Changing the Dynamics in Healthcare Research with Ansys Software

Scientific breakthroughs in healthcare are increasing daily. However, the costs of new drugs and devices are prohibitive and making them available can take years before they are approved by authorities such as the FDA. Traditionally, to gain approval for a new healthcare drug or device, it had to undergo comprehensive testing in three disciplines; bench tests (in vitro), animal tests (in vivo) and finally, clinical trials (in situ). This process can take a decade before a new drug or device is regarded as effective and safe enough to be brought to market. What is more, a large number of new products fail 90% of the way through the journey.

The development of scientific software applications that can assist in and accelerate the process is bringing a new dynamic, helping to bring down costs while reducing the risk of failure of a drug or device. Simulation software provides a new means of testing any prototype healthcare device, and is becoming increasingly important in biomechanical research and is commonly referred to as in silico testing, referring to the silicon chips that are integral to any computer. Software vendors such as Ansys have collaborated in integrating their software in healthcare modelling and simulation, assisting in breakthroughs in healthcare device development.

Accommodating the New Market

Traditionally, software such as Ansys was developed for the engineering industry and is known as computer-assisted engineering (CAE). While CAE software that can perform functions such as finite element analysis (FEA) and computational flow dynamics (CFD) is what is needed for in silico testing, healthcare researchers are generally untrained in these disciplines, especially in the pharmaceutical industry. Ansys themselves speak of the need to “democratize” their software tools, making them accessible to all, not just the few researchers with the necessary training in mathematics and engineering. They have already made inroads on providing a product that can be used by anyone in healthcare. Surgeons can use simulation before an operation to assess the effect of a particular approach on a patient. Sales and marketing can demonstrate how a product functions via simulations. Even executives can use a simulation model to secure funding from potential investors.

Ansys has collated a portfolio of case studies where the use of their products has brought benefits to healthcare organizations, primarily via reduced costs and shorter timeframes as well as risk reduction. The ability to show a simulation as opposed to describing it has an impact all along the value chain:-

  • investors can visualize what the innovation does
  • regulatory authorities get a clear view of how the product works
  • potential customers, such as doctors and hospitals, are likely to adopt the new product from a demonstration
  • insurers are presented with visual evidence to help them make a decision about a patient procedure and how likely it is to succeed.

From Cardiac Interventions to Better Pills

  • Heart Disease. The medical world is focused on combatting cardiovascular disease, because it is the leading cause of death globally, according to the WHO. The traditional procedure of open-heart surgery is steadily being replaced by less invasive remedies, such as inserting a stent to regulate blood flow. CFD is invaluable in this field, from making more accurate diagnosis of the state of a patient’s arteries to manufacturing new stents that work more effectively than current models.
  • Pulmonary Applications. New drugs can cost as much as $1-billion to develop, and those for respiratory diseases are the most expensive, because of the difficulty of testing the drug’s effectiveness in the field. Researchers are turning to CFD to simulate the movement of air through the respiratory passages. In silico simulation can reduce the cost of development by as much as 30% and halve the time to complete the testing.
  • Dietary Supplements. It goes without saying that if a pill is too large and difficult to swallow, it will not be marketable. The ideal shape is as round as possible, but this affects the hardness of the pill, which in turn compromises the machinery punching out the pill and reduces the lifetime of the parts. Asahi in Japan have expanded their product range from brewing beer to providing dietary supplements. They used Ansys Mechanical to come up with a solution that saved them hundreds of thousands of dollars.

There are many more examples of the use of simulation in healthcare available on the Ansys website, but these few give an idea of the diversity of applications that can benefit from CAE.

So How Does this Affect the License Administrator?

Up to now, CAE software has been used by specialists and experts, even in engineering, so there are usually only a few simulation software applications on site. Now that Ansys is “democratizing” its product and making it accessible to people who are not skilled in modelling and simulation, the need for the product across the organization will increase, and so will the number of licenses required. Ansys provides FlexLM as a license manager, as do most of their competitors, notably Comsol and Dassault. While FlexLM reports salient information on license usage, it is for the benefit of the vendor, rather than the customer.

This is where OpenLM can play an important role, as it can provide all the control and visibility required to manage other licenses, such as MatLab, as well as Ansys, through a single graphical interface (GUI). What is more, OpenLM’s core product can manage licenses for Nvidia GPUs (graphical processing units), which are being used by more and more organizations running simulation software, because of the reduction in time taken to process the information. Ansys has cooperated with Nvidia to make their software very scalable, for instance, for performing simulations, Ansys Mechanical can scale up to 1 000 cores as opposed to the industry standard of 100 cores, and can solve up to 2 billion DOF (degrees of freedom). Ansys’ CFD tool, Fluent, can scale up to 129 000 cores.

