Tag: Virtual Desktop

Why Every AEC Firm Needs to Move to the Cloud Now

Cloud computing is the future of everything digital. Modern IT environments use it. “Modern IT” is now hosting its infrastructure in some form of the cloud. Moving to the cloud is especially important for architects, engineering, and construction firms (AEC). A 2017 Sage Survey found that most of AEC firms had already moved to the cloud. It was quite a jump from an earlier survey conducted in 2012 when only 16% of construction contractors had migrated to the cloud.

That’s why most of them are on the cloud in one form or another. The AEC industry is highly fragmented, data-intensive, and project-based. Designing, building, and repurposing require all the traditional disciplines you’d expect, but also many ancillary areas such as energy, environment, and waste.

The Journal of Cloud computing: Advances, Systems, and Applications reported that sharing data and supporting coordination between people involved is difficult and reliant on third-party tools to support such capability. “We believe cloud computing provides a more efficient and robust mechanism for individuals within the AEC industry to collaborate and share data. Work is already underway in the AEC sector for developing data and process models to enable greater interoperable working between project participants.”

This research has led to the development of the concept of Building Information Models (BIM) – a design process that looks at a building’s life cycle. The BIM concept helps designers and others see how a building will use resources before it’s built. BIM was an evolution of ideas.  Start with a powerful digital drawing tool and then evolve it into a much more sophisticated program. The software works in partnership with the designer or architect. A set of drawings becomes an interactive database. When the designer draws on the screen, the BIM system computes the properties of the building and even suggest improvements for everything from energy efficiencies to people flow while costing out every conceivable option. Every variable is built into the AutoDesk software. Any design changes are immediately reflected in revised cost estimates. It tells how much energy the modified design will save. The architect is working with a set of drawings and a data model that understands the whole building as a three-dimensional living system. Keep in mind that BIM includes all the information about a building. It should be a complete 4D virtual repository of the data associated with the structure from beginning to the end of its life.

 

Being on the cloud facilitates hiring, and retaining, some of the best talents all over the world.
THE CLOUD ENABLES REMOTE COLLABORATIVE TEAMS to work seamlessly together on complex projects.

Collaborative working environments have been long-standing key aspects of AEC workflows. Traditionally, those collaborative teams had to commute to one centralized location. Today, offering work environment flexibility (home office or corporate office) has become somewhat of an expected perk. This was a trend long before the coronavirus reared its ugly head. Now, there are government mandates pressing the point even more. We’re all being forced to work from our homes. Coronavirus aside, future AEC firms don’t want to have their collaborative teams tied to one physical location. Not any more.

Jennifer Howe, VP of SMMA (an architectural firm headquartered in Boston) and acting president of the ACEC organization, Massachusetts Chapter says, “As much as I don’t want to be working from home, there are times when I need to be working from home. Our IT staff had us set-up to work remotely, but it wasn’t the same as what we have now with the cloud. I can be on my laptop with IronOrbit and see everything the same way as we see it while we’re in the office.”

She recognizes that it’s more of an employee’s market now. “The ability to offer talented candidates the option to work from home is an added incentive to join your team.” That’s especially true when nothing is lost while moving from the office workstation to your mobile device-of-choice working at home. But there are other reasons to migrate to the cloud.

A much more enhanced remote work experience is not the only reason to move the cloud. The biggest, more critical reason, is security. But it can’t be just any cloud solution. , The cloud environment needs to customized to the unique needs of the firm. Jennifer talks about the biggest threat every firm faces. “Ransomware attacks are a tremendous concern. An ACEC Mass member firm had a recent incident where they were hit with a cyber-security breach. That was very concerning to our entire chapter. ACEC actually hosted an informative event where they shared some of the issues that they had. For SMMA, as government contractors, we need to be very protective and careful with the information that we have.”

Just a few short years ago, Google Drive and DropBox were the popular options between those who wanted to share large files. Those options weren’t great at protecting intellectual property. Concerns over security justifiably kept many AEC firms from utilizing them.
In addition to state-of-the-art firewalls, antivirus protocols, malware filters, and encryption, a truly holistic approach to security includes 24/7 monitoring.
Industry-Wide Concern for Security Is At An All-Time High

Carlos Charry is the Director of Technology for SMMA. He says security has been a top concern for everybody. “One of our competitors got hit with ransomware a few years back. It made me look at our own situation and ask, ‘Are we prepared for this?’ I knew we weren’t ready.”

