The Difference Between Cloud-based and Traditional PDM
Scott Wertel posted on June 13, 2014 | 12156 views

YOU: Hello, IT.  I need to install 10 more users into our PDM system.  When can get the license file updated?

IT: Well, we run three other programs off that license server.  It’s not scheduled for downtime until next weekend.  We can install it then.

YOU: But I have a new department getting on-boarded now.  I really need those seats available by tomorrow.

IT: Sorry, next week.

How frustrating! You had a plan, a schedule, a budget, and a means to dominate the world.  But now, because there weren’t enough internal resources to support your project, you find yourself missing the window of opportunity and your dreams are crushed, and maybe your performance review.


The Do-It-Yourself Mentality

Our intellectual property is important to us, therefore it is imperative that all the electronic data reside within our brick walls and behind our firewall.  This is sound logic, if you still live in the 1990’s.  But while you were out continuously improving, your data got a lot more complex, and so did the computer systems required to manage it.  Unless your niche is data management, it may be time to rethink your in-house PDM solution and compare it to a cloud-based PDM solution.  Let’s walk through three different hypothetical customers: The Small Business, The Medium Business, and The Large Business and three different PDM solutions as they apply to each.


The Small Business

Small businesses often focus their resources on getting product to market.  They don’t think that they produce enough data to justify dedicated product data management.  Everybody knows each other and they can just call or email when there is an update.  It’s the Wild West, and everyone takes care of themselves and their own data.  No one worries about change control because they insist on being able to remember what they did.  Besides, change control just slows down the design process and we need to get to market fast.


File System Data Management
Due to the vast array of duties each employee undertakes in a small company, no one is assigned the glorious task of data management.  Maybe there is a guru in the bunch who sets up a suitable network directory structure and maybe all other data creators voluntarily choose to use it.  It’s cheap, it gets backed up nightly, what more do they need?




No control based on user rights or roles.

Uses existing hardware

Can’t tell who has file opened or last changed.

No additional software to license and maintain

Manual revision, version, and file naming control.

No additional IT support

Difficult to access remotely.


Traditional PDM
Some small businesses recognize the need to control their data in a more organized fashion; therefore, an employee is assigned the role of PDM administrator in addition to their regular duties.  But, PDM systems require load balancing and other server maintenance typically done by the IT department.  Many small companies don’t have internal IT support or they contract out those services.  This adds cost above and beyond licenses and maintenance.



Revision and version control.

Requires dedicated personnel to administer.

Check-in, Check-out, last saved by information.

Requires server, OS, and system support for load balancing – IT network and system admins.

Viewing of data by non-CAD users.

Extensive training required of users and occasional users can’t maintain proficiency, often avoiding use of the software.

Roles-based access to files.

Expensive for initial purchase and maintenance of named user licenses.


Cloud-based PDM
Cloud-based PDM gets rid of all the hassle of managing the infrastructure required to run a PDM system.  There is still going to be an individual assigned to manage the company’s online assets and take on the role of PDM administrator: user logins, workflow creation, and training.  But, the PDM administrator doesn’t have to worry about maintenance packs or updates and no additional IT resources are required.



Less expensive than traditional PDM. No upfront license cost, only monthly premiums.

Import/export controls may be hard to manage.

No dedicated IT resources required: hardware or personnel.

Less customizable than traditional PDM. Must build a business around a system rather than build a system around a business.

Users can access from anywhere. Mobility equals productivity.

Fast, stable internet connection required.

Always up-to-date and data is always backed up.  Can usually store a local off-line copy.


Summary – Small Business

Small businesses can thrive on home-grown PDM systems, including file system data management, but they often find themselves spending resources they can’t track on workarounds and corrective action.  Without the resources to implement a traditional PDM system, cloud-based PDM may be the answer.

Request a demo at Request Workbench Demo.

See additional information comparing Workbench to traditional PDM.

View a Case Study


The Medium Business

Medium businesses usually have a well-defined organization structure that includes all the overhead departments like HR, IT, and Accounting.  Their business practices are usually documented and enforced.  Each employee has a job description and duties, or other duties as assigned.  They may have grown from a startup company to a medium business based on the success of a handful of products, but are continuously developing improvement and new products, and processes are in place to guide employees in doing so like phased-gate process or configuration management.  Medium sized companies have learned, often the hard way, that good change control up front saves time and money on warranty claims later.


File System Data Management
Medium sized business that still insist on using the OS’s file system as a data management tool usually do so because they’ve become comfortable with the process, and workarounds, from when they were a small business. The culture of the company is the biggest impediment to change. No one has looked at the directory structure since it was originally created, because it’s no one’s job to do so, and the folders are filled with junk.



An existing system that is comfortable to use.

Too many files. Wrong files in the folder or files in the wrong folder. No one deletes anything.

No additional software cost.

Disk space is cheap, until the server gets full and IT needs a specialized NAS or SAN device to install and manage, adding network complexity and cost.

No training required. (But should there be?)

No roles-based access.  Accidental deletions from many users with same security rights.

Backups unreliable, data overload, cryptic filenames.


Traditional PDM
The good news is that medium businesses often have resources to commit to installing, maintaining, and administering a traditional PDM system.  That is, if those resources aren’t already overcommitted to other projects.  What they don’t have though, is the financial backing.  Medium businesses usually find themselves in trouble when their file management system breaks down and they are forced into a software solution like traditional PDM.  Then they realize how much it costs to implement and maintain and yet another continuous improvement project dies on the vine.



Roles-based access and security.

Cost prohibitive to buy then maintain each user license.

Junk files exist, but “disappear” when not linked to a project or item.

Confusing licensing system: full user, occasional user, viewer.

