Guest blogger Andy Knauf, CIO of Mead & Hunt, shares his journey to cloud GPU workstations.
Have you ever been challenged with opening a new architecture-engineering consulting office, 1,000 miles away, within three weeks? Well, if you ever are, I have some tips for you, because that's exactly what was asked of me and my team of information technology specialists. Ultimately my team was able to deliver a model that works well and results in lower costs and fewer hassles. How did we achieve this? After much trial and error, we found the correct tool: Workspot Workstation Cloud on Microsoft Azure. If you have ever thought about or tried virtualizing GPU workstations, you're going to want to hear our story!
Mead & Hunt is the 139th largest design firm in the nation and continues to rise through the ranks each year - we are growing at a very healthy rate. Our large network of architects, engineers and technical professionals are located across the country - in almost every state - to serve our clients and partners. With such widely dispersed personnel, you can imagine how critical it is to collaborate efficiently. With more than 1700 applications, including Autodesk, Bentley, ESRI and Adobe products in use, and the need to work together remotely on very large graphics files, we determined that our physical workstations with NVIDIA GPUs were not keeping up with user needs.
IT is a Strategic Player
In 2015 we defined a strategic plan that would double our revenue by 2025, and it is my team's job to make sure the information technology infrastructure can handle the company's strategic plan. And as we considered the steps that would take us there, as the CIO, I realized that we'd need to make significant IT changes to achieve the plan for accelerated growth. We needed to bid on and support projects regardless of their location. We needed to hire the best talent anywhere in the world, and we needed to simplify IT and data management. At the same time, we had engineers who wanted to work from home. To accomplish any of these objectives, our power users needed instant access to data, files and applications. Keep in mind that all of these requirements are in the context of users' expectations for ever greater speed, security and accuracy. So the first thing we did is move all of our files to the cloud, which immediately improved collaboration and sent us on our way to achieving our strategic growth plan. But I knew we had to do more.
Putting Virtual Workstations to the Test
I had been considering moving to virtual workstations, and about 6 years ago we gave it a try, using on-premises virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). Despite the massive capital expenditures to get up and running, it seemed like we'd found the answer. But after the first month when I asked an individual how they liked the new solution, here's the answer I got: "Well, I'm 15 percent less productive on VDI than on my regular workstation". So, we tried other VDI solutions and had the same result - inferior performance that drained productivity, and high CapEx and OpEx. It became clear that we needed a cloud workstation solution, so we forged ahead and tried that too. And the performance was unacceptable. In fact, it was a complete disaster for any company where graphics-intensive apps and real-time collaboration are core to the business. We needed a different approach.
Ultimately, it was Workspot that proposed a different approach to VDI that could help us achieve our business goals. Workspot offers cloud-native VDI, a crucial distinction from other solutions. We agreed to a pilot, and it was up and running on Microsoft Azure in a few days - quite a surprise after the many months it took to set up on-prem VDI. We discovered that Workspot Workstation Cloud performance was the same as the high-end physical workstations, creating a great experience for our power users, and empowering them to be creative and productive from anywhere as they access their cloud workstations from low-cost laptops.
Technology as a Strategic Advantage
With the Workspot solution there was no CapEx and no infrastructure to maintain. Now, if we need to open a branch office, we can make it happen fast and at significantly lower cost. With the ability to work anywhere, we can now hire the best talent anywhere in the world, and with this new-found agility we can pursue new revenue opportunities worldwide. The IT team is more strategic to Mead & Hunt than ever. With the changes we made, not only can we focus IT resources on higher value projects, but now everyone is marching toward our goal to grow at least 15 percent per year. After a long journey, we found that when executed correctly, cloud VDI significantly improves productivity and allows us to better support our clients and partnering firms.
That office that we had to open in record time? Well, from the time we located new office space to having people working effectively took three weeks. No travel, no on-site visits, no expensive infrastructure. We normally spend upwards of $60,000 opening a new office, but with our new solution, we simply shipped the router and switch to the new team, they plugged them in, and voilà — they were up and running. We spun up our Workspot Workstations on Azure instantly. The process was easy, cost effective, and the feedback from users was fantastic.
The icing on the cake is that with the Workspot solution we also have immediate disaster recovery by simply switching over to cloud workstations in a different Azure region. Because provisioning is instant, we're prepared for disasters like we've never been before.
As the CIO of Mead & Hunt, I push my team to equate their own efforts and success with Mead & Hunt's success. We are excited about our continued growth as a company, and we look forward to the next innovation that will help Mead & Hunt achieve its goals.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Andy Knauf, CIO/Vice President, Mead & Hunt. Mr Knauf's primary responsibility is securely connecting Mead & Hunt professionals with each other and with clients. As head of the Information Technology Department, the team stays on top of the latest information sharing, asset management, design and communication technologies. He oversees IT-related purchasing, including vendor negotiations, anticipates future network needs and security, and identifies proactive solutions to satisfy needs and support corporate growth.
According to Andy, “We live in an exciting time, where technology continues developing ways for us to get more done faster.”
ABOUT MEAD & HUNT
Mead & Hunt provides clients with expert planning, design and engineering services across a wide variety of sectors, including architecture, dams and hydropower, food processing, military, municipal infrastructure, transportation and water-wastewater. In each of these disciplines, the firm has developed unique methodologies and processes to deliver cost-saving solutions that meet our clients’ needs.
Serving markets nationwide for well over a century, we’ve demonstrated our technical, design and planning expertise. But what makes us different is that we don’t measure our success in years or projects or revenue. Instead, it’s measured in customer satisfaction.