Home / high performance computing / Pay-Per-Core FEA Licensing: Fair or Unfair? Altair Engineering Weighs In

Pay-Per-Core FEA Licensing: Fair or Unfair? Altair Engineering Weighs In

Jeff Brennan, chief marketing officer, Altair Engineering, weighs in on pay-per-core FEA licensing.

Jeff Brennan, chief marketing officer, Altair Engineering, weighs in on pay-per-core FEA licensing.

One of the consequences of multicore computing is the introduction of per-core licensing. This is true especially in the analysis market, where the number of cores you designate to a problem can dramatically shorten the turnaround time or increase the quality of the results. Software makers judge — correctly, I might add — that the benefits are significant enough to entice users to pay more for the right to use additional cores. Hence, the birth of pay-per-core licensing. (This, of course, is just a summary of the complicated issue around core-based licensing, which encompasses many different variations.)

I’ve heard grumblings among FEA and CFD users. They feel the gain comes from the additional hardware they are paying for (by adding more processors to the server or by upgrading their dual-core workstations to quad-core ones). So they ask: Why should we shell out more for using the same software on the more powerful hardware we acquired? The counterargument from software developers is, it takes considerable time and effort to enable parallel processing in the software, so users who want that added boost should pay more.

The compromise, it seems, is to come up with alternative licensing schemes that both parties — users and software developers — find acceptable. Software makers are acutely aware of the resentment generated by the pay-per-core practice. Some are exploring pay-per-usage licensing; others are experimenting with token systems.

Jeff Brennan, Altair Engineering‘s chief marketing officer, reflected, “[per-core] licensing grew over time. It began in the 80s and early 90s when supercomputers came on. There was a need for software developers to create special versions for those exotic hardware … In the 90s, it wasn’t even uncommon for hardware vendors to even compensate software vendors for producing these [software] versions, the associated efforts in quality assurance, testing, maintenance, and etc.”

Brennan acknowledged some users’ dissatisfaction with this licensing model, but pointed out, “There is some effort required in software development to not just architect [the product] for scalability … but [doing so] without sacrificing accuracy.”

In 2007, Altair launched an on-demand licensing model for its PBS Professional suite. It was described by the company as “a single on-demand computing environment” where users “only pay for what they use, where customers can enable their entire infrastructure but only pay for concurrent usage of licenses” and they can “dynamically float [licenses] across enterprise computing resources, even geographically separate systems …”

Brannan said, “With our licensing model, the added cost for multiple cores is by no means linear [ a licensing cost multiplied by the number of cores used]. It decays quite rapidly as you increase the number of cores.” In Altair’s licensing model, Brannan explained, “You draw licenses, or tokens, from a central pool only when you’re using the product. You deposit them back when you’re done.”

In 2003, Altair Engineering acquired Veridian’s PBS technology (which stands for portable batch system). The product lives on as Altair’s PBS Works, a job scheduling system for submitting, tracking, and monitoring computing tasks. The company plans to launch a service called HyperWorks On Demand, which lets its users remotely borrow Altair’s hardware resources (in other words, additional computing cores, available via cloud-hosted setup) for jobs that demand more than what’s available internally.

For more on Brennan’s thoughts and on Altiar’s licensing model, listen to the complete podcast below:

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About Kenneth

Kenneth Wong has been a regular contributor to the CAD industry press since 2000, first an an editor, later as a columnist and freelance writer for various publications. During his nine-year tenure, he has closely followed the migration from 2D to 3D, the growth of PLM (product lifecycle management), and the impact of globalization on manufacturing. His writings have appeared in Cadalyst, Computer Graphics World, and Manufacturing Business Technology, among others.


