Now you can simulate your world for (relatively) cheap in the cloud

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What if high-end simulation software that used to cost up to $100,000 per year now cost a fraction of that and was actually more functional? What types of new products or techniques might arise from the ability to simulate, on the cheap, the flow of water through a system or stress-test new machines? Computer-aided design specialist Autodesk wants to find out, and has taken its simulation software to the cloud in a new offering called Simulation 360.

Autodesk has actually been moving various products and services to the cloud in some form for a few years, but the new product is different, said Grant Rochelle, the company’s senior director of manufacturing industry marketing. Most importantly, it’s cheap. Rochelle said traditional simulation software can cost between $20,000 and $100,000 per user per year, and that’s not to mention the high-performance systems necessary to run it. Many employees who need it don’t get it, and many companies are shut out from purchasing it altogether.

Simulation 360, on the other hand, costs mere thousands. For $3,200 a year, users can run a total of 120 jobs. For $7,200, they get unlimited access. For a limited time, actually, unlimited use is free. And rather than needing separate products for mechanical, fluid and thermal simulation, they’re all included in the new cloud offering.

Rochelle said the goal of Simulation 360 isn’t to move big-money customers such as large aerospace companies or defense contractors to the cloud service (“they will be the last bastion of adopting cloud for most things,” he said), but to attract entirely new users building innovative new products or doing interesting work. One customer, for example, is working to make hospital operating rooms as clean as the rooms in which microprocessors are fabricated. It’s simulating the spread of airborne germs through a hospital to prevent certain illnesses that patients contract while receiving treatment for something else.

Another customer, BioLite, has developed a product that turns the excess heat from a fire into electricity so, for example, campers or individuals in third-world countries can ensure their portable electronics are always charged. Rochelle noted that green building and heating and cooling, generally, are areas where the new cloud offering looks to open up a lot of new doors.

However, while offering this technology as a cloud service might be new, the value story is as old as cloud computing itself. Give innovators without huge IT budgets access to resources at a price point never before possible and see what happens. Maybe it’s Instagram, maybe it’s a new approach to climate modeling, maybe it’s a revolution in energy-efficient HVAC systems, but chances are we’re better off because of it.

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