Cloud-based software has strong potential to change the way engineering consultants do business, providing a platform from which they can not only increase efficiency and output, but also improve the overall client experience.
Organizations and consultants alike face migration to the cloud, and while many have already made the move, many others are sceptical for a variety of reasons. In many cases, it seems engineering consultants simply do not fully understand the use of the cloud. Here we assess the advantages of cloud computing for CFD. Don't forget to also check out our Essential Guide to CFD Simulations.
Cloud computing is something of a hot topic in the engineering world, and more and more have adopted its use in their day-to-day practice.
Engineering consultants require a dynamic, fluid approach to their IT requirements, with a range of factors influencing their individual needs at any one time. Changing factors may include:
- Sudden or urgent simulation projects
- An aspiration to bid on larger or more complex projects
- More simulation iterations
- Reduced compute budget or compute resources
- Restriction on compute hardware purchases
- Requirement to deliver simulations in less time
So why are people so wary of the cloud? And what are the real advantages of making the migration? Let’s take a look…
While many consultants may feel daunted at the thought of updating or replacing systems that have been used for years, it is a great way to stay ahead of demand without having to invest in expensive equipment.
Engineering consultants or start-ups can often not afford to spend on large amounts of equipment, and maintaining a healthy cash flow is key. Even if a consulting project is in sight, it can still be risky to finance the purchase of a larger compute node if there is not recurring work beyond the contract. Repurposing the equipment can be difficult, especially in a specialized field such as CFD.
Cloud solutions are often priced to allow engineers to perform on a level playing field with their larger corporate competitors, with a smaller budget, offering a variety of subscriptions or packages, so engineers can choose what they need, when they need it. As an example, we launched an on-demand model of our solver, where you only pay a small monthly fee ($250 for unlimited access to setup problems) and the license fee ($10 / hour) only kicks in during the time you're running simulations. In a recent client project we reduced the cost of a locally run simulation from $12,000 down to $2,000 using the on-demand cloud solver. That means 6x the productivty without the annual committment of a license.
In addition, software packages enable engineers to work without investing in additional IT support personnel, having the support they need from the cloud software provider. A survey carried out in 2013, found 88% of 1300 engineering companies had achieved cost savings as a direct result of this, managing to reduce their need for IT support in their own organization.
The above graphic (using data from an Aberdeen Group Survey report) shows the ROI of simulation use by design engineers.
The flexibility of cloud software is particularly notable.
Many cloud software providers enable engineering consultants to choose the solution that best fits their own business needs, enabling them to choose the services and functions they need, and leave out those they don’t. As the needs of a consultant change, according to their workload, package provisions can be easily increased or decreased.
This kind of flexibility is vastly different to the more traditional methods, where costly equipment and programme investment would have been required, along with the relevant expert personnel. It gives companies an ability to upsell on projects, even though they might not have adequate compute resources locally. Some of our clients use this during active projects, they will offer a DES or LES run to their client to get better accuracy on a model or offer to run additional conditions / geometries.
The modern engineer works outside the traditional 9-5, and needs access to data or project documentation around the clock. Many people have the impression that by handing data over to a cloud software provider, their control is somehow restricted. The opposite is in fact true, with access more wide open.
Being able to access data or systems from anywhere, on any device, can increase productivity, ultimately enabling engineers to meet tight deadlines and easily offer a great level of service to clients.
All project documentation can be easily stored on the cloud including project and client documents, time tracking, specific project information or colleague communications and interaction. When our engineers run a simulation on the cloud, the data persists in their account regardless of what type of software solution they launch.
Engineers regularly need to send or share large documents, whether with colleagues or clients, so the option of cloud document storage can be particularly useful.
The cloud can be particularly useful to store and access product data sheets, instruction manuals, or application specific content. This saves engineering consultants time and prevents the need for compressing files. Clients can easily upload and share any required documents with the engineer, further adding to the overall speed-up. On our cloud solver, multiple team members are able to login to the same instance and even interact with the solver interface together. Often one will suggest a boundary condition or want to view the model from a different angle, which they can easily do.
Engineers often work to tight turnaround times, so the need to collaborate more effectively with clients or colleagues is essential.
Project documents can be uploaded, updated and shared in real-time, and stakeholders can review and evaluate documents too, making decisions and changes quickly. This kind of transparency is essential in engineering, and reduces miscommunication and errors.
It's also very straight-forward to create a guest account for a client to go in and interact with the model themselves, instead of needed the software or resources on their end.
Using cloud resources is a great way to manage projects from start to finish. From the initial quotation through to time-tracking and invoicing, engineering consultants can manage projects easily in the cloud and increase the overall workflow process.
In addition, engineering consultants can easily benefit from real-time reporting on various management software, creating more accurate budgeting and project planning.
Various cloud software can help engineers to view estimated hours for a project against actual time, identify where most money is coming from, and create custom fields to create individual reports. We developed calculators to help engineers estimate the cost of simulations, which makes quoting simulation work very straightforward.
Many consultants have concerns over the security of the cloud, worried that other people may be able to gain access to their data, or that sharing sensitive information carries risk.
Of course, public clouds that share resources between different customers and use virtualisation heavily, are open to a certain level of vulnerability, from access levels through to exploitation of the virtualisation software. However, it is essential to understand that cloud software providers pride themselves in implementing the highest security measures for their clients.
In many cases, engineering consultants benefit from a higher level of security than they would have been able to implement themselves, without recruiting a large IT support team.
Cloud software providers can invest significantly to ensure their servers, data centers, and connections, are not only continually available for access, but remain secure. As an example, one of our cloud hosts, Nimbix, offers a connection method that restricts even them from accessing any of your files.
Don’t forget, cloud software providers are committed to ensuring their customers are safe, so you benefit from higher security measures at a reduced price than doing these yourself.
With data held on external servers, damage caused to your premises such as fire, flood, or technology outages will not affect your projects, meaning your business activities can continue to function. This can be a huge advantage to deadline-driven day-to-day work of engineers, and prevent adding further disaster to an already unfortunate situation.
Cloud computing costs have decreased significantly over the yearswhile the intuitiveness and security have dramatically increased. In the engineering consulting world, cash flow is king. Cloud computing gives business an ability to expand and contract resources according to their business climate and sales funnel. It is a much more accurate way of quoting projects, and removes the burden of managing physical computing infrastructure. Cloud providers are often updating their infrastructure and computing hardware every 8-10 months, meaning you utilize the best hardware available with no switchover costs. It is a great way to grow your business without investment upfront and a good way to keep cash-flow healthy.
To find out more about the background of CFD, check out our Essential Guide to CFD Simulations.