  1. OK let us look at yet another cloud scheme with window dressing on it to make it seem palatable. I am going to use SE which I own and am familiar with as my basis for criticism. At this time with say a Dell 7500 workstation I can have two six core cpus which totals 12 cores. I do not have to pay one extra cent for the use of the extra 11 cores in either CAD or FEA if I choose to do so. I know of other users who have raid arrays that work just fine too and the only thing is that the software is registered against one hard drive and what is downstream as far as I can see is not relevant.
    The way to sort out these companies that are looking for justification to dig deep into your pocket with cloud stuff is to not buy from them. Rent time from a server farm that runs a seat of FEA? Sure why not if you need to. Be held hostage because of advances in personal computing technology, I don’t think so. There is enough choice out there right now that the only reason for the vast majority of these cloud schemes to succeed would be the hold legacy files and retraining costs have on existing customers.
    This whole multicore charge is so bogus it is not even funny. With SE I can have more than one file open at a time but I can’t work on more than one at a time so it is not like I can hire 11 additional users who will all be working on different files at the same. Software allready limits user count quite well and the idea of charge per core is specious by those who promote it.

  2. Pay per core and cloud computing? Sounds like the old client-server paradigm rising from the grave again. Remember thin-client computing? Everyone had just a keyboard and monitor. All the heavy lifting occurred in the server. Bean counters loved this idea. Not so much the guys responsible for getting designs out the door.

    So, now that everyone can effectively have a supercomputer under their desk, it must be time to make some extra cash from all those cores. Sure, it takes some effort to write software that is multi-threaded and can execute on concurrent parallel paths. And sure, that used to be the province of huge government-owned super-duper machines. But that was the state-of-the-art in the previous century.

    Here in the 21st Century we will soon take it for granted that new programs will be multi-threaded and executed on multiple cores. What? You want tires on your automobile? Okay, hubcaps are extra, but we’ll throw in a set of tires with the purchase price since it rolls better that way. What? You want free long distance with your portable telephone? Get outta here! Oh, who did you say offers unlimited calling for one flat-rate monthly charge?

    Software vendors better get used to the idea that if they don’t offer parallel execution as a standard feature, not as an extra cost per-use item, they will be left behind in the dust by those who can and do. The work was done when the software was written, not when it is executed by two or more cores. I have no problem purchasing a license to execute software, but I have a big problem being asked to pay a per-use fee to execute it. Would you like to get a bill from ASCAP or BMI every time you spun up and played a track on that CD you just bought?

    BTW, I have an AD Expert license which I and the Alibre community would love to see execute on multiple cores. It ain’t gonna happen any time soon. Some things just don’t parallize very well and history-based modeling happens to be one of those things.

  3. One extreme of a price model is the “buffet”, same exact price for everyone, no matter how simple or complex their problem or number of CPU’s.

    The other extreme of pricing models would be the “usage” model. It would be proportional to the complexity of the problem and how fast it needs to be solved.
    Want it done faster? Pay more.
    Have a very simple problem? Pay less.

    The compromise between the two models is the “mobile phone” pricing scheme. Pay for what you use in discrete steps, they can limit mesh size and/or number of runs. Maybe even by If a customer wants to run bigger meshes or do more runs, just pay incrementally more. Or you can pre-pay and get a discount. If you want unlimited minutes, you can get that too.

    Since I run a small business (2 people) doing modeling and analysis of simple products, I like the mobile phone pricing scheme. I can’t afford $xx,xxx unlimited usage software for my relatively dinky projects.

    What is the cost of a big vendor servicing a small fry customer? Not much at all!
    -A $1 DVD installation disc, $2 shipping cost.
    -Phone support, although this can be limited by which plan they are on or nixed for very small plans.
    -Automatic internet updates.

    So if a FEA vendor wants massive market penetration with tons of engineers learning their software, they should try the “mobile phone” pricing scheme. Students can even learn the software on pre-determined set models for near free.

  4. I have to say the pay-per-core is a ripoff. It’s reasonable to pay for the ability to use more than 1 core, but I shouldn’t have to pay more for 8 cores than 2. There are only a couple of points where the software would have to be modified to scale well with the core count, one is obviously when you write it to use more than one core. There are probably other points when you get up to 100+ cores but does the code need to change if you are using 4? No, it’s the same code. It’s a scam that unfortunately user have little control over. Because of the cost of switching to new software, monetary and otherwise, it becomes very hard to tell the vendors that something in unacceptable and do anything about it.

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