HKS is a global team of architects, interior designers, urban designers, scientists, artists, anthropologists, and other professionals working together across industries to create places that delight, heal, and stimulate peak performance. The firm has nurtured a culture of extraordinary people with curious and creative minds who are passionate about delivering elegant solutions. For more information, visit hksinc.com
Customer Name: HKS
Industry: Architecture and planning
Location: Dallas, Texas
Number of Employees: 1,400
● Improve workforce collaboration and productivity
● Minimize large file transfers and application latency
● Simplify systems management and scalability
● Cisco® Unified Computing System™ (Cisco UCS®) with NVIDIA T4 GPUs
● Citrix Virtual Desktops
● Increased the performance of Autodesk Revit and other bandwidth-intensive workloads
● Improved application and data security
● Accelerated user and workstation onboarding
HKS, the third largest private architectural firm in the world based on revenue, has 23 offices and 1,400 specialists spread around the globe. While most of its projects are managed locally, HKS routinely pools its resources and expertise from multiple offices to deliver the best designs for its clients.
“We have lots of intra-office collaboration and talent sharing,” says Michael Smith, vice president of IT operations at HKS. “It’s not uncommon to have a dozen or more people from around the world all working with the same project files.”
To facilitate this level of cross-team collaboration, the firm has historically armed its architects and designers with ultra-high-end laptops running Autodesk Revit and other bandwidth-hungry design applications. But those laptops are “expensive boat anchors,” Smith claims, because of their exorbitant price tag and sheer bulk. They need to be replaced every three to five years. And they can’t prevent the firm’s core applications from slowing down when massive design files are transferred between users, many of which are in different countries.
“Those design and 3D visualization tools are key pieces of our business,” Smith says. “With everyone working in parallel and sending large files back and forth, latency became a problem. Our project files were locking up as the application synced, which had a negative impact on productivity.”
HKS had reached an inflection point.
“We could continue to purchase laptops with the most RAM and latest GPUs every three to five years for all 1,400 users,” Smith says. “Or we could shift that investment to our data center and get more bang for our buck.”
HKS chose the latter. As part of a phased rollout, the firm deployed four Cisco UCS C240 servers to support up to 50 Citrix Virtual Desktops. Factory-installed with four NVIDIA T4 GPUs per server, the virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) provides exceptional performance for the firm’s bandwidth-intensive workloads.
“We’re working and investing more intelligently with Cisco UCS-based VDI,” says Smith, “instead of repeatedly throwing money at the beefiest laptops and pipes.”
While the initial rollout is a proof of concept, HKS built the VDI environment with expansion in mind.
“Cisco UCS is modular, so we can easily scale the environment one node at a time,” Smith says. “The ability to replicate the model in terms of pricing and configuration was really important. We found that we could get other server solutions for less upfront cost, but they would have been harder to manage and twice as expensive to scale.”
Leveraging Cisco UCS Manager, the firm has created server profiles that can be easily replicated as additional nodes are deployed. Onboarding new users and thin client workstations is much faster and easier from procurement, configuration, and licensing standpoints. And application performance can be centrally managed and fine-tuned for specific users, projects, and processing needs.
“VDI by day, render by night,” Smith says with a chuckle.
Cisco UCS is modular, so we can easily scale the environment one node at a time. The ability to replicate the model in terms of pricing and configuration was really important.
- Michael Smith, Vice President of IT Operations, HKS
Most importantly, HKS specialists now have access to all of their design tools – wherever they are and without performance or security tradeoffs.
With Cisco UCS and NVIDIA T4 GPUs, the firm’s applications are just as fast over VDI as they are on ultra-high-end laptops. Sensitive project files are stored in the data center instead of user workstations, improving data security. And because those files aren’t being sent from user to user, HKS has freed up valuable bandwidth.
“The ability to work on large projects in real-time with people based in geographically disparate locations – such as New Delhi, Singapore, and Shanghai – has been incredibly powerful,” Smith says. “Now teams can collaborate on platforms like Revit instead of engaging in an iterative design process. We’re already seeing the benefits of this approach. For example, right now our Dallas team is working on a prominent, multinational project. Even though it’s a very large model, our architects in Singapore and New Delhi can easily contribute their expertise.”
Seamless, remote collaboration became vitally important when the global pandemic forced all of the firm’s employees to work from home.
“We were still in the proof of concept phase, so the pandemic was the ultimate stress test,” Smith says. “The environment essentially went from no load to maximum load in a couple of weeks, and it worked beautifully.”
Based on the “resounding success” of the proof of concept, HKS plans to increase the size of its VDI environment and further promote the capability to its users in 2021.
“Once our architects realize they can travel with an iPad instead of a boat anchor,” Smith says, “they’re going to embrace this quickly.”
Explore more Cisco Data Center Compute customer success stories at cs.com/dccstories.