Written by on Thursday May 22nd 2014 in Resources, Simulation Explained, Technical Corner

Why Cloud is good for Simulation, and microbreweries!

We are doing loads of exciting “cloud” related things at SIMUL8 right now.

What does Cloud mean? Well, when you look what’s behind the buzzword you realize we have been doing some of it for many years – it just means making use of computing power that is somewhere out on the internet and you neither care where it is or who uses the power at times when you don’t need it.

Put simply it’s a shared resource that’s available when you need it from wherever you happen to be.

It’s great for simulation for several reasons:

1. Results: Many of us use a few idle machines around the office when we want to do many simulation runs, but now with the cloud “a few idle machines” means “an unlimited number of machines” so, for a few cents, we can temporarily use in parallel as many machines as we need to do all our runs at the same time.

This does not just mean rapid results, and potentially more accurate results, it also means we can try many more ideas.

Academic studies have shown that users who more rapidly see the impact of their idea will be more inspired to generate ideas and the ideas generated will be better. So with cloud you not only get faster results, but better results too.

2. It’s easy to distribute simulations: Our free “Viewer” has been around for over a decade but it still means installing something on the end user’s computer and that’s becoming more and more restricted by IT departments.

The cloud gets around this. YouSIMUL8.com is a simulation viewer in the cloud – nothing to install on the end user’s computer – just point them to your uploaded simulation like you might point them to a YouTube video. They can run the simulation, change parameters that you have made available, re-run the simulation etc.

3. Automated experimentation: Your simulation is built and you start using it for experimentation, you have been working on this all afternoon and you have tomorrow to do some more runs and write a report before a presentation on Friday. You arrive back in office Thursday morning and there are some new charts on your screen when you login. Wow – you can see the optimal number of each resource to hit the SLA!

What has happened is the initial experiments have sensed the variables you have been changing and SIMUL8 has seen there are spare (and so very low cost) CPUs available during the night out on the cloud (machines a bank uses during the day) so your simulation has been run thousands of times to find the relationship between the things you can change and the objective you want to achieve. All automatically (you had switched on permission for this).

Some very low cost capacity is available out on the cloud which can be used for intensive processing at very low marginal cost, suddenly making it possible to perform many more simulation experiments than was ever feasible in the past and so automatically drilling deeply into the multivariate relationships between inputs and outputs in your model.

Even when automated relationship searches are not useful a similar cloud based process can be used for sensitivity analysis on the assumptions in your simulation – those distributions you used for journey times, where you assumed the new freeway was going to reduce times by 15% – how much impact on your results do those distributions have?

Connected to the cloud, and with your permission, SIMUL8 can use low cost cloud resources (when available) to find out while you are getting on with something more important.

4. Making simulation more accessible to everyone: Every classic case of simulation success is in large organizations – sometimes small parts of large organizations, but nevertheless large organizations. Almost no one in small or medium enterprises (or non-profits) makes use of simulation because of perceived license cost and because of perceived time to create the simulation model.

We are currently part of a huge collaborative project to get simulation better used in smaller organizations. This project is using the cloud to create innovative licensing methods (free right now!) and web based templates for key common problems in certain small enterprises – so far we have ones in prototype for micro-breweries and cutting-tool manufacturers (the people who make the tools that cut everything from leather for handbags to fine card for pop-up greetings cards.) But there will be many more.

If you want to suggest a template you need, or get involved as a Small or Medium Enterprise get in touch.

Some reflections

Of course there is nothing much new in any of this, it has all been possible for years, it just didn’t use the Cloud buzzword. How was I running simulations 35 years ago? On a shared IBM360, in an unknown distant location, paying a “time-sharing” cost that varied by time of day. . .

The cloud industry is still quite new. For simulation to leverage the full benefits some cloud CPU providers need to get more innovative in the way they price (for example some sell a minimum of 1 hour on each machine – which we find too large a chunk for the majority of simulation single runs – which are ideal, with many machines running in parallel). It’s also why we’re expanding our range of cloud services so we can give you the best cloud setup to meet simulation your key needs.

If you’d like to find out more about the collaborative cloud project we are working on, or about SIMUL8’s cloud offerings then get in touch!