Altium 365: The New Frontier of Collaborative Cloud-Enabled Electronics Realization
In this interview, we talk with Leigh Gawne, Chief Software Architect at Altium, to learn about Altium 365 and the impact he foresees that Cloud-enabled electronics realization will have on Design Engineers--as well as the entire industry. (To see Leigh Gawne and team collaboratively design a board LIVE in Altium 365 at this year’s AltiumLive conference, watch this video).
Judy Warner: Leigh, please tell our readers about your background and your current role at Altium.
Leigh Gawne: I’ve worn a few different hats over the years, working in embedded software and systems development in the automotive industry and as a hardware development engineer across different verticals as an independent design consultant.
After joining Toradex, the embedded computer on module company in 2010 as their Chief Technology Officer, I co-founded the company Ciiva, specializing in BOM management, which was spun out of Toradex in 2013 and acquired by Altium in 2015.
For the last four years, I have been responsible for integrating a lot of the Ciiva technology and services into Altium and building and delivering the underpinnings of the Altium 365 platform. Today, I am the Chief Software Architect at Altium.
Warner: What exactly is Altium 365, and what value does it hold for design engineers?
Gawne: Altium 365 is our cloud platform. Its purpose is to make things easy for design engineers when it comes to collaborating and sharing with other stakeholders in the value chain of electronics design. Prior to Altium 365, design engineers would have to export PDF schematics, STEP models, create an Excel BOM or generate pre-production manufacturing output data to share with software engineers, procurement personnel, or contract manufacturers, respectively. Now, through a simple browser-based interface, all of the above can be accessed and visualized in a simple, straightforward way without interrupting the design flow or creating clunky exports of data.
While the Altium 365 cloud platform provides the aforementioned capabilities, there is also the concept of running applications on top of it. Our first such application is Concord Pro. Concord Pro is a design data management application with a specific focus on component library management and the ECAD / MCAD interchange, providing powerful component lifecycle management capability and the ability to integrate seamlessly with Dassault SolidWorks, Autodesk Inventor and PTC Creo.
The long term vision of Altium 365 is to connect design, manufacture, and supply chain in a way that transforms the experience of designing and building electronics.
Warner: What would you say to people that are reticent to share their designs on the cloud?
Gawne: I would say that many people do it already in some way, shape, or form. I doubt most people are still burning CDs and driving them to their contract manufacturer, or mailing USB sticks to their design partners. People are accustomed to sending email attachments or using other file sharing services for exchanging data, and this is already using the cloud.
In many other areas of our daily lives, we rely heavily on the Cloud. Whether its online banking or our social media presence, the Cloud is changing the way we experience the world, bringing a new level of convenience to our ever busier lives. Why should the way we work when designing and building electronics be any different? There are legitimate barriers for some, but for most, the critical obstacle is merely taking a mental leap. In reality, it is more of a step than a leap (and a small one at that!). It may seem daunting or uncomfortable, but once you’re there, it really is a great place to be, and you’ll never go back.
Warner: Altium Concord Pro is the first application available on the Altium 365 platform. Can you share what other types of applications will be hosted on this platform?
Gawne: Without giving too much away, you can expect to see applications that bring new dimensions of capabilities to the platform. Manufacturing is one area we are hard at work on, making it easier for people to design considering specific manufacturer or technology capabilities, and to rapid-prototype hardware in a way that the electronics industry has not seen before. So expect to see manufacturing-related applications appear in time to come.
We will continue to build Altium 365 with the philosophy of making things easy and accessible. While it is early days, you can expect to see capabilities that will make it easy for third-party integrations to come to the platform, and these are naturally likely to manifest themselves as applications.
Warner: What web cloud-hosting service is Altium using for Altium 365, and what kind of security measures does that service offer?
Gawne: Altium 365 is built on top of AWS, one of the world’s largest cloud infrastructures provided by Amazon. It uses redundant compute resources with multi-availability zone storage services spread across four independent regions, which means that we can provide excellent availability, reliability, scalability, performance, and of course, security. By leveraging a lot of off the shelf AWS building blocks and technologies, we can focus on our application services, which is essential to ensuring the highest levels of security, without reinventing the wheel in other areas. We engage with external accredited third-party companies to help validate this through periodic penetration testing of our infrastructure and services.
Warner: Last question. Looking 2-5 years down the road, what do you think Altium 365 will look like, and what benefits will it offer design engineers as well as the industry at large?
Gawne: I truly believe that Altium 365 can be the catalyst for change in an industry that, while giving rise to some of the fastest-paced change in the world, has been somewhat slow to embrace the future and evolve in itself. There are many reasons for this, but I do feel there is a groundswell in support of change that will deliver entirely new experiences for everyone involved in electronics design and in turn, the world at large.
People may think that the electronics industry is already very large, and they wouldn’t be wrong, but it is all relative — how much bigger can it be? My personal opinion is that we haven’t seen anything yet. We are probably still closer to the IBM mainframe era than we are the personal computer age in the context of IoT, and to deliver that future, we are going to have to make some significant changes in the way we work and think. Altium 365 is just the beginning.