Home / MCAD / Search: The New Frontier in Data Management

Search: The New Frontier in Data Management

With a great emphasis on search and retrieval, newcomers like Inforbix addresses the new challenge in modern manufacturing: data deluge. (Shown here: Inforbix xSearch module.)

Using Alcove9's A9 Hub (open source), you can perform CAD file search and retrieval in a Google-like interface.

I can’t remember when I stopped organizing my emails and file folders. But I do remember why I stopped. At some point, I came to the realization that, instead of spending my precious time meticulously archiving my documents in sub-directories (and sub-sub directories and sub-sub-sub-categories), I could rely on Windows’ search function to locate what I needed, when I needed.

To clarify, I still save documents by loosely defined categories: Work, Family, Friends, Finances, and so on. But I no longer obsess over micro-categories, like interview notes from meeting with mobile app developers at Macworld 2010.

In the past (say, 10 years ago), it was important for me to micro-manage my documents at that level because I had no easy way to locate a piece of information pertaining to a certain project, created on a certain date. I had to impose an artificial structure on my data pile because personal computers weren’t sophisticated enough to discern and handle unstructured data.

Today, my email client (happens to be Windows Live mail) can locate a cookie recipe from 2004 buried in my inbox faster than I can, because the software, running on modern CPUs, can peruse many more documents in a second than I can with my human eyes.

Generation Google: Welcome to the Era of Integrated Search Engines!

Seek and You Shall Find, Perhaps More Than You Need
This month, as Oracle users headed home from their annual gathering (Oracle OpenWorld 2011, Oct. 2 to 6), they learned that Oracle was about to buy Endeca, an enterprise search engine. In a letter to customers, Thomas Kurian, Oracle’s executive VP of development, wrote, “The explosion of data variety and volume, including enterprise content and application data, social media, sensor data and third-party feeds, has changed the way that companies and consumers interact and how businesses want to use this information … Endeca’s leading unstructured data management engine, web commerce and business intelligence applications help enterprises improve decisions and deliver a superior customer experience … The combination of Oracle and Endeca is expected to create a comprehensive technology platform to process, store, manage, search, and analyze structured and unstructured information together.”

Oracle’s pending purchase of Endeca echoes another acquisition that took place in June 2010: Dassault Systemes‘ acquisition of Exalead, an enterprise search engine (some described it as the French Google). Announcing the transaction to the press, Dassault CEO Bernard Charlès said, “With Exalead and its partners, we can provide a new class of search-based applications for collaborative communities.”

In the past, engineers bemoaned the lack of data. Not enough information on sustainable materials, not enough paper trail for compliance, not enough information on seismic activities at a construction site — these were the headaches from a bygone era. Today, the challenge is not a lack of data; it’s having too much data.

Information Week warned, “Security systems generate an overload of information,” therefore we’ll need “New tools [to] help manage it all more effectively” (“Data Deluge,” Aug 19, 2002). Los Angeles Times joined the discussion with an article called “Pondering effects of the data deluge,” (July 7, 2011). Similarly, The Economist pointed out “Plucking the diamond from the waste” would be the new challenge for businesses (“Data Deluge,” Feb 25, 2010).

Newcomers: Inforbix; Alcove9
In manufacturing, newcomers like Inforbix (cofounded by PLM blogger Oleg Shilovitsky, Beyond PLM) and Alcove9 are tackling the data deluge with search technologies. Whereas traditional data management and product lifecycle management software tends to cover supply chain, change orders, revisions, compliance, and collaboration, Inforbix and Alcove9 focus keenly on search and retrieval as their core offerings. They both take a similar approach to scan, index, and remember the locations and attributes of clients’ files and documents, thereby enabling their software to respond to user queries quicker. (Both Inforbix and Alcove9 describe their software interfaces as “Google-like.”)

Inforbix offers a wizard, a small executable applet downloadable from the company’s site. When launching the wizard (dubbed Product Data Crawler), you’ll be prompted to identify the data repositories you’d like to index. Inforbix then scans (or crawl, as programmers like to say) your file folders and directories, retrieve the meta data (author, last change date, approval info, and other attributes) to a cloud-hosted server. The process allows Inforbix users to subsequently launch Inforbix from a standard browser and perform searches to locate and use their data.

Inforbix is not a remote data storage (like Dropbox). The information stored in Inforbix’s cloud server is strictly confined to data about your data (attributes from your CAD files and Office documents). It does not create duplicate copies of your data in the cloud (your CAD files and Office documents do not get uploaded to Inforbix’s cloud).

