Founded in 1991, KTGY is a leading full-service architecture, branding, interior and planning firm focused on residential, hospitality, and mixed-use developments, as well as neighborhood revitalization. The firm’s Director of Technology, Dawn Bridges, was in software development and a trainer of software developed by a company eventually acquired by Autodesk. This led her to architecture school, and after completing her studies, Bridges worked in architecture for a decade, eventually transitioning into the technology side of AEC. She has been with KTGY since 2016. With KTGY a user of BOXX FLEXX data center platforms and an early adopter of BOXX Cloud, Bridges sat down with us and discussed KTGY, her role, and the importance of FLEXX and BOXX Cloud.
BOXX: Take us through the steps involved in a KTGY project.
Bridges: It really depends on the project, but most are either coming out of strategy, I'm talking with the team about, or they’re proposed projects due to some pain point or challenges either at the desktop or in production. We talk them through and look at their longevity—a one or three year project. If it's a strategic direction, that's one thing. If it's tactical, that absolutely needs to happen. Then we find out what the funding looks like and if we need to go to the board or to the leadership to get additional funding (that’s non-budgeted) for tactical emergency situations. In most cases, they're strategic and we budget for them in the year prior. We'll look at budgets, put projects into the budget, and wait for the review from the board or shareholders. So that's how projects are born.
BOXX: Does every project have your fingerprints on it?
Bridges: Right now, yes. We are still in that transition from a mom and pop with two or three technology employees to a much bigger company now with eight technology staff on both sides of the house, i.e., information technology and design technology. Projects ultimately receive my approval, but usually with any of our project providers or partners like BOXX, we spend a bit of time going through the specifications that come into play—timelines, the political or cultural implications, rollout, etc.
BOXX: Describe the workflow. Do KTGY architects primarily use Autodesk Revit?
Bridges: It differs. The strategic direction is to have everybody in the Revit platform on the Autodesk side of the house using Autodesk tools. Ninety-nine percent of the company is facile using either AutoCAD or SketchUp, Adobe applications, or rendering engines. So we have an early-on design process and then move into construction documents before construction administration. We are somewhere between early design tools (SketchUp and Adobe), and those kinds of pictures, concepts, beautiful diagrams either for sale or for technical designing. Most of our teams have been using AutoCAD here for a number of years as this was an AutoCAD shop, however, KTGY started into Revit probably seven or eight years ago utilizing it on a very limited basis. The strategic directive given to the company was that we would move one hundred percent in the Revit direction. So we're one year into a strategic plan that has us being fully Revit in three years.
BOXX: Is the transition to Revit the biggest challenge you face right now?
Bridges: It's a little bit of everything. It's a little bit of training, it’s a little pushback for those who want us to be there on the time it takes to learn it and the lack of profitability due to the learning curve. Getting the training program out there is a challenge because Revit is an incredibly heavy, single-threaded software. When you put that all together, we have to tackle this from everywhere. Culturally, making that transition is a big deal.
From a hardware perspective, we've got people using machines, lightweight laptops, and trying to do things over VPN. None are a viable solution for production in Revit. When it comes down to it, we have to train users and provide best practices or what KTGY standards are going to be. Defining those actually comes with some cultural biases from previous experiences, or even roadblocks because of really tight margins on projects. It’s the revenue hit, people training for a week to learn how to use software results is a hit on the project as well as the overhead of the company. So, I think if you look at all three of those, it's a three-pronged challenge.
Did the Revit transition foster an interest in a BOXX solution?
Bridges: I think so. For me, looking for capability on the hardware side has been a constant three-year search for benchmarking equipment—seeing what we can get our hands on in a timely fashion that can do the work. The strategic direction to move to Revit makes us work hard at determining the best way to do that. I had a strategic thought from the day I arrived at KTGY that this firm is currently sitting with computers under desks while I'm very much about mobility. “Why is everybody working at their desk?” I asked. People couldn't get up and walk to the conference room or have a collaborative discussion easily, so we've been slowly transitioning to what that looks like.
When you consider the latter of the two (lack of mobility and using high-powered equipment) I naturally think of virtual equipment, virtual desktops, or something else that can handle the horsepower, but not underneath desks should we be mobile. Then COVID arrived, so for me, the natural progression was into the BOXX systems. Whether that's under the desk or in a remote data center or what have you, it really didn't matter. We actually started by dipping our toe in the water with FLEXX late 2019 and early 2020.
How did you become aware of BOXX?
Bridges: I'm in a network of people who use BOXX and I've used BOXX workstations previously at Jacobs engineering firm) where we played with systems shipped in for our design side, so I was aware of the hardware side of BOXX. However, it wasn't until I went to one of our AEC leaders meetings where a BOXX representative talked about the FLEXX units. Then, the introduction of BOXX Cloud was a solution to our virtual problem without the extra baggage that comes with VMware or Hyper-V virtual desktop. Actually for me, it's still physical enough to be predictable, while the overclocking and capability of the workstations just seemed to fit.
So KTGY utilizes a hybrid of FLEXX and BOXX Cloud. Describe that experience.
Bridges: We don't have all our FLEXX systems in place at the moment, but the ones we do have have been a really great solution for emergency remote connectivity whenever you're trading out equipment for new employees or people that are struggling. For example, if my laptop died today, what would I do? Well, I could immediately be assigned to a FLEXX machine, a node that I could work on set up with a profile on it that would be suitable for me in an emergency. We originally had put a bunch of our heavy rendering teams on the FLEXX. When they needed the horsepower, they could use their FLEXX and use their workstation to continue working. For us, it was sort of an offset of what we were currently using before we moved to cloud.
