Altair’s Approach to Solving the Software Licensing Problem
Licensing is one of the major stumbling blocks to the spread of digital manufacturing technology among small- to medium-sized manufacturers (SMMs). Rapid advances in CAE software, especially in modeling and simulation, could help many SMMs reduce the costs and time associated with design, analysis and prototyping. This promises to make them more competitive, able to bring products to market more quickly, and meet the changing needs of their customers.
This is particularly true for smaller companies supplying components to large OEMs such as Boeing and General Motors. The SMMs are feeling the effects of a long-term trend that is changing the way parts are manufactured.
In the past the big companies would design the components they needed and then turn the specifications over to their subcontractors to build. No deviation from the original specs. But not any more. Now every member of the manufacturing cycle is expected to be a full service engineering provider, conversant with complex disciplines such as finite element analysis (FEA) and computational fluid dynamics (CFD). The prime contractor tells its subs, "Here are the performance targets for this particular part; you design the component and make sure it meets our expectations. We want you to be innovative, highly responsive, and cost effective."
But there are a number of reasons why the SMMs are not yet flocking to digital manufacturing technology (See "Why SMMs Balk at Adopting Digital Manufacturing"). Cost considerations are paramount and software licensing has played a major role in attaching a prohibitive price tag to such fundamental simulation and modeling tools as FEA, CFD and meshing software. The common "pay-by-the-seat" scenario has also had a dampening effect on the spread of high performance computing (HPC) in the cloud, an environment that could benefit many small manufacturers.
Earl Dodd, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Supercomputer Center, had this to say in a recent article at HPC in the Cloud:
"There are many types of software, each with its own set of restrictions as to how the licensee can use it. However, the overall problem with traditional licenses and the cloud is the lack of license extension. In other words, the license legalese typically contains no language allowing the license holder or end user to redirect the software use privileges to another party such as a provider of HPC cloud services. In the cloud environment, it can be difficult to determine just who the end user is as defined by the license. And this situation only gets more complicated for large enterprises that might run their major business applications on multiple cloud platforms."
Seeking a Licensing Solution
Altair Engineering, Inc., headquartered in Troy, Mich., has tackled the licensing problem head on. "Customers love our [licensing] system," says Martin Nichols, the company's executive vice president of global alliances and operations. "In the traditional approach, if you need 10 copies of a vendor's software, you buy 10 licenses — this is expensive and often much of the software goes unused."
So, in the late 1990s, Altair introduced a novel licensing system built around the idea that a complete suite of software — HyperWorks and its many applications — could be accessed through a common pool of licenses. No need to purchase individual licenses for each application.
This approach is very much a part of Altair's just-announced HyperWorks On-Demand, (HWOD), an HPC in the cloud offering that provides access to the company's HyperWorks suite of products and its HPC infrastructure.
Altair products available on HWOD include:
- RADIOSS, a venerable FEA solver.
- OptiStruct, a structural optimization solver.
- AcuSolve, a CFD solver.
- BatchMesher, a high-fidelity finite element mesher for large assemblies.
The company plans to add solvers from its HyperWorks Partner Alliance and HyperWorks desktop applications in the near future.
The unique HyperWorks pay-per-usage license model is based on tokens known as HyperWorks Units (HWUs). The approach is called "leveling."
Here's how it works. Traditional licensing schemes use stacking — if a user opens three applications, as shown in the figure above, the user is charged the sum of the tokens for each application.
Altair's takes a different approach. Research firm Collaborative Product Development Associates explains it this way in a 2010 report: "With Altair's leveling scheme...the token requirement is that of the application requiring the most tokens. So a user may run a solver like RADIOSS locally and have two instances of HyperMesh open to interactively compare two models. The token count required is only that of the highest application."
The report went on to say that end users were very satisfied with the licensing model — not only does it save money, but also simplified licensing management and planning.
Nichols comments that with the introduction of HWOD, the licensing business model has been extended to include access to Altair's HPC infrastructure in a cloud environment. Customers can now use their pool of HWUs to take advantage of software, platform and infrastructure as a service — SaaS, PaaS and IaaS — within a single licensing structure. This includes the use of a single, easy-to-use Web-based interface. (The HWOD login screen is shown below.)
Short on Cycles
Nichols explains: "A customer might say, for example, 'I have to run a whole bunch of RADIOSS jobs, but I don't have a Cray supercomputer or a high powered Linux HPC cluster — I just don't have the compute power available in-house.' With HWOD the user can access the required infrastructure in the cloud and commit just the number of HWUs needed to run the job."
HWOD pulls the requisite number of units based on the application the user is running, plus additional units to cover the necessary compute power.
Each application is billed at a particular number of HWUs, plus an additional number of tokens to run an accompanying multiprocessor. Other HyperWorks software can be run simultaneously for free due to leveling, as long as its total number of needed tokens does not exceed the total for the first job and its node.
Even though the customers still have to understand the type of physics associated with the problem they are trying to solve, they no longer have to be experts in meshing, FEA or CFD, or have mastered the ins and outs of high performance computing. Not only are heuristics built into the Altair solvers, but also the company provides training and consulting services to help its customers understand and use all its HyperWorks applications. Plus, the single, Web-based interface and access to the cloud makes data management a lot simpler. Altair can also implement private cloud solutions, providing the full range of HWOD capabilities behind the customer's firewall.
Targeting the SMMs
Altair has a history of working with large manufacturing organizations. Three engineers from GM started the company in the mid-1980s. Its current client list includes all the heavy hitters in automotive, aerospace, government and defense, heavy equipment, consumer products, life and earth sciences, and oil and gas. HWOD is aimed at this high-end customer base.
However, with HWOD's powerful suite of products available in the cloud, and the company's flexible, cost-effective licensing approach, Altair hopes to recruit more customers in manufacturing's "missing middle" — the hundreds of thousands of small- to medium-sized manufacturing companies that are currently not making full use of digital manufacturing tools and techniques.
Says Nichols, "I think Altair's approach dovetails very nicely with the needs of the missing middle. These SMMs typically have short-term cyclical needs — their technology requirements can ramp up and down very rapidly. At any one time, they may only have two or three projects in the works that call for advanced simulation software and HPC capabilities. On the other hand, a large company might have 10 to 20 projects underway, allowing them to more easily manage their allocation of HPC resources. HWOD helps the SMMs handle the peaks and valleys more efficiently by proving short term capabilities on an as-needed basis for a more reasonable cost than possible with conventional licensing arrangements.
"There's a big push on now to introduce the missing middle to the advantages of digital manufacturing," he concludes. "Altair is a part of that effort."