Outlook 2017: Thinkbox Software - The growing popularity of the usage-based software model
Chris Bond
Issue: January 1, 2017

Outlook 2017: Thinkbox Software - The growing popularity of the usage-based software model

Chris Bond is the CEO and Founder of Thinkbox Software (www.thinkboxsoftware.com) in Los Angeles. Here, he looks at the growing popularity of usage-based software models.

The globalization of content creation and visual effects, coupled with rapid technology development, are transforming the way studios operate. Today, companies can work across continents with more secure, robust infrastructures, and offload automation and other tedious tasks to turnkey software instead of custom-built tools. Rather than investing in on-premise machines, large and small shops alike can scale into the cloud, either privately or publicly hosted, and in some cases, rely on cloud-based resources exclusively. For all these advancements, software-licensing models have remained fairly stagnant, until recently.

Every company strives to work smarter and more efficiently. As software developers, it’s our job to listen to the community. When vendors engage in open dialogue with customers and incorporate that feedback into the development process, the whole industry moves forward as a result. This is how the usage based licensing epiphany came about. 

When a creative company needs additional software licenses to scale for a specific project, those licenses can sit idle or be underutilized once the job wraps, which isn’t the most efficient use of resources. Seeing this scenario play out all too often inspired our movement towards usage-based licensing — software readily available online 24/7 on a pay-per-use or pay-per-minute basis. If you needed a ride to the airport, you wouldn’t buy a car; you’d arrange for a cab or ride share. Similarly, on-demand licensing provides studios with the necessary elasticity to burst render on a per-minute basis, with time only consumed while rendering. Following the launch of Deadline on-demand, we quickly found this model resonated with a lot of people in the community; they could split their minutes on as many or as few machines — local or cloud-based — as needed. But they wanted more. 

With Deadline already monitoring the usage of 80-plus products that it supports, extending usage-based licensing to third-party vendors was a natural progression. Since it widens access to their software and requires no development on their end, many of our partners have embraced the usage-based model. We now offer products from The Foundry, Chaos Group, Nvidia, Next Limit, Redshift and Peregrine Labs in our Thinkbox e-store, with several other additions in various stages of development. We’ve discovered that some studios are even using certain pieces of software more often with usage-based licensing, since they can burst render. This also allows them to iterate more quickly and enables more creative experimentation because rendering is less time intensive when spread across more machines. 

While the benefits are increasingly apparent, usage-based licensing isn’t a replacement for perpetual licenses; in many cases, perpetual and on-demand licensing are used in tandem. Ultimately, the goal is to help facilitate workflow evolutions and enable greater studio flexibility through easy scalability and elasticity.