OpenLM can also manage the Ansys “pay-as-you-go” licensing model, the “Elastic License”. This license can be used as a supplement to the regular Ansys agreement. It allows the customer to “top-up” where required, for instance, where there is a peak demand for a new project. It is a much more customer-friendly license model, in that it has reporting that supports departmental and project chargebacks.

Where Ansys is leading currently, its competitors will surely follow suit. In a few years time, it is likely that specialized and rare CAE software will no longer be used by only a handful of finite element specialists, but by resources across the organization. Managing software such as the Ansys Workbench is just as easy as managing Autodesk products with OpenLM, as well as the GPUs required for the necessary processing power. One of our consultants can advise you on your unique situation.

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The Ansys Licensing Landscape

Customers of Ansys, renowned for their computer-assisted engineering (CAE) software have always had the option of perpetual (Ansys term is “paid-up”) or subscription (“leased”) licenses for their products. Recent developments have resulted in a third license option, the “elastic license”. This license acknowledges two changes:-

  • the rise of cloud computing
  • a drive to make Ansys products accessible to as many users as possible, not just specialist engineers and scientists.

In light of the drive by some other vendors to move users to subscription licensing and discontinue perpetual licenses, Ansys has a refreshing and customer-centric approach to licensing. As the leading software company in CAE software used for finite element analysis (FEA), computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and other simulation applications, they are making their products easier to use and understand by non-specialists. This is analogous to the growing market in data discovery tools, where any user can analyse big data and produce business intelligence, without being a business analyst or a data scientist. Making Ansys products widely accessible will grow their user base at most organizations. Some companies have already taken this route, and their sales and marketing teams carry laptops with simulation demos loaded to show products to potential customers.

Flexible and Versatile Licensing

The Ansys licensing model supports their strategy; if you want the maximum number of users to need your software, you do not want them to be hampered by denials and license shortages. So licenses are made as accessible as possible for all scenarios, from on-site servers with a perpetual license pool to short-term users and cloud users. With very few restrictions, licenses can be used across platforms and during peak demand periods.

How does the Elastic License Work?

An elastic license is purchased an advance in units required, and when software is booked out it consumes a pre-defined number of units per hour. This provides a back-up of additional licenses when required, the only drawback being that the units expire at the end of the year, so the estimation of units required needs to be done carefully. Users of Autodesk Token-flex will be familiar with this license model, however there are some differences.

  • Elastic licenses are only used where there is no traditional license remaining to be used on the relevant license server, the traditional license are consumed first.
  • Because of the specific nature of simulation work, which requires business continuity, Ansys makes provision for the situation where the customer runs out of units during a simulation process. It is possible to sign up for a post-paid option to avoid a job being cancelled in midstream.
  • The license management of elastic licenses is customer-friendly and has reporting that helps optimize these licenses, such as departmental chargebacks.

Traditional on-site User Community

Existing customers would have one or more license servers set up on-site with a pool of concurrent licenses and possibly some subscription licenses for superusers. The main challenge of the license administrator is to have the maximum number of users who have access with the minimum number of licenses. This can be difficult to predict and is obviously dependent on the volume of work coming in. The Elastic License assists customers in the following cases:-

  • short-term peak demands that are beyond the capacity of the existing license pool, which has been optimised to cope with the normal workload.
  • where there is uncertainty as to which products are needed and how many licences are required, for instance, there may be a job requirement for Ansys Maxwell for electromagnetic field simulations and the company has no Maxwell licenses.
  • Where some short-term work needs to be done anywhere globally

Short-Term Use

It might be beneficial to use elastic licensing for short-term needs, such as a project at a remote site, where an annual license agreement would not be suitable. It could also be useful where one of the tools in the Ansys workbench is not used at present and more than a trial period is needed to decide whether the tool needs to be added to the company’s portfolio. Similarly, where a tool such as CFD is used very occasionally, it would be better to use elastic licensing for the times it is needed.

Working in the Cloud

Unlike most companies, who have a separate business model for cloud users, Ansys allows use of existing licenses to access the cloud. This applies to both concurrent and leased licenses. The only requirement is that the on-site server must be accessible via the company firewall to allow license access. There is an alternative where a license server is set up in the cloud. In this case, the licenses on that server are used exclusively in the cloud and no changes have to be made to the firewall. The Elastic license was designed for Cloud users, but the customer can use all three license models in whichever way best meets their individual needs.

How OpenLM can Assist

With the release of Ansys 18, the vendor has provided the customer with some useful reporting on license usage, such as denials and usage/cost attribution. It is not as comprehensive nor as customizable as OpenLM’s core offering, but is a refreshing change in the vendor/customer relationship, where it is acknowledged that the customer requires visibility on what is happening with their licenses, and the FlexLM logfile is interrogated o produce these reports.

