Improving productivity and design workflow

Dean Palmer reports on a new technology that helps designers in remote locations access and share CAD data much easier and faster than ever before

If a company told you it could help you move CAD data and files more than 70 times faster across your network or between remote offices or manufacturing sites, without massively changing your existing IT infrastructure, you might just be prepared to give them a few minutes of your precious time. A company called Riverbed Technology, who, incidentally, had a stand at this year's Solid Modelling Exhibition at the NEC, has a new technology that can actually achieve these kinds of results. The new technology basically enables all redundant traffic to be removed from a wide area network (WAN), which reduces the use of bandwidth dramatically, typically by 60 to 95%, enabling more data to be sent on existing pipes. The effect on workflow and productivity of design offices can be significant. Without getting too technical (let's leave that to your IT manager when you tell him about it) the new technology, Steelhead, works by addressing the problems caused by 'chatty' application protocols (like CIFS and MAPI) in high latency environments. Compared with file compression technologies alone, Steelhead appliances have much higher compression ratios. The key to Riverbed's technology are its patented 'Scalable Data Referencing' algorithms that can deliver compression ratios in the range of 50:1, 100:1 or even 400:1, which can save far more bandwidth than other alternative technologies. Unlike caching technologies, Steelhead appliances improve application performance for all TCP traffic, not just for files or web e-mail. Any application running over TCP, benefits from the unique architecture. As well as improving the productivity of designers and engineers working across the network, the new technology reduces the risk of hacking, viruses and direct attack or theft, because the data is stored in a single, consolidated data centre. File servers, exchange servers, remote office backup and storage can be brought back to the data centre, cutting costs further. Gensler, a global design consultancy firm based in the US, has been using Steelhead appliances since mid-2004. With offices world-wide, the company had been experiencing problems with regard to how long it took for designers to access design files from another office's file server. An overnight mail courier service was the most efficient way to send designs from one office to another. Bruce Bartolf, CTO at Gensler explained the benefits since deploying Steelhead appliances: "Our files and data now move more than 70 times faster between offices, giving us the ability to complete projects more quickly, by sharing data across Gensler locations and fostering teamwork among designers in different cities. "The device takes just 10 minutes to install and has increased our network capacity by nearly four times. In fact, we had planned to add more bandwidth in October [2004], but now we can reserve that portion of our IT budget for other investments," he continued. The technology also enabled Gensler to centralise the backup of its distributed servers, allowing it to potentially save around 70 backup tapes per month, per office. Pointers * The new technology provides high performance read/write access to design files located in remote file shares * Steelhead appliance technology massively reduces the cost of backing up branch office servers * It enables an 'office-in-a-box' concept, which dramatically simplifies the deployment of IT services at new offices