Web-Based Simulation: Whither We Wander?

This panel contribution will discuss a variety of new technologies for software development and ways of working that will have an unpredictable effect on the future of simulation modelling.

Multi-media/Synthetic Environments

The ability to access multi-media on the web clearly introduces greater potential for the use of videos of problem scenarios, for interaction with stake-holders situated at remote locations (for example, when the running model hits an unknown combination of circumstances, an expert stake-holder might be able to determine the successful rules for advance) and sound. For example, on a recent visit made to a Hong Kong container terminal, I was shown a television control centre, computer-based, which had 100% video coverage of the terminal. Whilst its purpose was clearly for security and safety, it requires little imagination to visualise how a simulation of the terminal operation could call up the appropriate video camera when problem discussants get to the point of a simulation run where clarification is desired.

I think that the rush to join the much-hyped band-wagon of Synthetic Environments, driven by technical extravagance and financial greed, is in great danger of neglecting or even forgetting those major simulation issues of ongoing concern over the years. These are the so far intractable problems of verification and validation. The current enthusiasm for Synthetic Environments is therefore in danger of creating more expensive mistakes to the detriment of the reputation of simulationists, analysts and operations researchers in general.

Natural Born Webbers

A large proportion of the current generation of students entering higher education in the developed countries are already familiar with the pastime of browsing the Web and playing computer games. Both of these activities might loosely be depicted as approaches based on ``suck it and see''. Browsing and adventure games encourage the participant to try out alternatives with rapid feed-back, avoiding the need to analyse a problem with a view to deriving the result.

Such web users, in order to use simulation, need and desire development tools that allow for fast model building and quick and easy experimentation. Furthermore, such web users should have a natural affinity to the use of simulation models as a problem understanding approach (Paul and Balmer, 1993 and Paul and Hlupic, 1994). Web-enabled simulation analysts will be opposed to classical software engineering approaches and methodologies. They will be seeking tools that will enable them to assemble rather than build a model. Some feel for the change of ``culture'' that we can expect from future generations of computer users can be gauged from a recent experience of mine on a visit to Taipei (Taiwan). A class of school children were using the local university's multi-media lab. A ten year old schoolboy was typing in HTML codes faster than I can and dynamically checking it by running a rather impressive text/video/sound demonstration system. The boy could not speak, read or write any English, everything was symbolic to him.

New Software Technologies

Some have predicted that the software industry will be divided into component factories where powerful and general components will be built and tested, and into component assembly shops where these components will be assembled into flexible business solutions. Such component based development, if it occurs, might give significant gains in productivity and quality as well as known obvious benefits to web- based software development.


JAVA is now so ubiquitous that it might appear unnecessary to comment on it. For completeness the reader is reminded that simulation models in JAVA can be made widely available; an applet can be retrieved and run and does not have to be ported to a different platform or even recompiled or relinked; there is a high degree of dynamism because JAVA applets run on a browser; JAVA built-in threads make it easier to implement simulation following the process interactive paradigms; JAVA has built in supports for providing sophisticated animations and JAVA is smaller, cleaner, safer and easier to learn than C, allegedly.


For me, the aforegoing indicates a world of dynamic change, which I welcome, but where it is all going is a matter of conjecture that will be colored more by prejudice and opinion than evidence.


  1. Paul R.J and D.W. Balmer 1993. Simulation Modelling. Lund, Sweden: Chartwell-Bratt Student-Text Series.
  2. Paul R.J. and V. Hlupic 1994. ``The CASM Environment Revisited.'' In: Proceedings of the 1994 Winter Simulation Conference, (J.D. Tew, S. Manivannan, D.A. Sadowski and A.F. Seila, Eds.) (11-14 December 1994, Orlando). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, 641-648.


Ray J. Paul holds the first U.K. Chair in Simulation Modelling at Brunel University. He previously taught information systems and operational research for 21 years at the London School of Economics. He received a B.Sc. in Mathematics, and a M.Sc. and a Ph.D. in Operational Research from Hull University. He has published widely in book and paper form (two books, over 100 papers in journals, books and conference proceedings), mainly in the areas of simulation modelling process and in software environments for simulation modelling. He has acted as a consultant for a variety of U.K. government departments, software companies, and commercial companies in the tobacco and oil industries. His research interests are in methods of automating the process of discrete event simulation modelling, and the general applicability of such methods and their extensions to the wider arena of information systems. Recent research results have been in automatic code generation, colour graphics modelling interfaces, dynamically driven icon representations of simulation models, machine learning applied to model specification and to output analysis, object oriented approaches, and information systems paradigms. He is currently running a simulation research group, the Centre for Applied Simulation Modelling, made up of six faculty members and eight research students, and the Centre for Living Information Systems, made up of five faculty and six research students. He is currently the Head of the Computer Science and Information Systems Department at Brunel University. (Address: Centre for Applied Simulation Modelling, Department of Information Systems and Computing, Brunel University, Uxbridge, Middlesex, UB8 3PH, UK. E-mail: Ray.Paul@brunel.ac.uk)

Animated GIFs courtesy of Web GraFX-FX