Overcoming the Challenges of Working Remotely in the AEC Industry

Although amplified by the Coronavirus pandemic, the desire to work remotely and efficiently presents longstanding IT challenges. This is true particularly in the AEC industry, where we rely on graphics-intensive software and large files. We need a system to get the computer close to the data, and deliver optimized graphics to the remote user. Fortunately, there are solutions to provide this experience, approaching that of being in the office. At SES, we have found success by combining Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), cloud infrastructure, data caching, and optimized user session delivery to empower and enable our teams to deliver projects on time, regardless of location.

Step 1: Co-locate workstations near our data sources. We use Amazon Web Services (AWS) to host powerful workstations with cutting-edge graphics capabilities (GPU-enabled instances). Apart from the reliability and security benefits of a cloud provider, we pay only for what we use on an hourly basis, and can add or remove workstations on-demand. AWS provides high-speed Internet connections to end-users, independent of the circuits in our office. We connected the AWS environment to our office network by high-speed VPN, allowing our virtual desktops to reach files and services.

Step 2: Make data available in AWS with the virtual machines. In order to enhance performance and availability, we implemented a cloud-based Storage Area Network (SAN) by Panzura, which uses a “filer” (file server) in each site with a local copy of data. One filer “owns” the data, and another has a cached copy of it. The cache depends on last-accessed date, so a full replica of data is not necessary. The system manages file locking to avoid conflicts from multiple users. The network not only backs up data to Amazon's cloud storage, but it brings the data closer to the users, regardless of the location from which they access it.

Step 3: High-performance graphics. We implemented Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops to present the workstation environment to the end-user. Unlike Windows Remote Desktop or other “remote control” software, Citrix delivers excellent graphics performance for modeling and drafting because its protocol is very thin, sending only screen refreshes, mouse clicks, and keyboard strokes over the internet connection. It requires little bandwidth and is very secure since data never transfers from AWS to the remote location. 

Our cloud infrastructure is giving our team members the ability to use the tools and data they need without suffering performance issues, even when remote. Our transition to working from home was made with little interruption. By leveraging technology to put computers and data together and deliver it to users highly optimized, we empower our teams to work smart and continue meeting deadlines for our clients. If you'd like to learn more about our solutions in further detail, please feel free to contact our Technology Leader, Bill Case (billc@sesnet.com).

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