Dughman had previous experience with cloud computing, but not to the extent required by TNP. The firm began with a well-known commodity cloud virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) solution fraught with drawbacks, primarily, screen resolution blurriness and system lag in the CAD user experience. The dissatisfaction with VDI responsiveness was followed by the cloud service provider making a shift from one GPU platform to another—a decision that proved highly unpopular with TNP engineers. To make matters worse, the big name cloud provider would not allow TNP to pool their resources.
“We paid for VDI workstations 24/7 by 365, and many of them sat idle 90% of the time,” says Dughman. “It was very expensive. We had 185 seats because we had to purchase and maintain a dedicated virtual machine for everyone in the company whether they used it or not. Now we can pool 60 machines and make those available to anyone in the company whenever they need it. BOXX Cloud and FSLogix facilitates that.”
FSLogix enables a user to log into any of the pooled systems and experience a consistent session environment (desktop and application configuration) even if they haven’t logged in for a while. Also key was the implementation of a Nasuni caching filer, which accelerates profile load times, a critical feature when dealing with large, compute intensive CAD profiles. “Serving FSLogix profiles from our Nasuni filer that is physically sitting in the data center next to the BOXX Cloud machines, has made all the difference,” insists Dughman. “I can't imagine trying to do it any other way. A consultant told us FSLogix would not support that. However, we tried it with BOXX Cloud and it worked well. The appeal of BOXX Cloud is that the platform is more responsive, geared towards the applications we use, and provides the ability to pool and share resources with FSLogix handling the user profile aspect.”
TNP’s BOXX Cloud solution uses integrated Anyware software and PCoIP® technology from HP, so world-class performance features keep TNP staff productive on even the most compute and graphics-intensive projects, whether it be a photorealistic visualization of a building complex or precision structural design simulation.
At the outset, TNP was entering into the situation with multiple variables. First of all, BOXX Cloud was a new platform. Secondly, it was a different model, i.e., a physical data center versus that of their previous provider and their virtual machines. Lastly, there was an increased responsibility for TNP administration. “There was more ramp up on our end,” he admits. “BOXX Cloud was more infrastructure as a service versus (the previous provider), which was a turnkey solution—one that we highly paid for, obviously. We were also evaluating the pooling aspect, trying to determine our needs and calculating the breakout of the high-end GPU machines versus the lower tier—standard versus entry level.”
These factors were only the tip of the iceberg. TNP also had to learn how FSLogix worked, how they could apply it, and how best to optimize it. Overcoming initial hurdles and stabilizing the situation consisted primarily of TNP learning the differences and making their end users comfortable working within a new environment. To that end, Dughman says BOXX Cloud technical support was invaluable. “They were awesome,” he recalls. “It was a very good experience because the BOXX Cloud support staff knew their environment well and were able to help us through many issues that likely fell outside the scope of their responsibilities. We certainly appreciated that.”
BOXX Cloud was able to bring TNP’s security platform and Nasuni caching filers into the data center and make them work securely. They also assisted in the implementation of conditional access and MFA, features Dughman categorizes as “extremely important.” All had been components of their previous cloud service through virtual machines, but BOXX Cloud was able to accommodate the necessary physical machines and the TNP environment so it now looks like any other TNP office connected through their enterprise SD-WAN fabric.
Additional security enhancements were enabled through the PCoIP technology employed by BOXX Cloud. Data is kept safe inside the network with only display information in the form of image pixels secured by AES-256 encryption transferring to and from end-user devices. This safeguards projects from becoming lost, stolen, or tampered with regardless of where the work is accessed from.
“Security is our highest priority,” Dughman says, “and our private cloud solution had to be secure and supportable. We have a small team and we operate very lean. We leverage solutions like Active Directory and Nasuni that are cookie cutter in that we know how they work and can deploy to any office. We’re able to do the exact same thing in the BOXX Cloud environment. This was all mandatory and BOXX Cloud really helped us with that.”
Dughman credits BOXX Cloud’s deployment planning team for assistance throughout the architecture phase, but as with any complex deployment, the combined skills of the entire BOXX Cloud and TNP teams resulted in success.
If Dughman ever feels pressure to deliver, he clearly welcomes the responsibility, but also insists that the financial success of the firm directly depends on his team and the efficiency of the technology they implement. “Many people don't understand just how critical it is in the AEC sector, especially in the engineering space, for IT systems to be available,” he explains. “Files and systems must be available. In some organizations it can be a minor inconvenience, but in our environment, if our engineers can't work, can't get to their files and do what they need to do, we don't make money. We must have very high uptime and BOXX Cloud has given us the ability to provide the access for staff who do need to work remotely and after-hours.”
Dughman also highlights the importance of business continuity and disaster recovery (DR). “This is our remote access solution as we don't utilize VPN,” he says. “Staff securely connect to BOXX Cloud and that's the only way they work remotely. From a DR perspective, it’s also part of our planning process because it essentially creates a backup site where if we did lose an office, we could redirect impacted staff to work in BOXX Cloud for however long is needed.”
TNP’s reliance on BOXX Cloud has eliminated the constant screen lag issues that plagued the previous VDI solution, but Dughman is not merely content with user feedback. “We try to eat our own dog food in IT, so I use BOXX Cloud as my primary workstation day in and day out,” he says. “I try to shake things out and use an entry level machine as well. If my performance is good and I can do what I need to do, then I'm confident the others can as well. We now have the right platform to provide a good experience for our engineers and they've embraced that. Obviously, with every new system roll out, you have challenges you work through until you get it all stabilized. The biggest win is that it's a better experience for the users doing the heavy CAD work.”
Dughman considers the cost savings derived from pooling systems another key benefit since BOXX Cloud supported that request when the previous provider would not. “Our VDI provider required us to pay for a machine 365 days a year whether it was used or not,” says Dughman. “It made no sense from a business perspective. The ability to pool systems, utilize them effectively and not leave machines sitting idle while still covering our DR needs, saved us at least two hundred thousand dollars annually.”
An aspect of TNP’s business model is growth through mergers and acquisitions, and Dughman believes Nasuni and BOXX Cloud fit perfectly into that model. TNP can utilize a Nasuni filer within a new acquisition’s environment, thereby bringing it rapidly into TNP’s data storage environment. Meanwhile, BOXX Cloud can accommodate a new acquisition’s employees by providing a standardized TNP computing environment. “I see us continuing to work with BOXX Cloud long term and potentially adding more systems, possibly even another data center at some point for redundancy,” says Dughman. “It depends on TNP’s growth, but I'm confident BOXX Cloud would scale with that growth. What also makes me want to continue working with BOXX Cloud is their support—it’s just been outstanding. They really care about our needs and their support team is always there to help us.”