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Altair Steps up to Azure Cloud with Inspire Unlimited

Sam Mahalingam, Altair

Altair software is now part of the Inspire Unlimited software-as-a-service offering available on the Azure cloud.

Inspire Unlimited could create new growth opportunities for Altair. A potential customer that could never afford in-house HPC or hundreds of powerful workstations could pay for a few days or months of Inspire Unlimited access using a credit card.

However, Inspire Unlimited had different HPC requirements than the traditional CAE solver applications. While these applications need lots of compute cores for short periods of time to run simulations, Inspire needs cores to deliver great interactive performance to a large team of engineers and colleagues. This requires a specialized HPC architecture containing high-performance graphics processing units (GPUs). To power the required instances, Altair selected Microsoft Azure for hosting Inspire Unlimited.

Unlike the HyperWorks Unlimited Appliance, where performance is based on the number of nodes, Inspire’s scale requirements are based on the number of simultaneous users; there could be 1,000 engineers working together at a time,” says Sam Mahalingam from Altair. “We felt that the HPC environment in Azure was architected to meet the type of back-end requirements we needed for Inspire.” Altair uses Microsoft Azure Virtual Machines, with NV instances powered by NVIDIA Tesla M60 GPUs.

It wasn’t just the technical capabilities of HPC in Azure that won over Mahalingam and his team. It was also the help that Microsoft provided. “Microsoft brought in cloud architects from its HPC engineering team and many other resources for guidance and skills transfer,” Mahalingam says. “That was critical to getting us up and running.”

With Inspire Unlimited, a customer gets a remote desktop session running in Azure, eliminating the requirements for an expensive engineering workstation and on-premises HPC. All the customer needs is a browser. This gives individuals and teams more options as to where, when, how, and how long they want to use the software.

Technical addendum: powerful GPU-equipped virtual machines

In Azure, Inspire Unlimited uses virtual machines (VMs) running the Linux (Ubuntu) operating system to handle back-end functions such as the web portal used by engineers to collaborate on models and a MongoDB database used to store document metadata.

It also uses Windows Server–based NV instances running the NVIDIA Tesla M60 GPUs to handle front-end functions—delivering Inspire Unlimited over a web browser. Altair spins these VMs up and down on demand, according to the number of people using Inspire Unlimited concurrently.

Customers are limited as to what they can do on workstations, but with Azure we can give them a scalable, cost-effective back-end HPC infrastructure.

Altair uses Azure Automation Desired State Configuration (DSC) to streamline the greenfield provisioning of VMs to extend Inspire Unlimited into new geographies and simplify patch management. The Altair operations management staff can pull a new Windows image off the shelf and have a completely functional environment in minutes.

Altair is already working to make its Inspire Unlimited architecture even more efficient by using Azure platform services. It has replaced VMs with containers and Kubernetes in Azure Container Service. This reduces VM patching and management needs and allows Altair to increase the density of services running across compute nodes, taking better advantage of Azure capacity.

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