Little-known PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) provider Aras Corp. has big plans for the still emerging PLM space: It’s rearchitecting its software and business model around open source on a Microsoft .NET platform, hoping to court companies looking for a cost-effective PLM solution and a way to leverage existing IT skill sets.
In lieu of its traditional software license model, the new Aras Innovator 8 Enterprise Open Source Suite is available immediately for free as a commercial open source offering. This gives companies the licensing flexibility and input into code development that accompanies such a software model. In addition, the platform works with Microsoft technology such as Windows Server 2003 with .NET 2.0 and SQL Server 2005, allowing companies to leverage Microsoft technology already in place in their organizations as well as their existing IT skill sets.
For Aras, the shift is recognition of the growing importance of the open source model and a belief that companies are looking for more affordable and flexible PLM. “Open source is about vendors like us delivering source code to customers to give them flexibility and control over what they’re doing,” says Peter Schroer, founder of the Lawrence, MA-based Aras. “Open source redefines the relationship — we’re now in collaborative mode with the customer.”
Unlike Linux open source projects, Aras is making a bet that Microsoft technology will give it an edge. “We see an opportunity because there are millions of midsize and larger manufacturers who have standardized on the Microsoft platform,” Schroer explains. “Because we are aligned with Microsoft, our customers can leverage the skill sets they already have as opposed to other open source applications which are written in (what amounts to) a foreign language.”
Microsoft, which for years railed against open source and Linux to protect its Windows domain, has over time made peace with the business model and actually taken some steps to embrace it. Microsoft has offered assistance to some open source projects on Windows (for example, the Firefox browser) and has released some open source software itself. Last June, it launched Codeplex.com, an open source project hosting website, which was the impetus for the Aras PLM project.
While there are plenty of open source projects on Codeplex.com, Aras may be the first to market with an open source PLM platform. Rapid Transform Inc. is currently beta testing its Convelo PLM platform built on Java and open source technologies, including the Spring Framework and Hibernate, and has slated it for release later this year (2007).
“Aras is a pioneer in this area and will find out how effective the open source business model is for major enterprise applications,” says Robert Helm, director of research for Directions on Microsoft, an independent research firm that exclusively covers Microsoft. “The open source business model looks most viable for applications that require a great deal of customization and integration so vendors have a way to make money.”
While Aras won’t be making money on the software, its new business model is based on revenue derived from consulting, support, and training contracts. Aras is offering an enterprise-class support subscription package for $8,300 a month and a small business edition for $4,100 a month. Other support and consulting packages are available.
Innovator 8 Enterprise Open Source includes Aras’ full suite of PLM functionality, including program management, quality planning, and product engineering modules. The software is hosted on the CodePlex site, and customers can download it, provide input on the code, and access a variety of PLM add-ons to augment the suite.