However, most companies using Ansys products will also be using other software such as Autodesk, and OpenLM provides a single source to manage most or all of the tools used. In addition, OpenLM can manage Nvidia GPU licenses. While Nvidia provides a license manger, it has no reporting, which is why an OpenLM customer requested that OpenLM build the capability to manage Nvidia GPUs. It is highly unlikely that any company that runs simulations does not have a fleet of Nvidia GPUs to help in the number-crunching, so this is a handy addition to the extensive portfolio of software vendors managed. Feel free to contact us to help you with your specialized software license management.

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Good News for High-Performance Computer Users

The development of a virtual GPU (vGPU) by Nvidia has enabled many organizations to recalibrate the productivity of their installation to a high-performance model, using GPUs instead of CPUs for processes and applications that require large computational power. It has also added another license manager to the toolbox of license applications the company has to administer. Following a customer request, OpenLM has developed a solution for managing GPU licenses. 

GPU license management is essential for compliance especially in VDI environments

Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) are becoming very popular as an alternative for CPU processing, especially for the heavy computational work required in engineering and science. Running simulations using graphics processing can give a processing improvement; a user of Ansys Fluent can accelerate his computation to be at least twice as fast up to 3.7 times faster, depending on the class of GPU used. The leading supplier of GPUs is Nvidia, which has 49% of the market; what was originally designed as an aid to gaming and desktop graphics is now an indispensable aid to engineering applications, such as CAE (computer-aided engineering). There is even a trend towards using GPUs for standard office productivity, like Windows 10, which requires 30% to 50% more graphics processing power, depending on whether one is working at operational or applications level.

Typical situations where high-performance computing is needed are:

  • architects, designers and engineers who use CAD, CAE and CAM software
  • “Miners” of cryptocurrency who utilize extensive processing power to solve their blockchain algorithms
  • researchers who use AI and machine learning for new discoveries in healthcare, automotive and robotic design and other disciplines
  • and even regular users of widely used software like Windows, Office and Adobe, which require increased  graphics capability with each new release

What many CIOs are also doing is moving to a VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure) architecture. Instead of upgrading or replacing desktops and laptops on a regular basis to increase the processing capability, upgrades are made to the VDI, which is where the processing occurs; the user just accesses the application they want using their own device and the VDI executes the processing and holds the data. This adds a new level of security, if a user’s phone, tablet or laptop is stolen, the thief cannot access anything of value to the company. Vital company information is centralised and secure and cannot be left on a bus or in a taxi by accident. Theft of the device does not give the thief any vital information, because it is all kept on premises. Using a VDI also obviously saves on the capex budget, because less hardware has to be bought. However, the use of GPUs adds another set of software licenses that have to be managed.

There are two types of VDI setup, which have much in common with conventional software licenses, persistent and non-persistent VDIs:

  • A persistent VDI is a “desktop” in the cloud service that is linked to a specific user, similar to a named user software license.
  • A non-persistent VDI is a “floating” desktop”. The user accesses the desktop, applies it to the task at hand and returns it to the “pool” making it available to the next resource. This is similar to a concurrent user software license, which is not tied to any particular user.

While managing licenses for a “named” user is straightforward, as it works on a one-to-one relationship between user and VDI, the non-persistent VDI is more complex, because any user can access the VDI and release it for use by another user. Another licensing consideration relates to complex simulations and calculations where multiple parallel processors are used, such as Simulia’s Abaqus. In order to ensure license compliance, Nvidia provides a license manager application, but one of our customers requested a better solution.

The customer, a seasoned user of OpenLM software, had been using the product to monitor the specialized software that it uses to perform simulations and complex mathematical calculations. They conduct research on products and innovations for a wide range of industries and are reliant on GPUs and high-performance computing to execute their work.  The benefit of using OpenLM for them was that they could bypass all the different license managers from the various vendors and use a single product for managing access to licenses and optimizing performance and productivity. They wanted the convenience of managing their Nvidia licenses without having to use another license manager tool, as well as ensuring that they were compliant with their license agreement at all times.

The OpenLM development team studied what was required and came up with the desired solution within a few weeks. As our customers are mainly in engineering, science and tech, most of them either already use GPUs or are in the process of making the switch.  We are happy to announce that we can now assist them in monitoring their GPU usage and compliance alongside their license administration of their spatial, mathematical and engineering software. While the Nvidia licenses are relatively cheap when compared to a product like Dassault’s Catia or even AutoCAD, companies that perform extensive calculations, or are involved in AI can have thousands of GPU licenses, which puts manual management out of the question. Even a customer that has only a small investment in GPUs can benefit, because they are using a common license manager for all the software products that they need to administer.

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