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The Rise Of Cloud Computing Extends To PLM

The changing of corporate culture towards cloud computing and the creation of cross-functional workflows that can support PLM will hasten how products are brought to market in a faster, more cost-effective way.

The changing of corporate culture towards cloud computing and the creation of cross-functional workflows that can support PLM will hasten how products are brought to market.

Making product lifecycle management (PLM) an integral part of a company’s R&D process is evolving as the rise of cloud computing becomes more flexible and cost-effective. In addition to cloud, the integration of social networking capabilities, and as well as new methods for visually presenting rich product-related data to a wider spectrum of users which will impact next-generation PLM and also help expand PLM’s reach throughout the supply chain.

The changing of corporate culture towards cloud computing and the creation of cross-functional workflows that can support PLM will hasten how products are brought to market in a faster, more cost-effective way.

“The cloud has the potential to cause a step change in the PLM applications business. In addition to the cost, scalability and availability benefits that accrue as with other major applications — provided that data security and communications reliability concerns can be addressed — cloud-based PLM deployments are likely to offer a compelling solution to the problems of reach and accessibility for participants of all sizes and levels of use in global product development networks and supply chains,” says Tony Christian of Cambashi, a global industry analyst and market consulting firm.

PwC Principal Technology Leader Tom Degarmo puts it best, “cloud computing accelerates innovation and improves time-to-market successes and offers added flexibility within PLM applications.  Overall it can improve connections across a company's network of suppliers, time zones and cultures.  It enables an extendable enterprise.”

Different Cloud PLM Options

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. According to Chuck Cimalore, Omnify Software President and CEO, “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. In order to help mitigate security concerns and control the location of information, Omnify decided to support a hybrid environment with a private/public cloud and an on-premises/cloud architecture.”

Analysts agree and are working with PLM customers today that are grappling with the concept of cloud computing and how best to address these issues. Analyst firm Frost and Sullivan reports that most people refer to public clouds when they talk about cloud computing.  There are four types of cloud strategies being deployed in PLM 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.

Three Cloud Services Segments

In addition to the four types of clouds described earlier, there are 3 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. According to Forrester Research, SaaS is the oldest and most mature segment of cloud computing, citing examples like that of, Netsuite, Google Gmail, among others.

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. Forrester Research describes it as 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, which Forrester Research sites as (from; Google App Engine, and Microsoft Azure.

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. Forrester Research cites examples of IaaS environments as Amazon EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud), GoGrid, and Flexiscale.

Hybrid Cloud Deployment Takes Shape

Cloud computing part of a business strategy for many companies.  It is expected that cloud computing will impact the enterprise more broadly.  For instance, 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, Android, and IOS).

According to Edward Quinn, Mevion Medical Systems IT Manager, “to do this, 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.

Achieving a Single 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 workforce 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. 

The Mevion IT Department has begun deployment already and will have a fully functioning cloud-based environment by the end of 2012. 

“IT has been researching this strategy since 2009, 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 the Omnify Software Empower PLM Solution on a daily basis from their computers, smartphones, and tablets; both within the Company Network and through remote secured VPN connections,” Quinn continued.

Leveraging Cloud Power

Omnify Empower PLM allows customers to decide which strategy is best for them. “

We recognize that companies will have different deployment strategies, and that these strategies may, in time, change.  In turn, we have designed our products and services to support cloud-based, on-premises, and hybrid methodologies,” said Cimalore. 

Organizations are starting to identify that they can really benefit from including outside suppliers on their cloud. The elastic nature of cloud platforms makes it possible to scale up when needed which can greatly extend simulation, visualization and computation products.  

According to Quinn, Mevion anticipates that they will look to including their external partners within their cloud environment in the future. “When we move Omnify Empower PLM to a secured cloud platform, the usage may expand to support authorized company business providers/partners,” said Quinn.

The Experts Weigh In

Most industry analysts (Forrester, Gartner, Frost & Sullivan, ARC and The Yankee Group) covering IT agree that 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.  This is to say that today still few are fully deployed.  It is still in the infancy stages of use even if the technology has matured.  It is still curing.

However accessing data, processes and business intelligence in the cloud from a PLM platform could, if done correctly, enable global companies a way to leverage critical information sources, maximize expert resources and manage complex analytics - all from within their PLM system.  Forrester states that the overall objective for most companies implementing PLM in a cloud is to optimize productivity and achieve an actual ROI from their cloud deployment.

“Service applications or product analytics are likely contenders to leverage the flexibility and scalability of the cloud without raising issues over the security of core intellectual property,” said Halpern, vice president of research and manufacturing at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn.

Companies will decide how to adopt the cloud and don’t plan on it being a linear process.  Cimalore agreed saying, “to that fact, our goal is to remain flexible and support a variety of deployment options. This will provide PLM customers with the ability to decide the best deployment for their own needs and comfort level.”

IT is trying to establish a running pathway to get existing software on the cloud in a very gradual way. It includes planning, pilots, validation, etc.  One thing that is certain is that the urgent business pains and short opportunity will provide an advantage for cloud providers to offer their services to companies at the time they needed with the right speed and cost.