Actually, cloud computing is not new for CAE industry, especially for CFD users. 15 or 20 years ago, when you accessed supercomputers in the computing centre from home or office through dial-up modems (do you know what it is?), or ISDN if you are lucky, you were already using “cloud computing”. Now this cloud computing is so popular that every computing event must have a dedicated session for it. If you are not sure, check the coming Supercomputing Carnival 2011 (SC2011) in Seattle in this November or the more geeky one: HPC 2011 in Boston in last April.
Fluent announced the Remote Simulation Facility (RSF) in 2002. This probably is the first commercial CFD cloud computing offer. They upgraded the cluster several times later. The response is, based on community feedback, very good. This e-business model combining software and computing resources is very attractive for small consulting firms, and moderate users. The $3-$20 (depending on the volume of commitment) per CPU hour is quite reasonable, although not so cheap.
It seems ANSYS is quietly retiring this re-branded ANSYS RSolve, although the RSF button is still available in the current Fluent 13. The community forum is live, but not active. In fact, I did not find the signup buttons.
So, what’s wrong with CAE in the cloud?
Some anti-cloud arguments may include:
- Security. Yes, the public cloud is as insecure as your own computing facilities. So, your shared computing resources only give you the false impression of security.
- Reliability. Amazon’s recent downtime in last April indicates the cloud may be evaporated, just like your computer may crash.
- Licensing control. This depends on the licensing agreement whether the license issuer allows you to put the license in the cloud. How to control the access is similar to that in your local cluster.
- Performance. Most cloud computing now relies on virtualization, which affects the performance. This is true, but to what extent? If we talk it 10 years ago, the performance overhead may be 10-30%. but now, it is usually about 3-5% only.
The actual reason for slow or no adoption of cloud computing in the CAE industry is lack of interest from CAE software vendors.
Most CAE vendors rely on license sales and maintenance, not services. Cloud computing is too risky for them because:
- It may hurt the license sales and revenues. For occasional users, it is surely cheaper. This means less money flow into software vendors.
- The profit margin may be not as high as software licensing. You are not Apple, so you need to price your service reasonably unless you want to keep the irons idle.
- It needs considerable investment, financial and technology. It means the executives need to persuade the shareholders and new investors, but most of CEOs and executives are focusing on short-term performance.
- Major accounts (big buyers) are not interested in it, because they afford an idle system of their own. They treat their perpetual license and computing facility as value-adding assets.
CAE in the cloud is not to make CAE fashionable but may push CAE into a bigger market. There are genuine demands from occasional users, from some consulting firms, from small design companies, from those who need occasionally surged capacity.
Unfortunately, due to lack of interest from major CAE vendors, it seems there is a long way towards CAE in the cloud. Now, we have to wait for the shaker, possibly from the second-tier CAE players.