Count SGI in the bucket of venerable computer hardware companies (in this case, high-end graphics workstations) trying to remake themselves, with software playing a central role.
The company, a longtime technical computing leader often credited with putting 3D graphics workstations on the map, has purchased OpenCFD Ltd., which provides open-source computational fluid dynamics (CFD) software. OpenCFD has a large, very active user base that spans the commercial engineering, science, and public sector markets. The OpenFOAM CFD software comprises more than 80 solver and 170 utility applications. It's used for solving everything from complex fluid flows involving chemical reactions to turbulence and heat transfer problems and engineering challenges around solid dynamics and electromagnetics.
CFD is an important but still emerging segment of the computer-aided engineering and simulation segment, which is primarily dominated by a handful of small, lesser-known companies and ANSYS, the more well-known player in this space.
SGI sees CFD technology as the right fit for its focus on combining computing, storage, and third-party products into integrated technical computing platforms that can help customers solve tough problems. Software is becoming a bigger part of this equation, Franz Aman, SGI's chief marketing officer, said in an interview with Design News, and CFD software in particular is a compute-intense area, making it a perfect fit for SGI's approach.
"We are focused on technical computing, where compute-intense algorithms are used heavily," he told me. "We are not focused on running ERP and other applications that support a company's business. We are helping them do the things that are their business: envisioning the next-generation airplane, curing cancer, solving climate problems."
With the CFD market still in its infancy, SGI sees an opportunity to expand the market and encourage broader adoption, particularly in industries beyond manufacturing. In biosciences, for example, companies would leverage CFD tools to examine things like blood flow and climate conditions. Being able to provide tightly integrated software tools with high-performance computing hardware is one way to make CFD more accessible, Aman says, as is an open-source approach, which encourages partnerships with a wide community of contributors.
"Time to results -- this is what makes a huge difference at the end of the day," Aman says. "Having compute, storage, and software work well together has performance advantages -- in the CFD space, up to 35 percent -- but also makes sure customers have a complete system."
Given the collaborative nature of the open-source market, SGI sees OpenFOAM as complementary to packaged CFD tools like those from ANSYS. Because many CFD problems can't be solved with existing packages, or customers employ multiple solutions to get the right answer, open-source CFD will allow users to customize and extend the tool more like a development platform, he said. It can also be used in tandem with packaged offerings like ANSYS' CFD tools.
The entire OpenCFD team, including its leader, Henry Weller, has joined SGI. As part of the acquisition deal, SGI has established the OpenFOAM Foundation, a nonprofit organization that will work to oversee community contributions and ensure stability, structure, and resources for evolving the technology.
Users can get free downloads of OpenFOAM source code from the OpenFOAM Foundation. SGI will also offer a fee-based OpenFOAM support subscription and a fee-based OpenFOAM distribution, in addition to training and professional services.