on left: A typical interface of the E-engineering portal)
If the information is not available on the database, the client’s request
will be forwarded to a consultant who has experience in simulations of
this kind, either online or offline.
Added Moy: “This interactive nature of portal is what we were most impressed
with. We are able to provide consultancy services online and in real time.”
In addition, the user only makes a one-time payment to the IHPC for the
services of the consultant who advises him, regardless of whether the
latter is from the IHPC or a commercial consultancy firm. Besides making
the portal convenient for users, the IHPC has worked to ensure the high
quality of the services it provides. Its team of researchers for example
is highly experienced in their own domain knowledge, and is able to share
accurate and qualitative knowledge with the IHPC clients.
Observed Hung: “The investment that IHPC has made in finding capable
manpower with a wide range of expertise certainly bears fruit in this
case. The IHPC staff has expertise in various areas of speciality, from
chemistry to electrical design, providing the know-how to tackle problems
faced by the engineering sector. This wide domain expertise is especially
useful as many projects being conducted these days are multidisciplinary.”
Another key benefit of this Web-based portal is that it enables end-users
to use a collaborative infrastructure to communicate with consultants,
fellow engineers or business partners from around the world.
Said Hung: “With businesses becoming more globalised, many firms are
finding it increasingly important to tap into resources available around
the world. Now staff, such as engineers from other countries, can work
on a single project with greater ease, using exactly the same resources.”
This version of outsourcing makes sense as engineering software and HPC
resources are known to consume a large portion of project budget. Companies
are also free from worrying about vendor support; version upgrade and
maintenance of equipment, as the applications are available through the
R & D Efforts
Besides providing the users with more efficient tools, the
portal can also help small- and medium-sized enterprises to lower their
total cost of ownership. Hung explained: “The ability to access HPC technology
also means that more what-if design scenarios can be explored and that
turnaround time for new innovations is shorter. In this way, the manufacturing
sector, in particular, will enjoy even better overall competitiveness.”
“Industries can concentrate on their core expertise without losing sleep
over how to justify investment in hardware and software resources.”
This infrastructure can also act as an incentive to multinational companies
to set up engineering and R & D centres in Singapore, boosting the island’s
efforts in improving its research and development facilities.
Still, in order to make the E-engineering portal work for them, most
companies need to ensure that requirements from the logistics point of
view are met, such as ubiquitous and affordable access to broad bandwidth
capability; a well-designed software framework; middleware and components;
intuitive and easy-to-use computers as well as a secure e-commerce framework.
From the business angle, there are other considerations, which include
a new software licensing arrangement to accommodate the transaction nature
of the portal world.
Hung explained: “When you need to use a certain software, it is necessary
to buy the entire package, and in effect its ownership licence as well.
With the portal, the user will be charged only when he uses the software
(perhaps paying for the length of time he uses it), and not for the licence.
Software vendors who are interested in putting their software on portals
will therefore have to move away from the more traditional licensing scheme.”
Alternatively, the users can pay for the software on a subscription rate
basis, perhaps monthly or quarterly. This is particularly useful in the
case of repeat customers. Explained Hung: “How clients will pay for use
of the program really depends on the nature of the vendor’s business.
Some businesses may prefer the use of the subscription mode, while others
the transaction mode.”
The portal may also encourage engineers to use the more expensive software
that they might have otherwise ignored because of its cost. As the user
gets familiar with the program, he may also look for more opportunities
to use it.
Just as the uses for the portal extended beyond e-commerce to include
the E-engineering portal, Hung believes that it may one day be used in
entertainment, education and even medical technology, together with MIRAGE,
the IHPC’s visual simulation facility. Said Hung: “Perhaps in the near
future, we will also be able to take telemedicine a step further, by allowing
medical practitioners to be able to simulate even more detailed operation
For more information on the E-engineering portal, please
go to: www.ihpc.nus.edu.sg
For Further Reading: Sun Microsystems’ StarPortal: www.sun.com/products/staroffice/cover/
a Client uses a Portal
There are two ways a user can access the information and services
provided on the portal.
The first is targeted at the experienced user, wherein he will
personally choose the software he requires for his needs. It could
be a software he is already familiar with, or something that he
knows will do the required procedure. All the user needs to do is
to select the program through the portal and run it.
The user interface or the on-screen prompter that guides the user
through different levels in a program, is different each time he
uses a new program.
The user interface for the second system, targeted at the novice
user is quite different.
The user simply lists the specific data parameters and characteristics
that should be used in the test, on a generic user interface. For
example, for a chemistry test, a user would list information such
as the interaction behaviour for a certain molecule, the names of
the molecules, and so on.
He will then have to specify what the end product should be. When
all the necessary information is presented, the backend engine (run
by the IHPC staff) will review it, sift through the plethora of
programs available and use the one that best fits his requirement
to perform the task. The whole time, the user interface that the
user sees is the same.
As Hung observed: “The key here is functionality of the features
rather than specific application.”
He added that the system is ideal for the novice who does not have
much experience with the capabilities of the programs available
and may need more guidance. The end result for both systems, however,
is the same.
After the simulation work is complete, the portal also presents
the user with the capability to visualise the data. This is done
by studying and visualising numerical value and colour-coding the
For example, an area of the test object that is hot can be in red
to reflect this. The other is by providing a 3D version of the information.
This helps the information to be analysed better since users will
be able to see the spatial aspect of the test, for example in airflow
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