The Complete Guide to Choosing a VDI-Cloud Solution for AEC

Several industries are undergoing a digital transformation that overhauls the traditional look and feel of IT infrastructure, and more simply, how people want and need to work together. For AEC firms, this is sometimes in response to geographical growth, an increase in mergers and acquisitions or the megatrend toward increased remote work and mobile users. People want to work more cohesively; our firms need to enable them to do so.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor of Labor Statistics reported in 2016 in the decade between 2005 to 2015 there was a 115% increase in remote workers. Unforeseen events can also cause disruptions or rapid increases in telecommuters that call for flexible business continuity plans. Adapting to globalization, geographically disparate teams and a need for digital preparedness have pushed many AEC companies to deploy Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) both with on-prem VDI and now more commonly with Cloud-based VDI.

Cloud-based and multi-office file management has evolved rapidly. A study by LogicMonitor found that over 80% of enterprise-level businesses will be managing data in the Cloud by the end of next year, and that could be accelerated with recent events calling for more virtually accessible file management systems. Most accounting and other structured database-type workloads have already matured their Cloud offerings over on-prem servers.

But the Cloud trends go well beyond structured applications like CRM and Accounting/Project Management. The real challenge is with managing the unstructured data that our specialized engineering and architectural design software relies upon (Autodesk, ESRI, Bentley, Trimble and many others).

The megatrend to which all compass needles point is toward achieving savings and operational efficiencies by offloading processing and storage from on-prem physical hardware and reducing the high costs of maintaining that on-prem hardware. More transformative benefits to the organization are often realized by increasing project collaboration and equipping engineers and architects with the support network to do their job from virtually anywhere, and to do so with real-time file locking and versioning with co-workers who are back in the office or working from their own remote locations.

The AEC industry is among those that are quickly rethinking traditional approaches. Organizations of all sizes are using VDI and the Cloud to store around 75% of data, with some exceeding that total.

If you’re interested in onboarding a Cloud-VDI solution at your AEC firm, here is a quick step-by-step process for choosing the right partner.

Step One: Establish a Foundational Approach That Works for Your Geography 

Your firm’s current (and future) geography will dictate if you can migrate all your data to a single Cloud provider’s data center.  If you are a regional U.S. firm, and have no aspirations to expand across the country, having a single Cloud data center is a good option.

However, if you have users in overseas offices, or offices on both U.S. coasts, data proximity issues need to be considered. Just like the on-prem world, the workstation needs to be close to the data. Having a virtual desktop on the east coast hitting storage on the west coast (or vice versa) will not be a good design. Whether it is a traditional on-prem or a virtual Cloud machine, the farther away the workstation is from the data it is accessing, the least desirable it will be.

To go cross-country or international, you will need to engage multiple Cloud data centers from your provider (Azure/AWS/Google/other). Data migration schemes between data centers should be avoided. Rather, a global file system like Panzura that can span multiple Cloud data centers is a much more effective platform to build upon. In other words, employ the same technology that firms have already been using to bridge their multiple physical offices to also bridge two or three Cloud data centers.

This gives you the ability to mix and match. Continue with on-prem Panzura appliances and workstations in your larger offices where it makes sense to do so while using the Cloud data centers for small offices or single remote users on Cloud workstations. The Panzura appliances will exist in each location whether it is an on-prem office or one in the Cloud. This keeps everyone working on the same single global file system, regardless of their location. Some firms envision a complete migration to the Cloud, others embrace a mix. Either is possible.

Step Two: Identify What Mix of Different Level Workstations Meet Your Needs

Virtual workstations in the Cloud are flexible in their installation and deployment; they can often be customized to meet exactly what is required. For example, consider that a mix of high-end Graphical Processing Units (GPU) and non-GPU type workstations will be needed for each of the applications your employees need to use. Not all companies and users agree where the more advanced and powerful GPU workstations are needed, and when non-GPU is adequate. You will need to work with a vendor who can get your employees access to different levels of workstations so they can experiment with and compare them to the desktop models they work on today.

Just as AEC firms are not all the same, users and projects within each firm are not all the same. Getting hands-on experience with virtual workstations in the Cloud is essential to building your plan and total project costs. The good news is, a revolutionary approach is not necessary. Rather, you can take an evolutionary approach to a project like this. Start off modestly in this new, promising investment direction, knowing that your organization can accelerate or slow the pace of adopting these virtual workstations within your organization.

Step Three: Pick a Platform that is Proven to Support AEC Application Software

Many of the software common to our AEC industry have unique characteristics that need to be supported by the underlying global file system. To name one example, Byte Range Locking enables many advanced features such as Revit Workshare Monitor and Tekla Structures to work properly in a multi-office environment. Only certain global file systems are able to support those types of software operations that many AEC firms depend upon.

Select a VDI platform and Cloud partner that can support where you’re going.  Learn from the experience of a Cloud partner who knows what questions to ask. Is your platform able to significantly scale when telecommuting requirements spike? Does it support Cloud Mirroring to keep employees working during a Cloud provider’s outages? Over time, will the platform bog down because of inefficient design of handling growing volumes of metadata? AEC firms require the processing power for designers, engineers, projects managers and construction personnel to all work within the same file system from miles apart.  The optimal Cloud and VDI platform provided for AEC companies can offer a path toward the future of a business.

Step Four: Call Microdesk

We have experience implementing solutions for AEC firms interested in deploying a Cloud-based infrastructure: Workspot, Panzura, Azure, AWS. Workspot offers a cost effective easy to manage a Cloud-VDI platform that can outperform most any desktop hardware, and it is accessible over modest Internet connections and most any PC or mobile device. Combine that with Panzura’s global file system to empower firm’s employees to grow and become more collaborative across any geography.

Get in touch with Microdesk today for a custom quote including Workspot and Panzura and begin migrating more of your business to the Cloud.