Here is the latest article in a new eWEEK feature series called IT Science, in which we look at what actually happens at the intersection of new-gen IT and legacy systems.
Unless it’s brand new and right off various assembly lines, servers, storage and networking inside every IT system can be considered “legacy.” This is because the iteration of both hardware and software products is speeding up all the time. It’s not unusual for an app-maker, for example, to update and/or patch for security purposes an application a few times a month, or even a week. Some apps are updated daily! Hardware moves a little slower, but manufacturing cycles are also speeding up.
These articles describe new-gen industry solutions. The idea is to look at real-world examples of how new-gen IT products and services are making a difference in production each day. Most of them are success stories, but there will also be others about projects that blew up. We’ll have IT integrators, system consultants, analysts and other experts helping us with these as needed.
Today’s Topic: Constrained by Physical Workstations
Name the problem to be solved: Mead & Hunt, a national firm offering architecture and engineering design services, found that its IT infrastructure was an obstacle to achieving its plan to double revenue within 10 years. Specifically, physical workstations constrained design engineer productivity to an office setting and therefore limited the firm’s ability to pursue new projects. Moreover, these workstations were expensive to acquire and time-consuming and costly to manage. With 650 employees in more than 30 locations, as well as numerous job site offices, Mead & Hunt needed to make changes to its IT strategy, and finding a virtual workstation solution was a top priority for enabling it to fulfill its growth objectives.
Describe the strategy that went into finding the solution: Andy Knauf, Mead & Hunt’s Chief Information Officer, tried an on-premises virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) solution. “I thought I’d found the answer, even though the solution required massive capital expenditures for hardware requirements to get the first desktop up and running," Knauf said. "But after the first month, I asked an individual how they liked the new solution and the response was, ‘Well, I’m 15 to 20 percent less productive on VDI than on my regular workstation.’”
It was a latency issue. Knauf tried several other on-premises VDI solutions, but they all had performance issues that drained productivity. His design engineers weren’t able to run key software such as AutoCAD and Revit, either. On top of everything, these solutions were expensive. Knauf tried a cloud VDI solution, but the performance problems they encountered were unacceptable.
Knauf was determined to find the right solution, and that’s when they discovered another cloud VDI provider, Workspot.
List the key components in the solution: Workspot has developed a cloud-native VDI broker from the ground up, which is a massively significant innovation in the VDI world. The solution deploys cloud desktops, apps and GPU workstations on Microsoft Azure in a day and simplifies VDI management with its single-pane-of-glass approach, which significantly reduces operational expenditures. Workspot Workstation Cloud on Microsoft Azure is a high-performance and scalable cloud GPU workstation service. It supports a range of 3D modeling, simulation and rendering workloads on applications such as AutoCAD, Revit, Navisworks, Adobe Premiere and others that Mead & Hunt uses. Its virtual workstations use the power of Azure N-Series instances fueled by NVIDIA GPUs, enabling the firm to run high-performance workstations and GPU-intensive applications in multiple Azure regions across the world.
Describe how the deployment went, perhaps how long it took, and if it came off as planned: Knauf agreed to run a pilot program with Workspot Workstation Cloud. To his surprise, the pilot was up and running in just a few days, contrary to his previous experience with VDI solutions that took weeks and months to deploy. Cloud workstations are delivered from Azure using the N-Series GPUs. “We found that not only was the performance acceptable, it was as good as our physical workstations. It creates a great user experience,” Knauf said.
Describe the result, new efficiencies gained, and what was learned from the project: “With Workspot, my IT team is happy, the CAD design engineers are happy, and I get a consistent cost every month,” Knauf said. “The solution enables real-time collaboration and allows our engineers to work from the office, from home or from a job site, which significantly improves productivity and serves our clients better.”
Having a cloud VDI solution that performs so well helps deliver the business agility needed for the firm to pursue its growth initiatives. Design engineers are hired based on talent, not geographical location – and without necessarily having to set up branch offices. “That means we are prepared to engage on opportunities anywhere in the world, which will drive the firm’s growth to new levels,” Knauf said.
The solution also helps with disaster-recovery preparedness, and Knauf feels much better-equipped to face events such as the recent hurricane in Florida and fires in Sonoma, Calif. near its offices. The solution’s rapid-provisioning capabilities also means that as a project changes in scope, new workstations can be spun up in minutes to accommodate new requirements.
Describe ROI, carbon footprint savings, and staff time savings, if any: With Workspot Workstation Cloud on Azure, there were no upfront capital expenses as with on-premises VDI solutions. There is no infrastructure to maintain, which reduces operational expenditures. When BIM professionals and CAD engineers can work from anywhere, the firm does not have to open a branch office to pursue opportunities in new geographies. This means the firm can more easily pursue new revenue opportunities anywhere in the world. Since a branch office would typically cost a minimum of $60,000 to set up, the ability to deliver cloud GPU workstations on low-cost laptops instead of paying for office space and expensive equipment represents huge savings. Finally, the management simplicity of the solution saves IT staff time and allows them to pursue higher-value projects.
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