American Structurepoint, founded in 1966 is a multidisciplinary firm offering architectural, engineering, and other related services. Headquartered in Indianapolis, the company is undergoing rapid growth by opening new offices in additional locations throughout the United States. Employees at these remote sites are engineers who use computationally and graphically intensive 3-D modeling applications.
When American Structurepoint set up its first remote office more than 10 years ago, it had to build an entire IT infrastructure, with a storage area network (SAN) array, servers, and additional equipment. "With the advancement of new technologies and our aggressive growth goals, it became apparent that it wasn’t feasible for us to continue to implement that model at our new locations," says Adam Martin, IT director at American Structurepoint.
The question became, how could the company reduce or eliminate the need to deploy complex and costly infrastructure at each new office? That’s when American Structurepoint leadership began looking at desktop virtualization solutions, but they weren’t sure the technology was mature enough to meet their requirements. The majority of the staff at the new locations were engineers working with computationally intensive 3-D graphics programs. Any virtual desktop solution would need to provide the engineers performance at least as good as they experience working locally.
Before settling on the Citrix solution, American Structurepoint made sure its key engineering applications were certified to work on the platform. Next, the company’s Citrix partner, CAD-virtualization specialist IMSCAD, helped put the new environment in place, starting with the company’s Charlotte, North Carolina, office.
American Structurepoint packaged every application the engineers use into a desktop image they could access through XenDesktop, including standard office applications as well as the 3-D modeling engineering applications. NetScaler directs workers to their applications and serves as a load balancer. The graphics acceleration technology in Citrix HDX 3D Pro optimizes delivery of the engineers' 3-D design programs, providing high-definition quality to the front end, while NVIDIA GRID vGPU enhances application performance in the back end by rendering graphics on a server rather than on a physical endpoint device.
While the company deployed new hardware at its headquarters—a new HP ProLiant DL380 server with solid-state drives (SSD) for storage and an NVIDIA GRID K2 graphics board—the expenditure was significantly less than building out infrastructure at each new office location. The configuration currently supports 16 engineering staff and could handle additional workers if needed, Martin says.
High availability inherent with XenDesktop keeps the system running 24/7. To help American Structurepoint monitor system status, IMSCAD told the company about Goliath Performance Monitor software, which provides in-depth insight into the Citrix solution and the hypervisor. American Structurepoint now uses Goliath Performance Monitor as well as Citrix Director, the management console for XenDesktop, to support its environment. Goliath Performance Monitor correlates server-side events in the Citrix and NVIDIA environments as well as the engineers' virtual desktop user experience, helping the IT team investigate and resolve any problems. Martin says, “To us, the Performance Monitor’s key value is pulling metrics for XenDesktop, NVIDIA GRID vGPU, and presenting IT infrastructure into a single console. This gives us a broad and deep visibility to pre-empt potential issues and, if they occur, troubleshoot the issue quickly.”
"The biggest benefit I see to us, not only as an IT group but as a company, is it just makes us more agile," Martin says. "We can get an office up and running literally within a couple of days to a week, depending on how long it takes to get the Internet connection. Before, we would have to purchase the hardware, have it delivered, set it up, ship it to the remote location, then send a resource to the remote site to have it integrated into our network. There's just a lot more involved with that."
Eliminating the need for new hardware at each new office not only makes opening the offices quicker, it improves productivity. "I can say this: We've already opened two new offices since we've adopted this strategy and the impact was immediately apparent," Martin says. “It was quicker to get each office up and running, and we spent significantly less in manpower and equipment making that happen.”
Increased productivity was an almost accidental benefit of the Citrix deployment. It wasn't a driver of the project, but now engineers can access their applications from anywhere, using any device. "For our company, productivity is paramount, so any time we can make our end users more productive, it essentially equals more revenue," Martin says.
Great performance and mobility was an absolute requirement for American Structurepoint's virtual desktop solution. "Because our company is built up mainly of engineers, they're all about performance and having access to their systems from virtually anywhere. The performance had to be on par with, if not better than, what they were getting with their local workstation," Martin says. The performance gains are a result of both the HDX 3D Pro solution and NVIDIA acceleration, as well as the applications residing in the same location as the data. While workers feel the performance is better, the company also has the numbers to prove it. "We actually have a CAD application manager here that's performed benchmark testing for us that confirms our belief that performance has improved," Martin says.
Martin sees the Citrix solution as critical to the success of the company's plan to aggressively expand in the next five to seven years. It would be difficult for American Structurepoint to enable that expansion without the Citrix solution, he said. "Right now, we can handle up to 16 engineers on one system; we're currently in talks with our partner about expanding the current capacity—basically tripling that," he says. Keeping the equipment at headquarters rather than distributed at other locations makes it easier for the company to be flexible with future office locations. If one location doesn't work out, there will be no physical infrastructure to relocate to another location.
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