Time to Rethink FEA-CFD Licensing

CD-adapco introduces new licensing model to make STAR-CCM+ cloud-ready.

CD-adapco introduces new licensing model to make STAR-CCM+ cloud-ready.

Most of us in mechanical modeling don’t need to run a piece of software on more than one CPU at a time. When an assembly with thousands of subcomponents strains the CAD program to a crawl, we may fantasize about splitting the processing workload among several CPUs, trapped in idle workstations sitting atop our colleagues’ tabletops. But for the most part, the speed bump we may gain from tinkering with multiple hardware setup is not worth the trouble and headache involved. Besides, most CAD software companies specify in their licensing agreements that the user can install and run the software only “on a single machine,” so we’re limited to that setup. If truly desperate, we may upgrade to a dual- or quad-core workstation, but that’s as far as we might go.

With professional analysis and simulation software, however, a single CPU is seldom sufficient. The more complex the task, the more processing power it demands. And the more computing cores you can use, the faster you get the results. Hence, a unique licensing model emerged: paying not only for the software but also for the amount of processing power you want to employ (usually counted in the number of CPU cores you intend to use).

This pricing model, in my view, has unintended consequences on creativity and quality assurance. Because of the high cost involved, designers try to limit the analysis iterations. So the number of what-if scenarios we test out  is always tempered by the inescapable how-much.

Now that high-performance computing (HPC) has become affordable and cloud computing has become a viable option for many, analysis and simulation software makers are forced to rethink their licensing policies.

Power Session Option
Last week, CD-adapco announced it would introduce “power session” licensing option on STAR-CMM+, one of its flagship products. This alternative, the company points out, “gives users to access unlimited computational resources for a single fixed fee, breaking the relationship between software cost and hardware resources (number of cores) deployed in a simulation.”

Under this method, “each license allows access to unlimited computing resources, either on your own cluster or using those of cloud computing services [such as Amazon EC2, SGI Cyclone, or any public, private, hybrid cloud],” and “each license allows [you] to run an uncounted number of sessions, concurrently or not.”

CD-adapco isn’t revealing the exact price, except to say it’s “an attractive rate.” For more on STAR-CCM+, read the review of the software in May issue.

HPC Licensing
Similarly, in October 2009, ANSYS began offering ANSYS HPC licensing. “In contrast to single-point solutions that require separate licenses for each solver, the new ANSYS HPC products will provide a cross-physics parallel computing capability that supports structural, fluids, thermal, and electromagnetics simulation in a single solution,” explains the company. The new offerings are expected to encourage “customers to exploit HPC resources within a workgroup or across a distributed enterprise, using local workstations, department clusters, or enterprise servers, wherever resources and people are located, removing artificial barriers to productivity.”

Barbara Hutchings, ANSYS’ director of strategic partnerships, told InsideHPC that, “We will continue to offer per-core (per-process) parallel licensing, as in the past. We are also introducing a new highly scaled parallel option that departs from the per-core model. In the new approach, customers will be able to apply large-scale parallel to accomplish high-fidelity (big!) simulations without a 1:1 correspondence of licenses to hardware core count.” (“ANSYS expands licensing options for running at scale,” November 5, 2009.)

Simulation On Demand
Another forward-thinking company revolutionizing the analysis market is Dezineforce, headquartered in Whiteley, UK. Applying the software-as-a-service model to simulation and analysis, the company offers HPC simulation solutions, accessible from the web. Its offerings are best suited for those who “do not want to get involved in HPC deployments [in other words, the IT operations to set up and maintain HPC environment],” the company says.

Dezineforce’s solutions are, in fact, based on software products available from well-known analysis brands, such as ANSYS’ Fluent, Dassault’s CATIA, and MSC Software’s Patran.

For more on Dezineforce, read “web-hosted engineering analysis” (May 7, 2009) and listen to blogger Jeff Water’s interview with Dezineforce CEO Peter Collins (June 5, 2009).

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6 Responses to Time to Rethink FEA-CFD Licensing

  • Cris Wendt says:

    This is an interesting model. For years, your brethren in electronic design automation (EDA, who have encountered the simulation bottlenecks years ago, have been addressing the simulation and layout use-cases using pretty much off-the-shelf concurrent licenses. These licenses are instance-based (not tied to CPU that can be used in different ways: on desktop for individual design; pooled in a compute farm for regression testing; or, used in aggregation for multi-threaded simulations that can spawn off sub-processes (where each sub-process consumes a license).

    In some cases, a large supply of licenses have been supplied to the customer and actual usage has been measured and associated fees applied.

    In other cases, “token” licenses (a form of concurrent license) are used which can be applied across multiple simulators, allowing different types of simulations to be run with a number of generic licenses. Other derviations such as “remix” are used to provide usage flexibility to deal with simulation peaks.

    The ideal license model provides flexibility of usage to the user, with some degree of financial predictability for all parties involved.

  • Really disappointed to see an non-announcement about CFD in the cloud. All of the above is just noise. It’s great to speculate what’s coming. It’s about time these “big boys” ponied up and showed what they were about. It’s all going in this direction. Show us what you are made of???

  • Andrew says:

    HPC licensing is a joke. Ansys used to license on a per-processor basis, and you got a license to run on 2 processors. Back in the day, a dual-socket Pentium Pro desktop was “hot stuff”. Shortly after the release of dual-core processors, they changed their licensing terms from per-processor to per-core and advertised it as an HPC enhancement. So, now, with the new AMD/Intel quad-core (and soon to be released 6-core) processors, you are only able to run on 2 of your 8 (or 12) cores on your desktop workstation. There’s a significant difference between a single-socket / dual-socket desktop with a multi-core processor and a server farm with dual-socket / quad-socket “blades” connected via 10GigE, FibreChannel, InfiniBand, etc. One is clearly a high-performance computer, the other is a comodity item that is not much better than the Wal-Mart “back-to-school special”. But Ansys “enhanced” HPC licensing makes you pony-up additional HPC fees to fully utilize all cores of the desktop computer.

  • Kenneth says:

    Cris, Derrek, Andrew: Thanks so much for the input! To be honest, I don’t know which approach is the best — that is, the best for people who perform simulation. I’m working on getting an interview with CD-adapco. Can any of you recommend someone I can interview to get software user’s perspective? Or would any of you be willing to discuss payment/billing methods that make the most sense for software developers as well as users in this field? Email me at kennethwongsf [at] earthlink.net.

  • Doug says:

    Hi, just found this site by accident. Interesting stuff though. I work for MSC Software and just to let you know we don’t charge for extra CPU operation. So you buy a license for Dytran (explicit FSI solver) and you can run it DMP on 10 quad core machines therefore using 40 processors if you like and only pay for a single license. The same with Marc and also MD Nastran (our new flagship solver, which includes new version of Dytran and Marc as SOL700 and SOL400 – NOT to be confused with competitor versions!). I think we’re nicely ahead of the other guys here as you mention. For any more info please check our website.

  • Moses Kakos says:

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