“Using AWS has saved us thousands in hardware and personnel costs, and it has taken away the headaches of owning and maintaining IT.”
Vincenz Dölle Managing Director, SimScale

SimScale was founded by five students from the Technical University of Munich in 2012. Although their original intention was to offer consulting about computer simulation to engineering firms, the team eventually developed its own web-based simulation software that enables designers to run complex simulations in their browser. The company now has more than 50 employees who provide a wide range of simulation tools to about 100,000 users. SimScale also makes simulation results available to its online community, so users can build on the projects of others and share knowledge. 

“We saw that simulation had almost become the forgotten element of product design,” says Vincenz Dölle, co-founder and managing director at SimScale. He and his team noticed that simulation experts often work in isolation and don’t share knowledge. Plus, the cost and skill barriers for product designers to use simulation as part of the design process meant it wasn’t being used as often as it should be. “We wanted to offer a way to make it accessible to more people, so they can make more informed decisions about how to design products,” says Dölle.

But when the five cofounders first got started, they were still students and didn’t have a large budget. “We were a team of two computer scientists and three mechanical engineers, and we’d built up a good technology toolchain, but we couldn’t afford the powerful hardware required to run simulations,” says Dölle. “We obviously looked at on-demand high-performance computing (HPC) to give us the resources we needed on a pay-as-you-use basis.” In the early days of the company, customer demand was volatile, so SimScale needed to be able to scale its usage up and down as required. It also needed to get to market quickly; other companies were trying to get similar services off the ground, and SimScale couldn’t afford to miss its opportunity.

Dölle says that SimScale chose Amazon Web Services (AWS) because it was at the leading edge of the cloud market. He and his colleagues started with Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) to run their application and provide the raw HPC power to run simulations. The largest Amazon EC2 instance type SimScale has used is the r3.8xlarge, which is optimized for memory-intensive applications with 244 GB of RAM and 32 virtual CPU cores. The team also uses services such as Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) to store simulation results and Amazon Elastic Block Store (Amazon EBS) as block-level storage for use with Amazon EC2 instances. But Dölle thinks he might do things differently if he could turn back the clock. “If we were starting again from scratch, we’d definitely use newer services right from the beginning, like the Amazon EC2 Container Service or AWS Relational Database Service, to make setting up our environment even easier,” he says.

Running their business in the AWS Cloud from day one allowed Dölle and his cofounders to be first to market with their simulation product, and the company has enjoyed vibrant growth ever since. This has meant that tens of thousands of users have been able to run simulations to improve the design of their products.

“We’ve been able to set up a simulation environment in a very cost-efficient way, which in turn allows our customers to perform simulation more efficiently,” says Dölle. “If we were using our own hardware, we’d need a whole team of people, whereas now only a few DevOps engineers look after our AWS infrastructure. Using AWS has saved us thousands in hardware and personnel costs, and it has taken away the headaches of owning and maintaining IT.”

Dölle is equally confident about the benefits for SimScale’s customers: “A company could easily spend more than $50,000 on hardware and software setting up its own simulation environment, whereas with us it can use our free tier for nothing, and benefit from the shared knowledge of thousands of other users. The customer can also run multiple simulations at once, which might be hard or impossible on its own hardware.”

So far the platform has almost 100,000 users, with more than 30,000 high-quality public simulation projects available for the community to use, build on, and learn from. It is currently running tens of thousands of jobs a month and has handled several million processing core hours in the past year.

Dölle also mentions that AWS Support has been invaluable to the company’s success. “We started building on AWS on our own, but later we got in touch and made use of the AWS Activate program, which gives startups like us access to expertise and resources to cost-effectively scale and develop our business. It was a great help.”

And the company is not stopping there. “We’re keen to become more tightly integrated with AWS,” says Dölle. “We’re already a Registered Technology Partner in the AWS Partner Network, and we’re currently in talks about moving up to the Standard tier.”

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