Months after releasing a major upgrade to its EDA platform, Altium is making it clear that its vision of electronics design hinges on two core building blocks. First is an online portal to bring a modern, Web 2.0 content and community experience to users, along with a focus on a vault strategy. Second is filling a gap around enterprise data management it says has existed in the electronics for decades.
Altium execs talked up the concept of enterprise content management and vaults relating to the electronics design process at the launch of Altium Designer 10, a milestone upgrade to its EDA tool. Altium Designer 10 laid the foundation for this new smart data management strategy, ushering in a unified data model to accommodate a mix of design data, from PCB layouts to embedded software development code. It also introduced the concept of a Component Management System, a framework that not only manages the basic ECAD models but also captures business intelligence and lifecycle state management (in other words, features that track where the components are used across designs) in a single repository.
As Altium explains it, the gap around engineering content management resides at the workgroup level when it comes to electronics design. Desktop EDA tools have some data management capabilities, but they dont address the concept of lifecycle management, which is key to managing components more efficiently across a design chain and fostering reuse of content within an extended engineering organization. PLM and other enterprise systems handle content management at an enterprise level, but these systems come into play later in the process, in preparation for manufacturing, explains Bob Potock, Altium's director of Americas marketing, in an interview.
The gap, then, lies at the workgroup level in electronics design -- similar to where mechanical engineering groups have had success with product data management (PDM). The company's new series of Vault capabilities are aimed squarely at this sector. "There are data management capabilities at the desktop level, but it's mostly simple version control and engineering change order management," Potock says. "There's been a void at the engineering workgroup level, and Vaults are introduced to fill that void and bring data integrity to that space."
Altium must be onto something, since other electronics vendors are talking up lifecycle-like capabilities around electronics design. While not exactly the same strategy, Mentor Graphics recently expanded its Capital electrical engineering platform with new modules and data management capabilities designed to take coverage downstream to product definition and upstream through service and support.
Altium's Vault capabilities come in three versions. Satellite Vault is a server application, which can be local-, WAN-, or cloud-hosted, and authentication is delivered via the AltiumLive portal. Enterprise Vault Server is an independent Vault offering with its own authentication server aimed at companies or military applications that don't support Internet-based applications outside the perimeters of their own secure networks. There is also Managed Vault which will provide cloud-based vault capabilities hosted and managed by Altium.
In addition to the data management focus, Altium Designer 10 set the stage for AltiumLive, the company's new Web portal for delivering everything from software upgrades and content (including parts, component libraries, and templates) to an active community forum where like-minded engineers can collaborate. (I'm envisioning an iTunes-like delivery platform mixed with a little sprinkling of social media.)