For the first few years of my career in industry, I was able to do all of my calculations with a slide rule, even though I had learned FORTRAN at K-State. The slide rule was certainly an affordable tool that could be used in both large and small companies and by independent consultants.
Then large mainframe computers arrived on the scene. They could only be afforded by the large companies and universities. This cost constraint undoubtedly had some affect on the total creative output of the profession although for the large companies it provided greater opportunities. The low cost PC then eliminated this cost constraint, making it possible for even a consultant to own a computer with the power of a super-computer of a few decades earlier.
Now there is a new constraint. The specialized software such as process simulation packages and CFD programs are very expensive for an individual. One option that some software companies offer is short term leases. The cost of the lease can then be passed on to the client on a project basis. That is fine as long as you are familiar with the program. However, how do you stay familiar with Hysys, Aspen Plus, Chemcad, and others when one client wants Hysys to be used, another wants Chemcad, etc.? Also, the programs keep getting updated, so some of the short term lease needs to be spent learning the latest version.
The Cloud to the rescue?
Will Cloud computing be the answer to the problem? Can it be set up so all of the programs are available on a per use basis at a reasonable cost? I hope so. Furthermore, it would be nice if there could be two types of use, learning/developing use and commercial use with a two-tier price structure. The learning/developing use might limit the user in number of compounds or in output format. In order to develop new applications, the complete functionality would be needed for the developer.
And Open Standards may help
The CAPE-OPEN standards for process simulators may also eventually allow the consultant to use one program and then the client can easily translate it into their preferred program if desired. I doubt that is currently possible because the CAPE-OPEN tools are still being developed, but I am not sure of the status in that regard [maybe someone would like to comment on the status]. The good news is that nearly all of the major players in the process simulation field are adopting the standards.
The next step is to get the general math programs to adopt the standards and to provide user friendly links into the process simulation and CFD programs. Currently, the links can be built, but not in a "user friendly" manner. With CAPE-OPEN standards, the user shouldn't even have to worry about building links: the user should only need to know about the proper command syntax for communicating with the process simulation program.