ULC Groep uses VDI to enable a more powerful user environment without investing in expensive client hardware.

June 8, 2016
ULC Groep uses VDI to enable a more powerful user environment without investing in expensive client hardware.

ULC Groep needed to renew their ICT infrastructure to meet the new requirements generated by the digitization of most of the building models. They chose a combination of powerful HP servers with the most powerful NVIDIA graphic cards (Grid K1 and K2) in combination with a VDI (virtualized desktop infrastructure) enabled by VMware solutions. ULC thus saved thousands of euros they would otherwise have spent on powerful workstations and replacing network infrastructure. Additionally, they created more flexible working conditions for their employees.
ULC is a leading technical installation company in the area of non-residential building and healthcare. 350 professionals cover various disciplines: mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, data communications systems and fire protection systems. Clients can rely on an excellent service and a constructive approach from ULC’s design teams. ULC guarantees the provision of professional engineering, realization and technical management and maintenance services.

The Challenge

ULC makes extensive use of 3D Design, more specifically of Building Information Models (BIMs) to share information with all building partners. This contributes to a better collaboration and a high-quality execution as well as a reduction of costs associated with failures in the building process due to poor communication.

BIMs are not only very useful, since a couple of years they have also become compulsory in The Netherlands for so- called ‘integrated contracts’ pertaining to buildings for the Dutch government. The obligation to build BIMs, which are extremely powerful but consequently also very processing-intensive, led to a serious rethinking of ULC’s infrastructure. To use the software that can process such models, the ULC professionals needed lots of computing power, often more than what their current desktop could provide them. The ULC management were faced with two main options: either replace most of the client infrastructure with more powerful workstations and replace most of the network infrastructure, or opt for a server-centric solution using a very powerful server-side processing and a reliable virtual desktop to access the server software.

The choice was not that very difficult”, says Johan Bredenbeek, Preparation Manager at ULC Groep: “Replacing tens of workstations on client side without the guarantee that they will still be performant enough next year on the one hand, and installing the applications with a powerful graphic card on server side with acces through a virtual desktop on the other hand? The last option proved not only much more cost-effective but – equally important – much easier to manage, support and maintain.

The solution

ULC selected a solution consisting of 3 powerful HP servers equipped with equally powerful NVIDIA GRID vGPU graphic cards. In order to leverage this graphic power on client side, VMware’s vSphere hypervisor is implemented in combination with VMware Horizon. This environment enables a user experience similar to what they had when the software was running on the physical client, or better.

UnknownThe implementation process ran very smoothly. “Credits for this smooth transition go to our ICT partner CSN Groep B.V. in Leusden (The Netherlands), who helped us prepare for the project based on their previous experience with similar environments”, comments Johan Bredenbeek. But he also attributes this success to the ease of use of the new virtual desktop environment.
The thorough preparation also enabled a very fast and easy acceptance by the end users. “Our pilot was also a first production project”, says B.J. Wildeboer, system management executive at ULC, “during this phase the first test users could be convinced by the ease of use and the fallback to the old environment whenever a problem appeared with the new environment. It was a matter of clicking an icon to enter the VDI environment, and closing this environment in case of problems without any transition hiccups.

The speed of the new environment also exceeded the expectations. “In fact
we cheated a bit”, laughs Wildeboer: “We provided some users with the lowest profile and associated lowest access speed. They did not know that higher speeds were available but were more than satisfied with the response rate they received.” The positive user feedback allowed for an even smoother rollout to all other users.

Business Results & Benefits

The resulting environment is everything that ULC had hoped for. A centrally stored and managed cluster of servers for processing of the labour-intensive design applications and for storing the huge resulting files, combined with a thin client environment for the end users that enables a working experience that equals or exceeds the user experience in the past.

The centralization of the applications and storage is a huge improvement compared to the previous environment, notes B.J. Wildeboer: “Now we need to manage and maintain only three server images instead of dozens of client environments. When upgrading to a newer version, we need to take care of 3 centrally located machines instead of having to run to every single end user.” The use of server-heavy processing in combination with the flexible and powerful VMware virtualization infrastructure also led to a huge cost saving by avoiding the investment in workstations that would be powerful enough to run the demanding new applications needed to create the required BIM models. “It is difficult to calculate an ROI for such projects, but the hardware costs avoided by choosing VMware’s VDI solution definitely is a worthwhile ROI in itself”, remarks Johan Bredenbeek.

Additionally, the virtualized desktop allows for more flexibility in working condition, says Bredenbeek: “Our end users can now work whenever and wherever they choose. This is a valuable advantage in this increasingly competitive world where talented recruits are hard to get. And collaboration on the same BIM model from different locations also becomes a lot easier. This enables a much more productive environment.” And the collaboration with partners and customers has also benefited from the new environment, concludes Bredenbeek: “Even with a tablet and a decent phone connection, you can access the BIM files to show them what the plans look like.

Looking Ahead

The number of concurrent users that can access the current environment is far higher than what ULC currently needs. “So we have made an investment that will probably be sufficent for years to come”, says Johan Bredenbeek, “but even if we would grow much faster than anticipated, we are certain that our current combination of centralized powerful servers and highly flexible thin clients can be expanded very easily. So we are very confident for the years to come.

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