Case Study: Software Vendor Expands CFD Reach by Adding Cloud
Symscape, a developer of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) software, wanted to expand its customer base by making its CFD system even more affordable. The company used "burst to Windows Azure" functionality as part of the Windows HPC Server 2008 R2 SP1 operating system to offer nearly instantaneous scalability without significant up-front costs, making it possible for smaller manufacturing organizations to take advantage of CFD capabilities.
The Symscape tagline says it all: "Computational fluid dynamics for all." The company makes computational fluid dynamics (CFD) software solutions available to businesses that were previously excluded from using CFD capabilities, due to the complexity and expense of the software necessary for most CFD computations.
Symscape built its flagship product, Caedium Professional, using OpenFOAM, a set of open source tools for customizing and extending numerical solvers for continuum mechanics problems such as CFD. Caedium is a graphical user interface–driven integrated simulation environment that helps engineers test their designs by creating geometry, simulating fluid flow and heat transfer, and visualizing results.
The company wanted a way to further reduce the up-front hardware costs associated with Caedium adoption because the costs presented barriers for many small to medium-sized manufacturing organizations. To conduct timely CFD simulations that involve large data sets, companies had to invest in powerful individual computers or a high-performance computing (HPC) cluster. "Smaller firms may not have the best equipment to run CFD simulations and often cannot afford hardware upgrades," says Dr. Richard Smith, Principal of Symscape. "We wanted to help small, innovative firms use Caedium and CFD without those capital expenses."
Symscape also wanted to make it faster and easier for customers to scale up compute resources. "In the past, engineers had to either wait for adequate cluster resources to become available or procure additional computers," says Smith. "That took valuable time or money — or, in some cases, both."
Symscape had a version of Caedium that ran on the Windows HPC Server 2008 R2 operating system, and it also had produced a prototype solution that used the Windows Azure platform to connect cloud computing to Caedium. When the opportunity arose to develop a solution that combined the power of the two platforms, Symscape jumped at the chance. The company took part in a pilot project to test a "burst to Windows Azure" scenario, in which an on-premises Windows HPC Server 2008 R2 SP1 cluster quickly adds Windows Azure worker roles to its compute resources.
"It's natural for Windows HPC Server 2008 R2 and Windows Azure to go together," says Smith. "From a business perspective, we see the burst scenario as a straightforward way to offer Windows Azure as an extension of Windows HPC Server 2008, without having to manage complicated customer billings." Symscape has set up a model in which customers subscribe to Windows Azure and pay only for the hardware resources they use, with no additional software charges.
When engineers want to take advantage of Windows Azure worker roles, they can build a computational fluid dynamics model in Caedium, which will automatically prepare a file in a temporary directory that is referenced in a command to run a job on Windows HPC Server 2008 R2 SP1. The case directory is compressed into a .zip archive and uploaded with encryption to Windows Azure Blob Storage. The amount of data that will be uploaded to Windows Azure depends on each engineer's specific simulation requirements and will likely range from four megabytes (100,000 cells) to four gigabytes (100,000,000 cells), although Symscape has tested up to 25 megabytes (600,000 cells). After the CFD processing takes place, the job status information and results are compressed into another .zip archive for automated on-premises retrieval.
Symscape plans to release the next version of Caedium, with Windows Azure capabilities, by July 2011. This version will give customers a choice between two processing scenarios. Customers with a Windows HPC Server 2008 R2 SP1 on-premises cluster can use burst functionality to scale compute capacity up and down as needed. Those without an on-premises cluster infrastructure can install Windows HPC Server 2008 R2 SP1 on a head node only and conduct all processing on Windows Azure worker roles.
Symscape believes that enabling Caedium to burst to Windows Azure will help support the company's mission of extending computational fluid dynamics availability to all. The company expects that the solution enhancement will increase profitability and raise its profile in the industry. "By taking advantage of Windows Azure integration and offering an HPC/cloud hybrid solution, we are putting ourselves at the forefront of cloud-based CFD," says Smith. Benefits include:
Immediate scalability. By bursting to Windows Azure, Symscape customers will be able to immediately conduct their simulation work, without waiting for others' jobs to finish or for additional hardware to be procured. "It will be a major boost for our customers to be able to access the compute resources that they need, when they need them," says Smith.
Expanded CFD use. For Symscape, offering the new functionality makes CFD accessible to engineers who previously had limited means of using it to improve their designs. "Customers will be able to burst to Windows Azure to make the most of HPC and CFD without all the constraints of the past," says Smith. "This new Caedium release is far more flexible and gives more engineers the opportunity to perform higher-fidelity CFD simulations to improve their products and processes."
Increased profitability. Symscape anticipates a significant uptick in the size of its customer base because the affordable, pay-as-you-go approach of Windows Azure presents a cost-effective way for new companies to enter the market for CFD solutions. "We feel 'bursting' to Windows Azure is a strategic move that opens up doors for us to put our tools into the hands of businesses that can benefit from CFD capabilities but have struggled to get them," says Smith. "As our number of customers grows, we become a healthier, more profitable company."