The level of security provided by IronOrbit – the firm’s cloud solution provider is far beyond anything they could have accomplished on their own. The entire IT infrastructure is protected by state-of-the-art firewalls, antivirus protocols, malware filters, and encryption. The security doesn’t stop there. There is an entire team of engineers, rotating around the clock, monitoring the data centers for any type of potential security threat.

But Carlos adds, “The question of security aside, you still have to keep up with technology. That means having your IT infrastructure on the cloud. The cloud provides faster updates. Just keeping all your applications up to date saves you a lot of trouble. Most of my time before the cloud was spent handling IT issues.  Things like the network not being responsive or our server going down. I spent time on things like that and couldn’t devote myself to what I truly love to do which is to improve our business processes. I want to make them better so the company can become ever more efficient.

Carlos continues, “The cloud has enabled us to hire anyone anywhere in the world. The employee just needs a PC and an Internet connection of some kind and they can utilize our tools. We currently have people working for us from Maine and New York. Since we’ve moved to the cloud, my headaches have been reduced. Once an employee is connected to the cloud, I don’t have to worry about it. I know the data is automatically being backed up. My worries are basically gone.”

FINDING THE RIGHT WAY TO COLLABORATE IS CRITICAL TO RUNNING AN EFFECTIVE BUSINESS

Jennifer says, “Working with Carlos, our IT director, we’re always looking for better ways to do our work. SMMA is a full-service design firm. Collaboration is the key to our success. Finding the right way to collaborate internally and collaborate with our clients is a critical part of running an effective business.

MOVING TO THE CLOUD. WHAT IS IT LIKE?

People were hesitant at first. The cloud environment is different from having your server on the premises. It’s different. “As we were going up to the cloud, and trying to figure out how to use it, they weren’t sure at first what to expect. Is it going to make my life better or worse? Finally, through effective collaboration and communication, we found it to be an invaluable tool. I find that I can access whatever I need wherever I am.  One of the things that surprised me was being at a client meeting and just being on wi-fi and act as if I were in the office. I’m able to pull up any document I need at any time. For example, I do a lot of government work. When I’m doing a client visit, I often don’t have wi-fi available to me. No worries. I just turn on the hotspot on my phone and still be able to open up a CAD drawing. You’d think that would be impossible to do, right? But it really works quite well.”

 

Being able to be remote and share a CAD drawing on your laptop using the hotspot on a smartphone is amazing. “You think it’d be impossible, but it actually works very well.”

 

Hector Inirio is the Design Technologist. He says, “That the most attractive aspect of moving to the cloud was a blend of things. There are many aspects of advanced IT that are beyond our expertise such as high-end security threats. Ransomware is a good example. I really liked the fact that cloud technology democratized our computer systems. We’re not transferring any data from our local workstations. The workstations themselves, really become more like dumb terminals. So, no matter what kind the computer was at a particular desk, they all now respond like high-end machines.  Previously, due to cost, we’d only have some users on higher-end machines. The ones who didn’t need the computing power were working on equipment with less computing power. Now, all of them respond with higher specs.”

“I really liked that cloud technology democratized our computer systems. It made all of them perform like higher spec machines” – Hector Inirio

The computer terminals become virtual desktops because they are hosted by the external cloud server. Any slowness or frustrations you’ve experienced with your current Internet connection go away. Once users log in to the hosted desktop you’re using bandwidth from the cloud. There are separate gigabyte connections to the Internet. Your bandwidth virtually becomes unlimited.

The technology needed to aid the construction industry’s complex workflows hadn’t become available until the past few years. There are now plenty of SaaS solutions available to make full use of what cloud technology offers. Most contractors are implementing cloud solutions. The few who are not risk losing any competitive edge they had. These firms are also in danger of becoming irrelevant as technology advances at exponential rates. They simply won’t be able to keep up. Remaining current with the speed of technology means being able to focus on human capital.  These are qualities like talent, skills, know-how, empathy, and creativity. All of these are undervalued human assets to unlock. You won’t be able to leverage this human capital if you’re stuck in the mud because your technology isn’t current.

