, in time, change, the Empower PLM system is designed to support cloud-based, on-premises, and hybrid methodologies. On-premises customers can install and control the entire system within their own network environment. Hosted customers can eliminate the overhead of managing the system themselves and leverage the inherent benefits of providing access to their partners. Our cloud deployment strategy allows us to deploy Empower into a customer’s existing private or public cloud environment. The majority of our customers still deploy on-premises, but there has been a surge among start-up and small companies opting for the hosted/cloud model as it becomes more mainstream and they build out their cloud-based infrastructure.

In Summary

The power and potential of cloud computing, properly leveraged and deployed, can have a significant impact on the PLM industry.  PLM customers are giving serious consideration and evaluating their PLM business processes in regard to how to run them seamlessly and securely connect them to cloud-based data sets.  Accessing data, processes and business intelligence in the cloud from a PLM platform could, if done correctly, enable companies both large and small a way to leverage critical information sources, maximize expert resources and manage complex analytics - all from within their PLM system. 

Omnify Software is a leading provider of business-ready Product Lifecycle Management solutions.



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