Top Aussie architect converts to cloud CAD collaboration

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Top Aussie architect converts to cloud CAD collaboration
Hassell's Darling Harbour design

Melbourne-based Cloud Solutions Group has used cutting-edge virtualisation technology to help global architect Hassell embrace the cloud and overcome Australia's tyranny of distance.

Hassell, a 1000-staff firm with 14 studios across Australia, Asia and the UK, typically had to kit out staff with hefty desktops to process heavy-duty design files from AutoCAD and Revit.

The company had a vision of “seamless, real-time collaboration”, but was challenged due to the extremely resource-intensive AutoCAD and Revit files, which demand significant computing power and network bandwidth.

Tom Leyden, Hassell’s head of technology, said: “We went to the market to see what was available and Cloud Solutions Group recommended Citrix Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI).

“Using the Citrix Xendesktop 7.1 and NetScaler Access Gateways, we can provide staff with remote access to a graphics-accelerated VDI environment that opens up new opportunities for collaboration.”

The size of the files made remote collaboration a chore, Cloud Solutions Group managing director Josh Rubens told CRN. "Citrix works in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide off the Melbourne infrastructure, and the Perth guys work locally but what if I want to collaborate on a file in Perth and Melbourne?"

The systems integrator devised a solution based on the Panzura Global Cloud Storage System. This technology allows users "to centrally manage storage capacity without making compromises in the end-user experience accessing files, even at great distance from the core", according to the vendor.

What this means for Hassell is that it can host chunky design files on AWS in Sydney, then the Panzura system replicates metadata for users on either coast of Australia, so they can collaborate without needing to transfer huge files across the network.

"Wherever you log in, you see the same thing wherever you are and work on it locally. It has a lock and key so you can't overwrite," said Rubens.

It is also an early large-scale Asia Pacific deployment of Nvidia Grid cards, which offer the ability to offload graphics processing from the CPU to the GPU in virtualised environments, allowing the data centre manager to deliver true PC graphics-rich experiences to more users for the first time, according to the manufacturer.

Rubens said the technology "provides the graphics acceleration capability and are a key component of the solution. Without them in the servers, you can't virtualise 3D applications."

The overhaul has offered significant savings, he added. "Historically every one of [Hassell's] staff had a $4000 workstation in their desk. Now they can each have a thin client… Instead of spending $1.4 million on desktops for 300 users, you can spend half and get the advantages of mobility and collaboration."

The deployment was a proof-of-concept across Hassell's studios in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide, and will now be rolled out globally.

According to Cloud Solution Group, Citrix only developed these advanced graphics capabilities over the past six months, making Hassell the first architectural firm in the Asia Pacific Region to take advantage of the new platform.

It marks the latest step on Hassell's cloud journey. This project came two years after Cloud Solutions Group helped Hassell consolidate 14 Exchange servers across six sites down to six virtual servers in two locations, which "massively reduced licensing and management costs, while improving availability of this critical application", according to a statement.

"As well as benefitting from the improved virtual server management features of the latest software, Hassell was able to reduce its studio footprint from 12 virtual servers housed on four physical servers to six virtual servers housed on two physical servers."

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