MAKE FULL USE OF THE BENEFITS

Construction companies already on the cloud should evaluate if they’re making full use of being on the cloud. There is another benefit of cloud computing. Construction companies should be cashing in on the ability to store tremendous amounts of big data files onto more powerful machines. More can be done with fewer resources. Anywhere there’s an Internet connection you’re good to go. Being on the cloud removes hardware limitations, prevents loss of data, dramatically improves security (if designed correctly), and improves accessibility.

One of the key issues within the industry is the storage of building data throughout the whole life of the building. Data processing is also an important concern for the industry. During construction, a large part of the work takes place on-site where computing resources, up till now, have been non-existent.

The cloud offers data processing power. Drones hover over construction sites and take pictures with detailed GPS coordinates and metadata. Stitching these images into an orthograph requires more processing power than typical computers can muster. Visiting job sites can take hours. Now construction sites can be viewed via a SaaS platform. A design captain or engineer can get a real-time view of the location from anywhere in the world, and on any device. This technology also makes sharing data much easier. There’s a misconception that data becomes less secure on the cloud. It turns out the opposite is true. That is if the new cloud environment has been designed with tight security in mind. If the data is kept at a Level 3 Data Center with round the clock monitoring, cybersecurity is on an entirely different level. It’s in a league of its own. One that isn’t possible for on-prem servers or public clouds.

The Main Benefit of VDI
VDI Planning: 4 Key Pitfalls to Avoid
What is VDI?

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) enables virtualized desktops hosted on remote servers on the Internet.  Reducing the need for hardware while improving flexibility, VDI offers practical benefits as well as a hefty return on investment. There is a strong business case to be made. According to the IDC, “The Business Value of VMware Horizon,” of January 2016, there is a 5-year return-on-investment of 413 percent. On average, the virtualized desktop costs 71 percent less to buy, deploy, support, maintain, and use over a 5-year period. This is on a per-device basis. Users spend 76 percent less time on device application log-ins. VDI enables companies to make full use of human capital while preventing many IT-related issues. We need all the help we can get to unlock the massive human assets such as talent, empathy, and creativity. You know, the things computers aren’t that good at. There are indeed great advantages to moving to a DaaS environment. There are also many opportunities for making mistakes along the way. Let’s take a look at the 4 most common pitfalls associated with VDI migration.

A TechRepublic article cites a lack of planning as a major pitfall of VDI integration.  The article went on to report that companies failed to plan for enough resources. Don’t provision for today or tomorrow. Design an infrastructure that will serve your needs next year and for the years ahead. That article was from 2013. It is just as relevant today.

Decide what are the priorities in your VDI environment.

The problem with most VDI implementation is lack of planning. Internal stakeholders should begin with a comprehensive assessment of the IT environment. Also, consider the individual desktop environment. The VDI landscape has changed over the years. Planning and project management are the key to a successful VDI adoption. The initial steps start with an internal dialogue. It’s a good idea to bring in outside expert advice early in the process. Each company is unique. There are different demands and different expectations. The time and effort put into VDI planning will pay incredible dividends for years.

Here are a few of the most common hurdles. They can be overcome when identified early.

VDI Planning
A Common problem with VDI planning is wanting to include everything.
Don’t Try to Do Everything at Once

The first common issue in rolling out a VDI initiative is trying to do too much at once. This applies to both large and small environments alike. VDI does not look the same at any two companies.

Don’t try to include every attractive feature in your initial implementation. Be focused on meeting key objectives. And be selective. Understand the major features and benefits of VDI. But don’t try to include everything in the beginning. This will only slow down the process. It will also distract you from your key objectives. A white paper by VMware recommends taking a step back. Consider what you’re trying to do. Do this before you even think about IT requirements. Instead of diving straight into technical requirements, such as numbers of servers and sizing of WAN links, begin by exploring user needs, business drivers, and special requirements. These special requirements might include things like: compliance issues; high availability; disaster recovery plans, or even the need for the business to rapidly onboard large numbers of new users due to mergers or acquisitions.

Don’t get stuck on the age-old VDI question. For example, using non-persistent versus persistent desktops in their initial deployment.

A company may never deliver a useable VDI solution if they allow themselves to get stuck on an idea. Let’s say that you determine 99% of its VDI desktops will be non-persistent. Well, you need to know that you’re going to spend countless OpEx and CapEx funds.

Stay Focused on Key Points
Zero in on what’s most important to you in a VDI environment.

Narrow down what you need in the planning stage to get VDI in a solid usable state. Set-up your VDI on a set of lean criteria. You can make additions as you go.

