Altair Engineering – Platforms for Innovation


One of the primary advantages to this business model is the unit price based on leveraged units. For example, while the capabilities in each HyperWorks release are significantly increased, the real price does not really rise. The economy of scale with this business model is really evident for so-called “casual users,” who don’t have to pay extra fees for multi-CPU applications, such as batch meshers or solvers.

So, isn’t this business model “cloud computing?” According to Altair, no, because it currently employs software only, but the company does have a vision for cloud computing.

Atair’s Compute Cloud
Cloud computing has become this year’s most over-used and over-hyped technology that is “the next big thing.” While a number of companies talk about it, relatively few have actually implemented it, much less made a compelling business case for it.
Knowing that as much as 85% of computing capacity sits idle, and on average, 70% of IT budgets are spent on maintaining current IT infrastructures, Altair is entering the computing cloud realm prudently.

Altair’s compute cloud plan calls for using purchased units to leverage hardware as well as software with scalability on the hardware resource and software application sides. The compute cloud will create access to on-demand hardware services and software stack (currently configured to run the HyperWorks stack), and is especially appropriate for high-end, CPU-intensive applications because it balances hardware availability and demand.

Ravi Kunju, regional managing director of enterprise computing and analytics who heads up Altair’s compute cloud program said that ultimately, the company’s compute cloud will address issues beyond computing to include software, services, infrastructure, etc.
So, how does it work? “With five basic steps,” Mr. Kunju said. “An authorized user submits a job though Altair’s PBS Catalyst (desktop job submission and management portal); the Altair cloud verifies the user’s license units; the compute workload is then automatically scheduled and executed across the compute cloud using Altair’s PBS Professional workload management technology and notifies the user upon completion; results are visualized in the cloud; and the user downloads results data for further analysis.”

Altair’s cloud center facility contains state of the art hardware and security that requires fingerprint and iris scans to enter and exit the facility.

Currently, Altair has one compute cloud customer (whom the company asked to remain anonymous), but Altair did run its CAD2CRASH24 program with its compute cloud. See MCADCafe Weekly for May 10, 2010 for details on the CAD2CRASH24 program.

Mr. Scapa said that Altair’s compute cloud is still regarded as experimental, but would like to ramp up to approximately 15 customers to prove its feasibility on a larger scale before the end of this year. “For us, the compute cloud is still a question,” he said. “It could be successful, but technical and business challenges remain to be overcome.”

The compute cloud is the next logical step for Altair’s infrastructure as the company tweaks the technology and business models for larger scale availability.

Altair’s Product Development Ventures
Altair is not just about software, the company also provides product development services globally and has a couple major internal product development programs it is working on, largely in the interest of sustainability. The company actually regards sustainability as an extension of optimization.

First is ilumisys, an Altair company focused on solid-state lighting technology. The company was formed in 2007 as a spinoff venture and wholly owned subsidiary of Altair Engineering, Inc. with initial products based on Altair’s intellectual property for directly replacing fluorescent light tubes with light-emitting diode (LED) lamps. The genesis of Altair’s dive into solid state lighting hails from a patent submitted in the late 1990’s following an internal market research study in the transportation sector. At the time, LED technology lacked the lumen performance and was cost-prohibitive to compete against fluorescent and incandescent lighting. Today, that’s all changed and with the heightened public and corporate awareness around sustainability, Altair stands poised to capitalize on this blue-sky intellectual property investment.

Altair admits that the LED lighting market is a dynamic and confused landscape of quick start-ups, and importers. Altair is also aware that the market is currently flooded with poorly executed, similar looking LED products, that fail to meet the hyped-up product claims. However, the movement towards LED lighting continues to outpace expectations and ilumisys plays an active thought-leadership role together with its partners and channel. ilumisys develops and manufactures highly engineered LED fluorescent tube replacements, with three patents already awarded and 55+ pending, that take full advantage of the latest advancements in LED technology.

The second product development venture is BUSolutions, a collaborative effort between public and private entities to research, develop, and commercialize advanced transit bus systems that are significantly more fuel efficient, have lower operating and maintenance costs, are competitively priced, and can operate without updating the infrastructure of existing transit authorities.

By incorporating the needs of the drivers and riders, while addressing America's energy and emissions challenges, the proposed bus will employ an advanced Series Hydraulic Hybrid (SHH) power unit, be lighter and shorter than current designs, but also seat additional passengers that will translate into significantly improved fuel economy. The new bus is designed to have a lower total cost of ownership including reduced fuel consumption; reduced wear on city streets and regional roadways; reduced brake, tire and component wear; less noise and pollution; and can operate without updating the infrastructure of existing transit authorities.

The BUSolutions program includes several partner/sponsor companies that are incorporating state-of-the-art components and technologies for transportation. Program sponsors include Arvin Meritor, Parker, Sundyne, PRAN, Sika Corporation, Mertior WABCO, Alcoa Howmet, Carrier Corporation, LAAD Industries, Pretoria Transit Interiors, Shaw Development, USSC Group, and Williams Controls.

Once the build of the first technology demonstrator bus is complete, Altair will conduct testing to validate the reductions in fuel, maintenance and lifetime-operation costs. Any necessary improvements will be incorporated so the design is production ready, ensuring a smooth transition of the program into a commercialization phase. The program plan calls for a drivable fuel economy demonstrator by Q3 2010 after which the production prototype will be completed and production ramp up plans executed.

Some of the vehicle’s innovations include:
•        Hydraulic Hybrid Technology with three unique modes of operation that reduce fuel consumption
o        Brake energy recovery
o        Optimized engine control
o        Engine-off strategy
•        Powertrain Cooling - high capacity, low maintenance cooling system incorporating industry first "Cool Air Corridor" design
•        Compact high-efficiency air filter - easy access, compact size and longer lasting
•        Compressed air tanks for pneumatic brake and accessory needs
•        Engineered to take full advantage of the inherent benefits of aluminum makes it the lightest bus in the industry
•        Super single wide base tires
•        Increased driver visibility and improved driver’s area features
•        System-level designed for low cost of ownership
•        Increased seating capacity with more forward facing seats
•        Light weight thin profile seats - with light weight stanchions
•        Light weight flooring material
•        Engineered for ease of maintenance, longer life cycles, and reduced noise levels
•        Lower accessory power draw

Putting It All Together
Altair Engineering has several software and service components that fit together nicely and work cohesively. There are few companies in any industry with the breadth and depth of Altair, much less the engineering sector. The key to Altair’s technical and business success, though, is the people it attracts, supports, and retains – both employees and customers. It’s the people who truly provide the platforms of innovation for Altair Engineering.

During the course of writing this article, I have developed an appreciation of the technologies Altair has developed, as well as the company itself and the way it does business.

As driven as Altair Engineering is for innovation, Mr. Scapa summed up things by saying that it must come from the business side as well as the technology side. “We continue to focus on IP-based businesses and encourage risk taking and innovation from everyone who works with us. We focus on what our people are good at and will succeed while encouraging perpetual change and reinvention.”

For more information: www.altair.com

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