Customers can access data directly, when rights are properly assigned and client software installed.

Long implementation time yields low return on investment.

Latest data easy to find. Archive and change history also.

Server volume, data volume, rich client, thin client, development/test/production environments. All these need to be managed and maintained.


Cloud-based PDM
Cloud-based PDM systems are more scalable then traditional PDM.  Whereas traditional PDM requires building of the organizational structure within the software and then assigning named users, cloud-based PDM is typically licensed on a per user basis, not named users.  Adjusting the org chart within cloud PDM doesn’t require a potentially devastating change to the production environment.  And medium businesses don’t pay the upfront cost for named licenses that may go unused.



Can grow or shrink the user base immediately. No wasted investment on unused licenses.

Like traditional PDM, requires dedicated personnel to manage users and workflows.

Changes to org chart or workflows happen near real-time. No need for development or test environments.

Cultural issues with outsourcing data management.

Includes many best-practices gathered from cross-industry users.

May not have the integrations for your design (CAD or simulation) software.

Up and running within minutes, not months or years.

Difficult for matrixed organizations to assign project-based roles.


Summary – Medium Business

Medium businesses suffer from data overload.  What started out small and manageable somehow exploded into a big data mess.  With years of archives to manage, it’s time to get their data under control.  They have outgrown their file system data management scheme but find traditional PDM too complex for their needs.  Cloud-based PDM may be the answer.

Request a demo at Request Workbench Demo.

See additional information comparing Workbench to traditional PDM.

View a Case Study


The Large Business

Large businesses are ingrained in their processes.  There is plenty of support for any system they have, including local experts within functional groups, but changing a system is more about changing the process or procedure than it is introducing new technology.  Therefore, adopting new technology becomes difficult if there isn’t management support behind it.


File System Data Management
A large company has multiple servers, possibly multiple domains, and may even have mirrored or wide area network infrastructure to deal with.  Connecting to the file server requires multiple logins or file transfer between domains.  It is confusing, and the possibility for duplicate or unmanaged data is prevalent.



“We have this old server, why not use it?” Great utilization of obsolete hardware.

Multiple domains, systems, servers, and places for data to hide.

Plenty of people to blame for lost, overwritten, or bad data.

High probability of duplicate data. Which is the right copy?

Every Star Trek character can have a server named after them.

File management depends purely on discipline of each employee.

Confusing infrastructure and slow search.


Traditional PDM
Each project gets its own PDM system.  That means each user, who works in one of the matrix departments, has a client installation and login information for every possible project that may cross their desk.  “What was my password again?  Better call tech support and get it reset.”



Project data clearly segregated. No cross contamination.

No data sharing or economies of scale across project verticals.

Cradle to grave information captured for entire product lifecycle – from concept designs to production tooling.

Massive infrastructure requirements, cost, and maintenance.

Houses a knowledge base, reducing tribal knowledge of a program, product, or project.

Slow to upgrade with new versions. Difficult to train user base on improved workflows and methods.

Can buy modules to scale PDM into Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES), and interface with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP).

Difficult for remote or traveling employees to access data. Data nearly inaccessible to downstream users who aren’t data creators.


Cloud-based PDM
Cloud-based PDM systems allow for projects to be created.  Paid users can join as many projects as the terms and conditions of the monthly license allow.  One user, one login, multiple projects, each neatly segregated and the project owner controls who has access.  The user only interfaces through a single client application reducing the amount of training needed and reducing confusion.  The PDM administrator only has a single environment to maintain as well, so any changes to workflows only need to be applied once and the benefit flowed down to the entire organization.



Single interface for users and administrators, and easy project management.

A user may require access to more projects than terms and conditions allow.

New products developments can utilize PDM immediately, not wait for an additional traditional PDM environment to be stood up.

Need defined roles within company: project manager plus manager of project managers. PDM system doesn’t have extensive hierarchies to support large organizations.

A single user license can access multiple diverse projects.

Limited roles definitions are insufficient to adequately assign project participants and access levels: security clearances, ITAR/EAR, company private.

Non-data creators have easy access to files and don’t require software-specific training. PDM proficiency is enough.

Does not handle Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), only Product Data Management (PDM). Built-in workflows may be insufficient.


Summary – Large Business

Large businesses need heavy duty data management.  Individuals move in and out of departments, off and on projects.  Rules and roles based security is required.  Concurrent design is a distinct possibility so file-locking and automated version control is a must.  They have the resources to implement traditional PDM, but sometimes a simpler solution is better. Cloud-based PDM may be the answer.

Request a demo at Request Workbench Demo.

See additional information comparing Workbench to traditional PDM.

View a Case Study



Whether you are a part of small, medium, or large business, it is clear that cloud-based PDM has a lot more to offer than file system management and in some cases more than traditional PDM.  While traditional PDM has been around long enough to be a mature product, there is no such thing as an off-the-shelf installation.  Traditional PDM requires experts trained in the front-end and back-end administration.  It also requires significant investment in hardware and infrastructure.  Cloud-based PDM, like GrabCAD Workbench, eliminates many of the pitfalls of traditional PDM.  The developers are the experts of the software and they are the ones who maintain it.  Users and project owners have a single interface to their data.  Training is minimized, proficiency is maintained, and updates are done without any downtime to the organization.  No longer are you waiting for IT or a service window to implement your continuous improvement products.  With all that free time, you may be able to work on those plans to dominate the world, or at least your department.  How’s that performance review now?

Request a demo at Request Workbench Demo.

See additional information comparing Workbench to traditional PDM.

View a Case Study


GrabCAD has paid a fee to to promote their cloud-based PDM solution.  They have not had editorial input to this post.  – Scott Wertel

Recommended For You