Ship and offshore structural engineering and project-collaboration in the cloud
In DNV GL we are used to work with most kinds of structures both in the design phase, as well as in the operational and decommissioning phase. Operators and contractors are investing a lot into the structures. It is crucial to keep an eye on the structural integrity, keep track on changes and safely extend the service life when needed. There are still thousands of offshore structures in operation world-wide and with soaring oil prices and less investments, it is more focus on the operating expenses rather than building new structures . At the same time, investments in transitional water (30-60 meter depth) and deep-water (>60 meter depth) offshore wind turbines are increasing.
These factors are the main rationale behind our focus on “digital asset eco-systems”. We want to make it easy and efficient to design, collaborate, analyse, repair and re-design any type of marine structure. One way to achieve this is to change the way we are developing our software-products. As in many production lines, there are pros and cons with the different types of development methods and delivery models for software. These days many software products are migrating from typical “on premise” (Windows Desktop) offerings to a web/cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) approach. Cloud-enablement, SaaS and being data smart are core parts of the DNV GL Software strategy and in this blog post I will try to explain it in an easy way. I will also explain some of the customer benefits and added value of migrating legacy desktop products into the cloud.
Background for migrating from desktop to web/cloud
The main reason why many software providers are delivering desktop-applications, is (or was) the possibility to provide a rich user experience and benefit from the local storage, memory-size and compute power you find on most laptops or desktop computers nowadays. Just a few years ago, it was challenging to deliver “design and engineering” type of user experiences in a web-solution. For instance, advanced features such as 3D-modelling was only possible to achieve with specific web browsers and use of “plug-ins” (components you had to install locally). In addition, you could end up with both storage and performance issues running solutions on a hosted web-server somewhere in the world.
The “cloud” and newer web-technologies have more or less removed all these concerns for us now. We have been gaining a lot of experience with cloud-providers like Microsoft, Amazon and Google for the past year and our momentum on migrating Sesam towards a cloud/SaaS delivery model is significant.
The pictures below shows our latest developer-version of our Structure Ecosystem running on the new Microsoft 84″ Surface Hub. This is an amazing device with embedded Windows 10, touch-interface, speakers, video, built-in support for Skype and Office 365. Such devices combined with modern cloud-solutions provide a whole range of opportunities to work more efficiently, interact with the software (touch or talk) and collaborate across continents and companies.
In the current use case, we are uploading engineering/analysis models and result sets that are prepared in our desktop solutions (Sesam GeniE, Sestra, Framework and so on). The models are stored in a secure cloud-storage and protected by industry standard identification and authentication technology. In case you want to read more about security concerns, you might have a look at the Microsoft Azure Trust Center web-site.
Benefits with software-as-a-service versus a desktop-solution
- Easier collaboration by sharing links and access rights. No need to upload/download while sharing.
- Improved user experience by new ways to interact with the software
- Cross-platform support. The solution is “device-agnostic”, i.e. it will work on any web-browser and any type of connected device like smart phones, tablets or computers
- Frequent updates of software and reduced time to benefit. Possibility to deploy trial-features to a subset of users for a quick feedback loop.
- More flexible and scalable licensing/subscription model. Pay per use.
- Elastic scalability with regards to storage and compute.
- Easier to interface with other types of relevant solutions within the CAD/CAE-domain
- Provide access to APIs (interfaces) and let end-users connect directly to our services rather than using our front-ends (graphical user interfaces). Partners can develop extensions and we could potentially offer a “Sesam-store” and a community around
- Improved security. Your data will be safe (it is not necessarily safe when it is saved on a local diskdrive)
- Possible to deploy to various data centres world-wide due to legislations or other concerns
Desktop-solution: A product that is downloaded and installed locally on your computer
Web-solution: A solution that is “hosted” on one or several web-servers. It has a front-end, i.e. a graphical user interface and a back-end, for instance a database and some business logic. You typically log in and get access to features depending on your role/authorities.
Cloud-solution: More or less the same as a web-solution, but it is “hosted” in a datacentre somewhere in the world. The cloud is normally about hyperscale computing, so the solution might be hosted on a specific geographic datacentre (in USA, Germany, China, wherever). Most cloud datacentres run commodity hardware at scale, so as a user or software provider you have “unlimited” access to storage, virtual machines and compute resources.
Hybrid-cloud: A mix of online web-solutions and desktop-clients that you download. It might also be a mix of own datacentres (private clouds) or public datacentres (Microsoft Azure or similar).
Deployment pipeline: Software programs that are compiled, automatically tested and deployed to a cloud-service so that you can start using it as soon as it is ready
Continuous delivery: A software engineering approach in which teams produce software in short cycles, ensuring that the software can be reliably released at any time
DevOps: Developers + Operators = “One team”. A term used to refer to a set of practices that emphasize the collaboration and communication of both software developers and information technology professionals while automating the process of software delivery, infrastructure changes and deployment
Moving forward on our Structure Ecosystem
The focus right now is to deliver a user-friendly 3D viewer where you can look at the engineering models, capacity models, finite elements, code-check results and so on. This will be combined with a “mapping”-feature so that you can compare models coming from various stages of the lifecycle of a typical structural model. In the Sesam-world, we are focusing on asset types like fixed or floating offshore structures, ships or offshore wind turbine foundations. We are already working hard on high performance compute solutions, so that you can do the heavy computes directly in the cloud rather than on a local computer. This will reduce the need of uploading large result-sets to and from the cloud-service. In addition we have a cooperation with the Norwegian software company Ceetron on more advanced 3D visualisation technology.