New Software Licensing Terms are Key to Adoption of HPC Cloud Services
For at least the past couple of years, High Performance Computing (HPC) has been more easily and financially accessible to small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) via cloud technology. At least in theory.
Remarkably, a major gap still must be bridged before the benefits of HPC technology can be fully realized by private-sector businesses, especially in the manufacturing sector. I call this the Independent Software Vendor (ISV) licensing chasm.
Stated simply, this means that most ISVs have yet to amend their licensing agreements and allow their customers to extend the software to a third-party HPC operator so it can run a workload in the cloud on the customer’s behalf. In the HPC Cloud business model, it’s simply not financially practical for the HPC operator or the end user to buy an “extra seat” just to run on the supercomputer.
This chasm has been particularly difficult to cross in the manufacturing industry. Today, every phase of manufacturing, from design and testing to assembling and retrofitting, is conducted by one or more highly specialized software applications in the digital environment. There are applications related to metal stamping, plastic mold injection, noise-vibration-harshness testing, fluid dynamics and hundreds of other processes that can be quickly and efficiently modeled on the computer.
The benefit of HPC technology is that a supercomputer can run these same software applications many times faster and with orders-of-magnitude larger data volumes than a workstation ever could. For a small or medium manufacturer that might never purchase its own supercomputer, the cloud provides access to the speed and capacity of HPC on an as-needed, on-demand basis.
But for this to occur, the HPC operator must have the software applications and tools.
Denial Ain’t Just a River
The question lingers: Why haven’t ISVs offered the licensing flexibility to run on a third-party HPC Cloud? Some blame rests with the software user community who haven’t demanded this change because they themselves are reluctant to give up control of their data and workflows, if only temporarily, to an HPC operator. And some believe the federal government could help ISVs cross the chasm by supporting standards to better encourage cloud usage (and NIST is doing just that).
In the end, however, it is the ISV’s responsibility—and business opportunity—to bridge the chasm, although it’s understandable why they haven’t. For decades, the business model surrounding the development and sale of software has centered on a pricing structure whereby the vendor gets paid for every package or seat they sell with strict limits on how, when and where the customer may use the application.
There is understandable fear involved in switching away from such a straight-forward revenue model to a far more complicated one where the software is sold as an on-demand cloud service. This may even involve a brokerage agreement whereby the HPC operator manages the license and remunerates the ISV only for the time the software is actually in use. Some version of this scenario will come. ISVs are living in denial if they think the cloud is going to evaporate and go away.
What Changes Must Occur?
The ISV culture has to change and accept the coming cloud business model. Apple’s iTunes is the best example. Just as a large HPC Cloud services vendor could sell software time as a service, Apple is brokering applications, books, music and data access, usually with royalties being paid back to the developer, publisher or artist. ISVs must adopt licensing terms that make this brokerage model possible and profitable.
Manufacturing companies have a role to play too. By demanding these licensing changes of the vendors who develop and supply the software applications you use throughout the manufacturing process, you can help force the issue. And there is strength in numbers – this is a well-timed opportunity for manufacturing associations, and possibly even the unions, to champion on behalf of their memberships.
Cloud computing is a disruptive force in the software market, and independent software vendors must re-evaluate their value propositions and respond accordingly with flexible licensing terms that accommodate use of their products by HPC operators or other software-as-a-service brokers. Riding on the winds of change, there is opportunity…and we are just at the beginning of this technology and business model intersection called the HPC Cloud.
Earl J. Dodd is the president of Ideas and Machines in Houston: www.ideasandmachines.com.