Do an Effective Initial Assessment

The next hurdle is company-specific. It is also often overlooked due to the upfront cost and time. I am referring to the VDI assessment that should be a part of the planning. The VDI assessment is the discovery phase of the project. It will help you isolate and focus on what is most important for your business.

Identify who will be using the VDI solution. The assessment is two parts: discussion and analysis. Be sure the process includes all the stakeholders including those who will be using the virtual desktops. Getting them involved early in the design process will help manage expectations. It will also go a long way in nurturing the acceptance of the resulting VDI environment.

Bring All the Brains to the Table
Bringing all the brains to the table will ensure the existing infrastructure is understood and all solution options are on the table.

Let’s use the example of an HR group that will be using VDI during the initial deployment. There is an initial interview. The agenda includes setting expectations of VDI. Begin by looking at how the company currently uses the computer environment.

Discussions along these lines will establish some parameters.
Do they generally only use a combined set of 4 applications? Do they work at varied times throughout the day? Do they only need a web browser and the ability to email clients on the company network?

You also need to do some data gathering of what traditional desktops are doing during the day. What are the applications used? What is needed for the machines to operate?

Most PCs are oversized with wasted resources. VDI is all about compute and storage density. Determining accurate sizing needs equals more cost savings. There are several tools that can do the 2nd part of this equation but don’t overlook the first.

Don’t Overlook Management and Support Responsibilities
This third point is around IT staff.

Who will be managing the new environment once the consultants have departed? Will you share this duty between existing desktop/infrastructure teams? Or will a new team arise to manage the entire solution? Decide this early on.

Manage a VDI environment requires an engineer who understands several key technologies. They sound know how these technologies affect the virtual desktop. These technologies include but are not limited to:

Networking  
Know how users connect to the virtual desktop. Know where to troubleshoot problems like lost connections or poor performance

Compute/Infrastructure
Deep understanding of hypervisors and server infrastructure, depending on the vendor of choice

Security
Knowledge of security products will be inside the virtual desktops and in the network path of VD. This is for troubleshooting purposes.

Desktop Engineering
Basic knowledge for customizing Windows installations and troubleshooting.

Additionally, there are several other ancillary technologies that come in handy. These technologies include DNS, Active Directory, Application Packaging/Delivery, Load Balancing, and Storage.

These skills can come from various class training offerings. Many should come from experience. Knowing how all these different technologies work together in your environment is critical.

Larger companies own many of these technologies.
Separate teams manage them. It is crucial that all the stakeholders be aware of the impact of VDI.

Know who has ownership of the new VDI systems. Make sure there is buy-in from across your IT organization. This is important to establish in the beginning. Everyone needs to be on the same page. This will make training easier. can occur for those needing to ramp up.

This ownership and buy-in include first-line defenders like your typical service desk team. Let them know they’re responsible to field certain common VDI related issues as they come in. Provide education and resources to support them. Service and support is the key benefit of partnering with seasoned VDI consultants.

Don’t Forget the User Experience

As VDI deployment comes together, don’t forget about the user experience.

The User Experience Is Important
User experience is the final litmus test. How the user feels about the experience means the success or failure of VDI or DaaS.

Consider how things were before VDI. Chances are, your employees have been using similar pieces of hardware. They know how their workstation machines perform every day (good or bad). They’ll compare the new VDI environment to what they had before.

This goes back to the assessment stage. Understanding the proper-sizing and performance of each machine is important. It can mean the difference between successful adoption and one that isn’t. It’s also more than that.

If a user now has to login twice to access their Virtual Desktop they will complain. If the machine hangs when opening a video conference they will complain. If patches cause reboots on different days, they will complain. You want to make the change over to VDI as seamless as possible.

The experience should be better, not equal or worse than on a traditional desktop. Make sure you plan to provide the expected performance of each workstation. Allow for a tailored storage solution that is intelligent and optimized for VDI. Consider network crashes. If for whatever reason, they can’t access their virtual desktops, this can also be a problem. Here’s the point. Outside factors can contribute to the total experience on a Virtual Desktop. Many of these factors will be beyond your control.

The successful adoption of VDI means user acceptance. Deliver a desktop-like experience. It means proving the training and support necessary. Company-wide buy-in is key to the success of the whole program. It all begins with planning and making sure you have every brain at the table when that happens.