There is no debating that the AEC industry in Canada has contributed much to the success of our country’s economy. For the last four decades, The Dowco Group, alongside thousands of other AEC organizations have steadfastly grown operations despite having to adapt to a myriad of technology changes, increasing globalization forces, and a general downward price pressure for products and services.
Growth naturally creates opportunities for expansion. In Dowco’s case, early growth and expansion efforts had the company establishing two, then three BC office locations, and ultimately going beyond provincial and national borders establishing offices in Ontario and Quebec, Oregon, USA, India, Shipley, UK, and Manila, Philippines. While development in IT (information technology) made such growth initiatives possible, the cost associated with this growth was high.
Instituting multi-site offices is no easy task. There are a host of challenges such as managing different time zones, language and communication, labor and business related laws and of course overcoming IT obstacles. As our company grew, our network and software demands also changed. With a recent new office opened in Manila, Dowco’s IT team decided it was time to reassess our IT set up.
IT Challenges for Multi & Global Offices
One of the most common problems that working across different offices with Tekla Structures is what Panzura calls a ‘File Open Problem’. Local file opening takes only seconds in Tekla Structures whereas it will take around 15-30 minutes to open a file that is remotely in a server on a wide area network. Most companies like Dowco go through great lengths to develop and implement strategies and workflows so that file opening and saving are done to minimize the time lost in this process.
Another common system in working with global offices is utilizing FTP (File Transfer Protocol) or similar file sending solutions available on the web. Typically companies that complete their tasks for the day package up their work by uploading their data files to their FTP site. This allows the other offshore location to pick up the tasks left off by the other office that has reached the end of their day. So the whole process repeats itself and providing the next receiving office, the latest updated file.
The Issue of 'Transferring Files'
While that system of working is feasible, there are certain obstacles. Transferring files via FTP will still be subjected to each location’s internet bandwidth. Asian countries are trying to catch up with their European and North American neighbors with many countries only providing 1.2mbs - that’s even slower than most Internet speeds available for personal and home use at the majority of homes in Canada.
There are solutions in the market that allow VPN or remote desktop access but these options still do not solve the issue of latency and workflow will still be at the mercy of bandwidth speed. Remote access to a desktop does not provide the same file access speed as using workstations locally.
And what about the Cloud? The cloud provides many companies an alternative to FTP because it requires less hardware resources. Although cloud storage is a relatively new and emerging technology, it will have the same effect as sending files via FTP.
Both FTP and Cloud solutions offer the ability to store and transfer models and information but both of them cannot share files in a time-effective manner. This means each location still has to allocate time to upload/download files sent via FTP/cloud. According to Phil Young, IT Manager for Dowco Group, sharing files take ‘from an average of an hour on each location’ for typical project sizes of 4-5GB. Whether companies are sharing small to large sized models between offices, operating costs will increase because file sizes are growing exponentially as projects increase. Software upgrades will also impact file sizes eventually also causing time lost due to file sharing processes.
Towards the end of 2013, Dowco President & CEO Ewen Dobbie met with our technical team to nail down our IT strategies for the next 5 years. One of the concerns that were presented was our current IT infrastructure, particularly the servers, which were near the end of their life expectancy. This meant we would have to face a minimum quarter of a million dollar investment to upgrade our systems. Tasked to determine alternatives to these costs, our IT staff discovered Panzura.
Panzura systems utilizes a hardware storage controller, a proprietary global file system called CloudFS and an operating System called PZOS. These three components integrate to provide a seamless yet robust access to project data at a low-cost yet access anywhere platform. The difference between Panzura and just cloud type solutions is that the former does not just allow users to share files, it actually allows users to quickly synchronize data in all site locations, allowing close to real-time sharing.
This means that Panzura allows Dowco’s detailers and Tekla users to work in a time-effective manner where projects can be worked on as if local.
One concern for using cloud storage for data is security. Panzura utilizes military grade security for data protection ensuring that your project information is safe and backed up.
Young adds, ‘we’ve investigated many solutions in the market and Panzura is the first system we found that would truly solve the multi-site, multi-user problem we had. Our users now have live copies of the latest project information accessible to them within minutes which is a huge time savings for us… Panzura is dedicated to working and supporting Dowco in our continued global expansion. As in the past, we now want to share this technology with our customers, industry counterparts, and anyone who can benefit from ‘real time’ across the world collaboration.’