A Case Study in Virtual Workstations for CAD29 Nov, 2018 By: Alex Herrera
Herrera on Hardware: The experience of architecture and engineering firm Mead & Hunt presents a compelling proof point for a new CAD computing paradigm.
Mead & Hunt Never Looked Back
It's not difficult to see why a firm like Mead & Hunt would be looking for a solution like cloud-hosted virtual workstations. Its increasingly distributed workforce now gets 24/7 access from wherever they are, on simple devices that don’t pose security threats anywhere near on par with the old physical workstation clients. A user can get more modestly configured hardware for mainstream work, and when necessary can provision a monster machine far beyond what any buyer would justify in physical form. “Big data” stored and operated on in-place in the cloud enables a virtual, collaborative workspace, where CAD team members anywhere can create, edit, review, and mark up designs, without the costly delays and problematic version errors that can plague a traditional client-heavy, peer-to-peer IT topology.
Those are the big-ticket prizes that those pursuing virtualized and centralized approaches most often place at the top of their wish lists. But they’re not the only ones, and Mead & Hunt had other goals in mind — goals best achieved by a cloud-based approach. Consider disaster recovery: Depending on where staff is located, a fire, hurricane, tornado, or blizzard could knock a conventional client-heavy IT environment offline for days — or worse, permanently.
One of Mead & Hunt’s offices was located just a mile from the perimeter of the tragic 2017 fires in Santa Rosa, California. Had they been a mile closer, a workstation client and its extensive design database might have been lost for good. With a cloud-based environment, getting up and running by spinning up another virtual workstation from another site, or at home, would be quick and simple. Company personnel have also found themselves in a hotel near a client site waiting for a hurricane to blow over. As long as the network is up and running properly, they can work as effectively as if they were in the office.
Other practical benefits include ease of IT administration and cash flow management. Cloud providers assume the burden of remedying repairs and outages (which are likely more rare as well), and the increasingly broad set of tools available to customers make provisioning, de-provisioning, monitoring, and tuning both easy and effective.
Moving to cloud-based virtual workstations can cheer senior management, who often shudder at the thought of hefty capital expenditures (CAPEX) with uncertain maintenance costs incurred in the future. An increasing number, particularly among small-to-medium businesses, would prefer more predictable operating expense (OPEX) with minimal up-front costs — precisely what a cloud-based offering can offer.
In the end, the motivation to move to a cloud-hosted workstation environment is compelling, no matter what type of CAD-reliant business you’re in. But if you’re an outfit like Mead & Hunt — one that already made the jump to storing data in the cloud (or private datacenter) — then hosting workstations in that cloud or datacenter is a logical and straightforward next step.
Regardless of what your IT environment currently looks like, though, the bigger issue is how well it’s working today, and whether its ability to support staff needs will decline in the future. Because if your company is already struggling with the types of challenges Mead & Hunt faced (increasingly scattered personnel, anytime/anywhere access to mushrooming datasets, and elevated security concerns), the pain will likely only get worse as time marches on. Mead & Hunt recognized the challenges and embraced the chance to exploit a new generation of IT tools to set its staff and business up to succeed, not just today but long into the future.
The cloud is here and rapidly extending its reach, and examples like this one prove it is now positioned to compete with one of the most traditional high-performance computing devices: the CAD workstation.