The "democratisation of CFD" has been around for a while, and we've been simmering some thoughts on for most of this time. With the recent article on the democratisation of HPC, we thought the time was right to share our views…
First, lets be clear about the terminology. We're taking democratisation to mean freedom of access, the increased openness and accessibility of CFD, HPC, or maybe anything CAE related. The term originated since the provision of CFD capability inside CAD software (see Categories of CFD), and has grown with the wider access to open source packages and the accompanying amount of material to support their use freely available on the web, and more recently with the likes of SimScale, who package it all for you into a GUI you can drive from your web browser and do full on CFD on their public programme without spending a penny. In short, we think it's all about accessibility.
Now, the tricky part. Is it a good thing? Well, that very much depends on who you are. If you are someone interested in CFD and want learn more then the availability of relevant tools and software can only be a good thing. Having said that if you were really interested, and studied a relevant course then you would have had good access and exposure in that environment, which may have carried over to working somewhere in the field, with either a research or commercial focus. So probably not a really big deal for these folk. Our perception of the use of this term in the media is that the increased accessibility is a good thing for those who haven't studied or already focused in someway. There's an important maybe here.
Let's think about how you shouldn't take advantage of the accessibility unless you're starting with a base level of competence in the field. In a similar vein, over the past years there has been a "democratisation of poker" where you can now go and play at pub in arranged leagues and also very easily online. If you just want to log on, learn a bit, set yourself a sensible budget and have some fun, then great. If you need to make some money, but don't know your flush from your full house then rocking up with a bunch of money isn't going to end well. Ok, so the analogy is a little light hearted but the point holds - if you need some particular information from CFD, don't have a good base competence then being able to "easily" do a CFD simulation is nothing but very risky.
HPC has undergone a similar journey, with access to serious compute power now readily available on a pay per use basis. On Engineering.com, they discuss the cost benefits of this approach in terms of commercial software use, with the move to using on demand cloud CPU hours offering decent cost reductions in the example of HPC strategy. For us the real gain here is when the access to HPC is coupled with open source tools with the latter taking the license costs out of the equation. Of course other costs pop in, like time from folk like us to help you get what you need form the open source toolset, but this will always be less (in our case) and provide a more flexible and responsive capability. OK, we're drifting off topic a little here - getting back on course, for us the real value of the openness and availability of CFD and HPC isn't so much that it's more democratised, rather that whatever level of complexity of your simulation needs, it's now more cost effective than it was before, easier to extend the complexity and faster to assess more designs, all with less hardware and logistics overhead.
So, if you want to take advantage of the lower cost base or extending your simulation capability, don't go all in on 7-2 off suit - get in touch and we'll help you realise the potential.