Cloud Computing has arrived

10 April 2009

Cloud Computing is here and it won’t be long before the PLM developers work out how to deliver a seamless design environment that brings together the best parts of the web and product lifecycle technology, writes Josh Mings

Everyone’s talking about “The Cloud” and if you haven’t heard of it yet, you have now. It will be the next giant ripple to change your work habits since you first hit the send button on your first email. It will be the place where all of your data is stored, accessed from and you will go and work there each day.

It is the quintessential collaboration environment for all of your tasks in every stream of your business and personal life. And yes, it will even be part of how you design, engineer, manufacture and communicate product concepts and changes to co-worker and clients. Cloud computing is moving every business process you’re involved in to the Internet. And the implications this has for CAD and PLM is one of the most interesting topics the entire industry has ever been faced with. How will it begin? That’s the biggest surprise of all. We’re already a part of making it happen.

There are a lot, and I mean A LOT, of acronyms I could use to really complicate the somewhat obscure concept of what is Cloud computing, but simply put, ‘the Cloud’ is the Internet and Cloud computing is you, doing your work, in a Web-based interface.

There is also a lot of back-end, upper tier technology that goes along with this - there are security factors, how information is delivered, how that information integrates with different programs and where all that information is physically located. Yes, it’s actually located on servers somewhere. Servers that all of us rely on to function as productive binomial citizens of an Internet-dependent age.

What “the Cloud” does for us is provide a method of accessing and using data from anywhere. Sound familiar? It should. This has been happening to a certain degree for decades. It’s the same concept as the telephone, television and radio. All that data is transmitted simultaneously to different locations. That model, in its limited reach, is a bit static compared with what we’re looking at today.

Cloud computing brings a much more dynamic set of resources into our busy lives. It’s with these resources that we are able to view, manipulate, scale and share information across different networks with the added strength of having it displayed in different ways, depending on the program we’re using. The best example would be a web application like Google Docs. Within a single online environment you can create, store, modify and share documents. Those documents can then be attached to, or used within, other applications across the Web… the Cloud. It’s about being completely productive online without being confined to a single location or computer. You do it all, online.

There are some interesting ideas about how this actually applies to CAD and PLM - or if it’s even feasible that a highly collaborative workflow with large sets of data could be ported to the web. As designers, engineers and people involved in the CAD/PLM industry, we’re already taking on new ways of working online with everyone we know. That, in itself, is moving us and the business of product development ever so close to the ethereal edges of completing the entire design to manufacturing process online. We can imagine ‘impossibilities’ of moving CAD into the cloud, but haven’t really considered the idea of moving Cloud Computing into CAD - starting with aspects of Cloud Computing as part of the current CAD/PLM process and pushing it online. That has immediate implications for CAD users, especially those that know how it could be done.

Eventually, someone will coin the term PLaaS (Product Lifecycle as a Service) - or something conveniently similar

It can start by using applications already available. The idea is to centralise the daily tasks involved in product design. That’s huge. However, data storage, design review, document creation, customer relations and project management are all parts of that product lifecycle which can be done online right now as you read this. The biggest problem is, all of these great separate parts do not make a whole, and we always come up against tying them into actual engineering and manufacturing.

That shouldn’t deter any curious CAD user or industry executive from wanting to discover how the illustrious PLM lifestyle can be transformed into a web-based app of previously unseen functionality. Eventually, someone will coin the term PLaaS (Product Lifecycle as a Service) - or something conveniently similar - and companies will be vying against one another about how CAD web standards should be defined. At times, a closed and bloated ‘PLaaS’ business model will cause worry of popular acceptance. But, think of this. Email and PDF. Both easily gained popular usage and both are among the first business tools for widespread adoption online. Cloud Computing in the area of CAD and PLM doesn’t need to take a complicated process and remove functionality so it works on the web; it needs to take a complicated process and make it simple to use. The complexities can be handled on the back-end, the user side (as it should be now) must be the focus.

The Cloud is already changing how design is happening. We’re using applications that are not tied to a single computer or a single office. Perhaps it’s more loosely associated than some would like, but in the beginning it always is. There’s a vast area of openness for CAD and PLM to make a move into the Cloud area of computing. We as users play a direct role in how we currently use Cloud technologies to communicate our designs and how we move and store data.

The next logical step is to actually be able to work with 3D data and all the information connected to it in an online environment. There are certainly going to be sceptics for such a feat, but just imagine, there was a time when the idea of putting hand-drawn schematics of ink and vellum into an electronic box were simply unbelievable. It’s going to take some of those fancy back-end process with a big dose of innovation to have all the parts working simultaneously. In the end, however, a seamless design environment that brings together the best parts of the web and the best parts of the product lifecycle will peel off years of file cabinet inefficiencies and paper trail madness, leaving us at once with immense amounts of possibility.


Josh Mings is a Mechanical Engineer in the Aircraft Interiors Industry and the brains behind solidsmack.com. He hopes that Cloud Computing will give him more time to practice his favourite pastimes of sleeping and eating fajitas.

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