Dassault Makes Major Play in the Cloud

While the noise around cloud computing has been deafening in enterprise software circles, it's been fairly quiet when it comes to CAD and PLM software. That is, until recently -- Dassault Systemes stepped up to the plate, becoming the first major player in this sector to unveil a comprehensive cloud strategy for its entire portfolio of 3D design and PLM products.

Some of the leading CAD and PLM providers have long offered hosted versions of their platforms, and several have experimented over the last year, releasing cloud-based offerings that perform very specific functions -- for example, Autodesk's AutoCAD WS, an online collaboration service for editing and sharing DWG files. Not one, however, has ventured as far as Dassault Systemes. The company announced a multi-pronged cloud strategy that includes a deal with Amazon Web Services to provide the Infrastructure-as-a-Service; a strategic investment in Outscale, a startup Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) provider; and 3DStore, its own online store.

Fabien Fedida, Dassault's senior director of global marketing, called the announcement "a big deal for Dassault and a big announcement for the PLM industry." It's notable, he told Design News in an interview, because it brings the full PLM stack to the cloud, including the 3D authoring piece, not just the core Product Data Management (PDM) functionality.

Dassault laid the foundation for the cloud announcement three years ago when it officially announced its Version 6 platform, which, from the start, has worked in online mode. What that means, Fedida explained, is that Version 6 has rich applications and rich clients, but data can be stored on another server somewhere else. So, for example, an engineer could log in and access design data from home via a simple Web connection. "When we speak of online, we mean the server powering the application is in a different location from where the worker is," he says. "Previously, the server was within the company's network -- with this announcement, the server powering the application is outside the network in the cloud."

Dassault Systemes is placing its bet on the cloud for a number of reasons. First, it sees the delivery paradigm as an important way to help companies (particularly small and mid-sized shops) reduce the administrative burden around PLM. It allows them to benefit from 3D modeling, simulation, and virtual prototyping technology without having to add additional IT infrastructure and without having to make long-term volume commitments to software. The proliferation of mobile devices is another big enabler. "If the interface to the world is going to be through mobile devices, then data has to be on the cloud or it won't work," Fedida said.

To that end, the full complement of DS Version 6 applications (CATIA, SolidWorks, SIMULIA, DELMIA, ENOVIA, 3DVIA, Exalead, and 3DSWYM) are now running in the cloud, thanks to the partnership with Amazon Web Services. Dassault Systemes is leveraging the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), in addition to the Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS) and Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) as its core cloud infrastructure. Outscale will manage the SaaS-based operation, ensuring customers of the on-demand applications 24X7 service, up-time, resiliency, and all the other buzzword benefits that go hand-in-hand with the cloud.

The 3DStore will serve a range of cloud-based 3D and PLM services, including the 3DSWYM social community and innovation platform, access to Draftsight (a free 2D package) and 3DVIA, and access to applications from partners and customers. Also available on the site will be n!fuze, a design collaboration subscription service tailored to the needs of SolidWorks users, and n!Volve, the subscription service that lets users work concurrently using CATIA, DELMIA, SIMULIA, and ENOVIA on the cloud in a secure environment. N!Volve's core collaboration capabilities are priced at $330 a seat per month, with a three-month-term minimum, with entry-level V6 3D authoring capabilities another $150 a seat per month. There is a menu of available services around the other Dassault offerings, priced accordingly.

To get up and running in the cloud, users simply go to the 3DStore, and within minutes of purchasing a service, they are live and ready to go (this assumes there is already a V6 client installed). If a company or design team doesn't have a V6 client, it will be directed to a VAR to purchase the client. It can then purchase online instances of other Dassault applications via the 3DStore.

Stan Przybylinski, director of research at CIMdata, agrees a certain segment of design professionals will want to access their tools via the cloud (i.e., young engineers), yet he cautions that concerns around security and availability with this delivery model still linger. For the most part, he says, engineers just want tools that work, regardless of how they access them. "People want solutions that can help solve their most pressing problems," he said. "The only time they're going to care that they came from the cloud is when the Internet is down and they can't use them."

Accompanying the cloud announcement, Dassault Systemes also released the V6R2012 upgrade. Among the highlights of the new platform are additional interoperability capabilities based on XML schema and Web services between Version 6 and other PDM systems, in addition to system engineering advances in CATIA V6R2012. Specifically, the upgrade now offers full RFLP definition and traceability within the software.

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