Engineering and construction specialist SNC-Lavalin is using VMware’s virtual desktop infrastructure Horizon to create a trusted source of data for thousands of professionals around the globe.
The company has invested heavily into VMware Horizon, which the firm uses to run and deliver virtual desktops and specialist apps across a private cloud. CIO Steve Capper says the virtualized approach helps engineers and designers to collaborate on big projects in a secure manner:
We have design centers around the world and we send a lot of that work to a range of places and we want to help our people collaborate in real-time.
Capper reckons the move to VDI has created “massive efficiencies” by helping his business to move away from a restrictive way of working. Prior to implementing the system, each worker had a powerful and expensive computer under their desks. Files – such as models and designs – were stored locally. This resource-intensive approach made it difficult for employees around the globe to collaborate and to be sure they were working on the definitive version of a file:
With VMware and VDI we can have people accessing those high-end computer resources anytime from different locations. We wouldn't be able to do that with a single box under the desk. There’s massive efficiencies for the business that we're not moving files around, not filling up servers in all these different locations, and it's more secure as well.
SNC-Lavalin runs three consolidated global data centers in the UK, US and Canada. Data is kept in a private cloud platform run by Creative ITC, while storage is provided by NetApp. The Horizon VDI runs on top of this platform. The company also uses VMware’s virtualization technology vSphere, its hyper-converged infrastructure software vSan, its security platform NSX, and its multi-cloud offering vRealize. Capper says VMware’s VDI technology gives employees certainty that they’re working on the right file at the right time:
Everything’s centrally hosted, so we've got at least one copy. This approach ensures that people aren't working on the wrong version, because everything is just stored in one central place – it is the source of truth. That all means there’s huge advantages to the business as well as IT.
Capper adds the main reason he selected VMware Horizon was that he’d worked with the provider in the past. Another key driver was the coronavirus pandemic. When lockdown came, his team had to work out how to keep staff around the globe productive – and VDI provided a great route to success:
If you're working at home in the middle of nowhere, we didn't necessarily want people to have to take a big PC and put it in someone’s house because the bandwidth might not have supported that way of working. We urgently stood the VDI up in early 2020 to get the first half of the 2,500 seats up, so that people could actually keep working during COVID.
And what started as a technological response to extreme challenges is now an intrinsic element of the way that SNC-Lavalin employees collaborate around the globe, says Capper:
VDI has driven efficiencies. For example, there might be a design engineer in Manchester that's got some spare time. But with the old way of working, the model might be hosted in London – and by the time you've copied the files to them, they haven't got that spare time anymore. Now, straightaway somebody can be working by just logging on. We can bring people from different parts of the world together into one model, platform or piece of software very quickly.
While VDI sits at the centre of the company’s digital transformation efforts, one of the key challenges Capper faced was overcoming the cultural barriers that stood between a new way of working. He says high-end engineering companies like his own are full of highly educated and talented people. His team has taken a great deal of effort to show end users that logging in remotely can produce big benefits for them and the business:
It’s about making people realise that this approach is beneficial because it will knock hours off your day. We've done a lot of change management and had a lot of conversations with people, just to make them realise that sometimes – if there's a niggle that you don't quite like or a piece of software that's not on the VDI platform – then we can look at what we can do.
SNC-Lavalin uses about 5,000 pieces of software for areas such as heavy engineering and business information modelling. Some of the company’s core tools include Bentley Systems, Autodesk and Esri. When it comes to VMware Horizon, Capper advises other IT leaders to recognize that implementing the technology isn’t necessarily cheap, but it does produce big benefits and cost efficiencies:
You’re taking out PCs, you’re taking out servers in offices, and you're consolidating the security. Having things in one place makes more sense, because you can secure it better. We have around 500 offices globally. Typically, we’d had to have a server in each of those offices. Now, we can get rid of all of that.
The implementation of Horizon and its supporting infrastructure has helped to reduce power and storage use by up to 69%. Capper argues this centralized approach to data storage is smarter and assists with deduplication. While other IT leaders at smaller companies might wonder whether VDI technology can produce a big return on investment, Capper encourages them to take a look:
When I tell CIOs about the benefits, they’ll say, ‘But you’re a big firm’. However, everything's relative. This solution would work for an architecture practice of 100 people right up to 50,000 working on a mega project.
Over the longer term, Capper wants to use this centralized data management approach as a foundation for further digital transformation and to help people at all levels of the business take advantage of the information the company holds:
I want to try and look at how we can leverage our data to do things smarter. So, for example, if we’re building a waste treatment plant, can we be smarter. It’s about trying to consolidate harmonized systems that will allow us to look at data in a different way to how we've ever looked at it before.