IT departments famously serve as the butt of workplace jokes and complaints. On TV, the computer guys always present as arrogant, impatient, and obtuse. Magazine articles call them the “no” team, blaming them for holding back innovation and change. Not surprisingly, those who work in IT see it a little differently.
They’re the ones who come in to upgrade systems while everyone else enjoys the weekend off. They get the phone call at 3AM when a tape machine fails. And one of their biggest frustrations? Bosses who insist on implementing technologies that they (the bosses) don’t really understand based on little more than a magazine article.
That’s why the IT department may seem more than a little skeptical when they first learn that you want to start using PDM. In Part 1 of this series, we talked about the benefits of data management to the IT team, as well as security and deployment issues. Now let’s answer some more detailed questions.
Q: What happens when it’s time to upgrade?
Enterprise installations typically need a dedicated system administrator for the PDM environment. Often this person also administers the CAD systems. When it’s time to upgrade, he or she creates a sandbox environment to test the upgrade, making sure the system works before inadvertently disrupting the whole company by rolling out buggy new code. IT departments are familiar with this process and can well judge the resources needed to implement it.
Workgroup systems take less attention than enterprise installations, but may require some work if you’ve heavily configured or customized your system.
On cloud-based systems, the host company acts as your IT department. So rather than use an in-house system administrator, software can be upgraded offsite, behind the scenes. With GrabCAD Workbench, for example, upgrades simply take place whenever the PDM app is restarted. Users who don’t tend to shut down their systems typically learn about the upgrade via a notification and can relaunch the app whenever convenient.
Q: How does it scale?
Enterprise and workgroup installation: All the major PDM systems are built to grow into larger deployments. If installed correctly at first, the PDM system should easily accommodate more licenses, users, and servers.
If you’re expanding into new geographies, you’ll also want a data replication strategy too. This is a way of creating a database that looks just like your home database on a computer closer to your cross-country or international team. That way, they can download a design file from a nearby system, rather than from thousands of miles away. If you’re going international, it’s also helpful to have client software available in the same language that your distant teams speak.
Enterprise PDM has been around a very long time, and most credible vendors are skilled at scaling solutions to global teams. Most provide sophisticated data replication methods and localized software for users in major languages.
Cloud: For cloud-based systems, you just add users and licenses. Any upgrades or hardware expansions are the responsibility of the service provider and should not require extra resources from your company. Well-architected cloud software will expand to meet a growing user base, as well as the heavy traffic it brings.
Where language support isn’t available, cloud-based applications have the advantage of being able to translate the data into hundreds of languages via Google Translate.
Q: How is it licensed?
Enterprise installations commonly use a separate server for licenses. The server checks a file full of license keys and distributes them on request. In some cases, a limited number of licenses “float” and are granted first come first serve. In others, licenses are “node locked” and tied to a certain machine. Your IT department will be familiar with these approaches.
However, IT could be concerned about resources. License servers and license key files don’t typically take a lot of storage, memory, or bandwidth. But IT will want to make sure the system is available if a license server goes down, and may want resources to duplicate the system somewhere offsite.
Cloud: With Software as a Service (SaaS) systems, licenses are typically tied to the user login. When you purchase a license, you get permission for one user name and password—much like other online applications. Again, this shouldn’t require any resources from your internal IT department.
Q: What about availability?
When you can’t reach your data, money flies out the window as productivity comes to a standstill. That’s why IT departments will ask about availability.
Enterprise and workgroup installations need back up servers and databases (on off-site hardware).That way there’s no data loss and work can continue if anything goes wrong. Plus, the systems generally have to come down from time to time for regular maintenance.
Your IT department probably has much of this already in place, but may need more hardware for the backup systems to meet your needs. The higher your availability expectations (think something between “My system can never go down!” or “We’d go weeks without noticing if this system was unplugged”), the more budget IT needs to support your PDM endeavor.
Cloud: Availability on cloud-based systems is only as good as the data center and software behind it. A reputable PDM vendor will use a highly qualified data center, and then back up your data anyway, off site, in case anything ever goes wrong. The vendor will also use a software architecture that can route around any systems that go down (even if for maintenance), much like the Internet itself, so that disruptions don’t impact anyone’s day-to-day work.
A good cloud service provider should be able to chat with your IT team to answer further questions about availability.
If you’ve read this far, you know that a new enterprise PDM system deeply impacts IT. Even a workgroup system likely requires IT attention.
On the other hand, a cloud deployment takes the fewest IT resources. That makes SaaS ideal for those who don’t have IT departments at all. And even for those that do, cloud still often proves the best choice.
Your IT team will want to keep you, your company, and your data safe from careless service providers. Be ready to reassure them that SaaS can be secure, scalable, and manageable. Because it turns out that no matter your approach, a good relationship with IT (and their buy in) can make everything smoother with PDM—enterprise, workgroup, or cloud.
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