When the Ohio Supercomputer Center was established through a state operating budget bill in 1987, it was “intended that the center be made accessible to private industry as appropriate.” Later that year, the Ohio Board of Regents created the Center “as a statewide resource designed to place Ohio’s research universities and private industry in the forefront of computational research.” Making this commitment to industry clearly understood is a challenge that Alan Chalker takes seriously as director of AweSim, OSC’s latest and most innovative industrial engagement program.
When I talk with potential commercial clients, I explain that we’re located on a university campus as a matter of convenience, but, if you look, the mandate in our charter is to provide modeling and simulation resources to researchers, both academic and commercial. When I emphasize that, I see the light bulb go on. And, many of these people respond by saying, “Oh my gosh, that’s really helpful because we’ve always thought of you like an academic center.” We’re not just sneaking in this industry stuff, we’re empowered to do this at a high standard.
What we are fundamentally doing here is providing new and novel ways to benefit from computational science. OSC OnDemand is a great example of that; instead of coming in to the computers via some sort of command line or SSH protocol, you can access it from your web browser. We’re constantly pushing the boundaries. It’s not about the specific problem we’re solving right now; it’s about facilitating the process and making it easier for people to access and use these uncommon and valuable resources.
AweSim Manufacturing Apps
Small and mid-sized manufacturers are under constant economic pressure to deliver high-quality, low-cost products. Simulation-driven design can help by supplementing their physical product prototyping with faster, less-expensive computer simulations. Based on these ideas, OSC and its partners have developed a strategy to help reduce the barriers faced by manufacturers trying to enter this market.
With the financial support of Ohio’s Third Frontier Commission and Development Services Agency, last year we launched AweSim, an innovative program to develop cloud-based manufacturing simulation applications sold through an e-commerce marketplace.
Since the launch, we’ve made very good progress developing the app kit, to the point that some of our engineering service provider partners are creating prototype apps. The app store website is up, featuring our initial apps for customers to test and utilize.
We’re also looking at a range of services, such as Software-as-a-Service, where customers who are interested in using a particular software package on our system only for a given amount of time can purchase a seat, say for two weeks.
We’ve worked a lot on the business model for AweSim and have narrowed our focus on some of the apps that we’ll be developing. We also recently completed a comprehensive market survey that reached out to more than 8,000 small and mid-sized business contacts in Ohio, and we got back in touch with 300 respondents, who helped shape our understanding of the products our customer base wants.
Our regular commercial customers are coming to us primarily for access to our hardware, because they don’t have anything like it, because what they have is saturated or because what they’re doing could impact their operating environment. They’re people who generally know modeling and simulation, but they need additional resources, typically hardware, but sometimes software or expertise.