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How Virtual Desktops Provide Access to AEC Applications from Anywhere

June 04, 2021

By Peg Landry

In a recent webinar hosted by Newforma, guest speakers Dan Bergeron, co-founder of SkyTerra, and Andy Knauf, CIO from Mead & Hunt Architects, discuss how implementing virtual desktops and moving data and applications to the cloud offers a range of benefits that continue to pay off beyond the Covid-19 pandemic. As the pandemic subsides, many AEC firms will still support a remote or hybrid workforce.

Even before Covid-19, Many AEC firms faced technology challenges which impacted productivity and their ability to collaborate on projects. These firms often deal with lots of data including unstructured data and large files. And many firms faced productivity issues with employees having to take a 20-minute coffee break every time they tried to open a large file over the VPN. Additionally, IT departments struggled to keep up with changes or expansion of their workforce.

Overnight shift from office to home

When the pandemic hit, IT departments in many AEC firms had to scramble as their workforce shifted from the office to home overnight. One day everyone was working in the office with access to their on-premises IT infrastructure, and the next day everyone was working remotely.

IT departments now had to ensure that their employees could continue to access data, files, and applications from home. In the office, employees could securely access the network and their applications without having to worry about VPNs or connectivity issues.

Forward-thinking firms began migrating their infrastructure to the cloud before the pandemic hit. This move paid off as employees made the shift to working from home.

Mead & Hunt was one of those firms. They began by implementing Panzura, a cloud file system, with Microsoft Azure as their cloud storage. The combination of Panzura and Microsoft Azure, enables Mead & Hunt project teams to link quickly and seamlessly to their core applications including Newforma Project Center. Connecting applications in the cloud enabled their employees and other external project team members to securely access project information.

One-upping the game: bringing desktops and data together in the Cloud

In addition to moving project data to the cloud, firms are also moving their users’ desktops to a virtual environment. Virtual desktop Infrastructure (VDI), or Desktop as a Service (DaaS), delivers on-demand desktops to users from anywhere using any device. Applications and files that they would normally have to access through the VPN, are now accessible through this cloud infrastructure. Users can access their data, files, and applications without requiring high-powered Graphic Processing machines normally required for some applications. By moving the desktop to the cloud, companies experienced better performance with almost no latency issues.

Mead & Hunt was able to add 200 more virtual desktops over a weekend to accommodate employees working from home. Employees went home with their laptops and continued to work as if they were in the office. They didn’t skip a beat. Andy Knauf, Mead & Hunt CIO, reported that their productivity actually went up.


“We knew that we wanted to put our desktops in the cloud, because we decided years ago that we were going to be a cloud first company. We stopped buying servers and stopped buying equipment. And We really wanted to put all of our infrastructure in the cloud, because we knew that's where we wanted to use the compute. We didn't want to have any local compute for anything that we did.”

Andy Knauf, Mead & Hunt

They also found that their core applications such as Newforma Project Center, worked seamlessly with their new infrastructure model. They were able to move Newforma Project Center to the cloud infrastructure without additional challenges. Newforma users even found the performance to be better than running from their on-premises servers.

Hidden benefits of moving applications in the Cloud

In addition to increased application performance and the flexibility to accommodate changes in the workforce, there were also some hidden benefits.

Providing temporary access

Dan Bergeron explained that there are many other not so obvious benefits to moving users and applications to the Cloud. For example, temporary staff or contractors often need access to information. Traditionally, the IT department restrict the use of personal devices connecting to their network. The virtual desktop environment solves this problem by allowing IT to provide secure, temporary access. In addition, this works well for mergers and acquisitions where external auditors and acquisition teams also need quick access to company resources.

Reduced IT infrastructure cost

Virtual desktops enable users to work from any device given that the computing power is in the cloud. This eliminates the need to invest in expensive desktop devices. Mead & Hunt was able to provide new employees with $400 laptops instead of the $4,000 laptops employees were used to using. At first employees were skeptical, but within two weeks they were fully on-board after experiencing better performance than they were accustomed to with the high-end machine.

Business continuity

When racks of servers are located in each office, IT departments must back-up and secure the infrastructure in case of unexpected events including fires, natural disasters, and cyber-ware attacks. With servers and virtual desktops located in the Cloud, security and back-up recovery are also improved. There are still some concerns regarding security in the Cloud. Andy was asked this question. “I believe the security in the cloud is so much better than what you can have with an on-premises solution. Sessions on Azure are encrypted, and Microsoft has over 3500 employees dedicated solely to security.”

Getting there one step at a time

Transitioning project data, applications, and desktop to the Cloud will not happen overnight. But you can take baby steps. Mead & Hunt started by first moving their data to a Cloud storage environment. Dan also suggests the same approach. “I think a lot of people think that it's all or nothing, and the idea of spitting up a small VPN and putting a couple of services up there to test really isn't all that difficult.” He also added, “And, and once they do, it seems like they go to production almost immediately, because it really wasn't nearly as hard as they thought.”

Click here to view the webinar in its entirely.

For more information on Skyterra please visit: https://www.skyterratech.com/https://www.skyterratech.com/.

For more information on Mead & Hunt visit: https://meadhunt.com/.