When we reached the end of the year and realized COVID was here and we needed more employees to be remote, we talked about cloud. It also became apparent that having that capability of having FLEXX nodes all over the company was going to utilize (for the same purposes) as the 10 nodes we installed here the first go around. So we've increased that number to 20 and 20 at two other locations so that we can use them for an employee whose laptop needs to be reimaged and IT can't get to it right away. The employee can have a loaner laptop, but what does that do? Now we're capable of providing lightweight loaners that aren't necessarily on the domain, but can actually access the full blown workstation in the short term. Then we can replace any other hardware that might be at their desk or that they're carrying around with them.
That's how FLEXX works for us. The same is true with, with BOXX Cloud now as we're moving people to either all-in-one solutions or lightweight laptops. They have the capability of being mobile and being remote. At this point, we're just looking at the next step. We're working on getting all of our staff transferred over to those BOXX workstations and getting the last of the FLEXX systems installed so we'll have the full environment ready to roll.
You talk about mobility a lot. Is that the biggest problem FLEXX and BOXX Cloud have solved?
Bridges: Yes, and production too. I have people with 3D models and their computers are incapable of managing them.
BOXX: You're dealing with incredibly large datasets.
Bridges: Exactly. A lot of our high density projects are 300, 400 replicated units. I think we had an 800 MB model the other day that had to be cleaned out and everything else because the local machine couldn't handle it. So we've moved them over to the cloud now.
Are you getting a lot of feedback from your end users regarding the difference between working on FLEXX versus your HP workstations?
Bridges: The ones that have moved to FLEXX are shouting back and saying, “You need to come here!” They're sort of the sentinels with the lights on saying come use these machines for your projects. Right now, we're in an approval process to get everybody over. I think we've got 35 over and another 35 coming here in the next month or so. We can't move them fast enough or get them approved through their leadership fast enough to get them over there. Everything we're hearing is really positive and everybody's excited. They may be hesitant about moving at first, but as we move more, we're going to see a flood of requests. If someone has a failure or if they find that their models are no longer capable of running on the equipment they have, we don't have downtime, so they don't have downtime. We just immediately move them over to a BOXX.
In general cases, we could be down for eight to probably 16 hours a day or two getting a new piece of hardware set up for them, if we had it on the shelf and got them moved over. As it is, when we have new hires with new equipment, we're looking at eight to 24 hours of setup time. So, if we save 8 to 24 hours for every crash or every piece of equipment that fails, that's pretty significant.
We’re adding 75 new hires per year, so if we can transition that process into a workstation that's already set up, or somebody has left the firm and the system is reimaged and ready to go, then we don’t have to collect the piece, reimage it, ship it back out, etc. The save on that two or three days of shipping, the save on that piece of equipment, which is only going to be good for a year and a half the way it's being bounced around, is substantial. On top of that, we're able to give people lightweight laptops and don’t have to spend $5,000 on production weight laptops.
Have you ever had to rely on BOXX technical support?
Bridges: We've relied on BOXX 100% for the cloud setups. We have some internal support, but everything has pretty much been on BOXX to let us know what we need to be doing.
BOXX: What’s that experience been like?
Bridges: We couldn't do it without them. We wouldn't have been able to set up anything like what we currently have with cloud or in a data center with FLEXX. In one of our offices, we're currently setting up another 20 FLEXX systems and we're getting assistance from BOXX for outside access. Our questions are being answered by (BOXX Enterprise Sales Cloud Specialist) Rick Huerta. The time saved for us by having this partnership is irreplaceable and we couldn't do it without BOXX.
I started working with Rick when we were talking about FLEXX and then when I was introduced to BOXX Cloud, we started talking about how much we needed and where we were going to go from here. The BOXX Cloud team have been invaluable when it comes to getting our systems online. The additional technical brain trust for us is like an extension of ourselves, if you will.
BOXX: Tell me about the future of KTGY and how you see BOXX as being part of it?
Bridges: I'm looking forward to getting all of our FLEXX and BOXX Cloud in place. That will check a box for me huge for this strategic three-year rotation. I've already started talking with the team about what's next. We have Teradici licenses for on-prem machines, and we’re looking at BOXX as an on-prem solution for our workstations instead of HP. I think budget time this year, we'll start to think about next year. We'll have 150 workstations in the cloud, 50 FLEXX stations up and capable of using them for what we want to use them for.
There’s a whole strategic dialogue to have around it. We'll be looking at the fiscal advantages of using workstations over time and the needs of our workstation users. I'm hoping for more positive feedback as we continue to grow and expand our company.
BOXX: Speaking of expansion, KTGY offices in different locations throughout the U.S., is there cross country collaboration?
Bridges: There is. We're using Panzura for file sharing, local filers. BOXX Cloud allows us to play that up even more because there's a Panzura in the data center which is the local filer for everybody that's working out there. It takes the local filer and that Panzura process and streamlines it even more. Instead of having six filers, we'll have one for 150 people instead of one at every location. We may have to expand it, but we're not sure yet what that looks like long term. However, it seems like having more people in the cloud and a larger file cache in the cloud may be one of those directions that's even more advantageous for us than individual offices.