Currently, Inforbix offers two modules: xSearch and xTable. xSearch lets you use a search window to find and locate the items you need from your indexed data sources. It offers a series of filters to narrow your findings (by date, by author name, by last modified, and so on). xTables lets you export your search results in the form of an Excel table, with active links to your data source. (If you click on the thumbnail of SolidWorks part, for instance, you’ll be automatically launching the CAD file in the authoring software.) The value of xTables, as the company points out, is that the information is always synchronized and updated by its connection to the cloud.

For instance, if you have saved an xTable search results for all AutoCAD files created by drafter John, approved by supervisor Carl, the next time you launch the table, the results will be updated to reflect new AutoCAD files created by the same drafter, approved by the same supervisor.

Alcove9's AppConnect module for CAD visualization, along with markup tools.

Alcove9 offers its products through a series of subscription plans (free, Gold, and Platinum). The centerpiece of Alcove9’s suite is the A9 Hub, an open source software to index your data. To perform searches, you’ll use a standard browser. The hub is complemented by a series of AppConnect modules, add-ons that link A9 Hub to PLM, ERP, and other programs. There is also an AppConnect for CAD visualization, which functions as a viewing and markup app for those who need to visualize, approve, inspect, and annotate CAD files but don’t necessarily need to perform CAD modeling.

Mobile Mania
Since data search and retrieval involve no overly taxing computing demands on CPUs, the function seems ideally suited to lightweight, portable mobile devices. Inforbix is currently developing mobile apps to allow Apple and Android device users to perform similar functions from their portable devices. Alcove9 FAQ states it’s “pursuing this capability [mobile device support] for future releases.”

Inforbix' mobile app (still in development) aims to provide search results, along with thumbnails and file attributes, accessible on an iPad.

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

About Kenneth

Kenneth Wong has been a regular contributor to the CAD industry press since 2000, first an an editor, later as a columnist and freelance writer for various publications. During his nine-year tenure, he has closely followed the migration from 2D to 3D, the growth of PLM (product lifecycle management), and the impact of globalization on manufacturing. His writings have appeared in Cadalyst, Computer Graphics World, and Manufacturing Business Technology, among others.


  1. What is it with this cloud junk. So I am supposed to be happy about something that adds a new panoply of security risks and in addition a whole new vast array of devices and infrastructure beyond my control subject to failure. WHY does this have to go to this wonderfull cloud to work? Sell me an app to work off of my PC without the exposure to the web and you have a customer.

    My stuff stays on my PC because it is mine. Yes I can hear the response that the majority of the data indexed will still reside on my PC and NEVER be collected. I don’t believe any promises like this. Think Facebook here for all of you who so love the web and desire to live there and put all your personal and business stuff out there for the world to see. The cloud is not a warm and fuzzy feel good nirvanic place. It is a place full of hackers and predatory corporate types replete with gobs of infrastructure problems they make promises about but can’t deliver on because they neither own or control it.

  2. Dave, you said in your message above, “Sell me an app to work off of my PC without exposure to the web and you have a customer.” WELL DAVE, Alcove9 WOULD LIKE TO WELCOME YOU AS A NEW CUSTOMER…!!!

    We happen to agree with your assessment of the potential problems that may exist with The Cloud…. While I can certainly see some of its advantages, your reference to Facebook should remind all of us that there IS a potential for the “hackers and predatory types” to storm the pearly gates.

    While Cloud security is an obvious concern, I would also add reliability and efficiency as potential issues for a lot of companies. Alcove9 is NOT based on a cloud solution. Furthermore, it respects your internal security measures as well, so it’s non-invaisive even on your home front.

    Dave, I’d like to invite you to visit our website to read more about our suite of products and services, or better yet, give me a call and I’d be happy to tell you why we’re so excited about our secure, intrAnet search solution. Janie Farner, Director of Marketing, Alcove9. 248.287.1444

  3. Dave: Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I understand your reservations about cloud computing. However, I personally think the benefits outweigh the risk involved. With the proliferation of mobile devices, I believe it’s inevitable that more and more of us will rely on cloud-hosted storage and services to do computing on the go.

    After all, the cloud is nothing but a series of remote servers maintained and operated on your behalf by another vendor. The service, reliability, encryption, security, and efficiency you receive will only be as good as the integrity and the track-record of the vendor — the same qualifications we all seek when we’re looking for a vendor to provide on-premise or onsite solution.

    In the name of full disclosure, I should also mention I use — and like using — Facebook. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *