Web-apps for engineers – The five big advantages23 Mar 2017
Typically engineering software is installed on a computer, referred to as ‘native applications’. This is the old way to do it. The rise of web-apps offers so many new benefits that it is, without a doubt, a superior software solution compared to native apps.
Faster launching speeds
One of the biggest advantages with web-apps is their opening speeds compared to large installed engineering software. With an installed software, when you open it, it has to run a bunch of initialisation functions which can absorb most of your computer processor. With web-apps you simply have to open a web-page (and if you have opened the software before the web-page is cached so it opens even faster). The advantage comes because the software is always open and running on the web-servers, just waiting for you to click a button on the web-page which tells the server to run the calculations.
Faster running speeds
Another speed advantage is the processing time. Typical modern computers a four core 2-3.5GHz processor. Pretty decent if it running a small number of applications, but often you have Excel, Word, emails and several other programs all competing for processing power. On a web-app their sole purpose is to run their software, and because the servers are all connected they can run calculations in parallel on different servers and then bring it all back together to send back to you. At Pensolve we convert a spreadsheet into hand-written calculations using six processors at a time, to make sure it all happens in seconds.
I know of one engineer who ran earthquake simulations on his desktop computer and it took eight days! With a web-app that could be cut down to hours or even minutes.
With installed software, you need to install every new update. This can cause headaches for your IT team as new updates may require a new version of Windows or other packages that can cause other software on your computer to stop working. Not only that, but you need to wait for it to be installed, every time I get a software update notification I do my best to ignore it until I have a spare moment, which is never. With web-apps the servers are updated to the latest software usually in the early hours of the morning and can update one at a time so that the software upgrades seamlessly.
This is a bit of a techie advantage but working on separate documents that share information often results in inconsistencies, e.g. writing a design features report and then updating the design calculations and forgetting to update the report. With a relationship database all of the information is interlinked, so if you can change one aspect then the database will run checks to make sure it is consistent with other information.
Because web-apps use relationship databases you can simultaneously work on the same document and the changes are all checked for consistency in the database and shown to all the users in real-time. It removes all the issues around having different versions and having to combine them.
Finally, integrations, often the most overlooked, but in my opinion it is the most powerful advantage over installed apps and truly represents the future of engineering. Integrations are when two software applications create a connection that allows data to be shared between them. E.g. Pensolve recently integrated directly into Google Sheets. This allows users to convert their spreadsheet into a PDF without leaving the spreadsheet, and Pensolve can share data back telling the user how to improve their spreadsheet. Engineers use a lot of different software tools, currently we spend a lot of time transferring the output of one software into inputs for another software, if all these installed applications were web-apps then they would seamlessly share the data across and make sure everything is up-to date. The good news is that in the future we will be able to spend more time doing engineering that just transferring data.
The writing is on the wall for installed software, their slow software update cycles, slow running speeds and lack of sharing means that they will simply be left behind as more web-apps join the market. Pensolve is one of the first engineering web-apps, and it is all about engineers collaborating and reviewing their design calculations. The future for engineering will be less about waiting for software to open/run/update and transferring data between them, and more about get instant, up-to-date information anywhere so that you can make the right engineering decisions.