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What GPU Cloud Workstations Taught Me About Change Management

by Israel Sumano

We’re excited to feature guest blogger Israel Sumano, the visionary behind Southland Industries’ transition to Workspot GPU cloud workstations on Microsoft Azure. Southland is a CIO 100 award winner for the implementation, and change management was a important factor in their success.

Southland's GPU cloud workstation rollout won the CIO 100 Award. Change Management was key to success.

I’ve been with Southland Industries for more than 8 years, living and breathing the needs of our users as they work on very complex building designs, often across geographically distant project teams. In my view, it’s my team’s responsibility to partner with the business and continually question whether or not our IT infrastructure is working, stay in front of technology advancements, and take appropriate risks to achieve a competitive advantage for the business.

After several years of evaluating multiple approaches to delivering virtual desktops with GPUs, none of which met our requirements for simplicity, we discovered Workspot. It’s an understatement to say that I was skeptical of this solution; after all, there are some really big players in the VDI delivery space, but having been down all of those paths unsuccessfully, I was willing to be open to the possibility that Workspot had invented something new. You can read about the details of our journey to GPU cloud workstations in the formal case study Workspot developed.

What I’d like to share today is how this journey underscored the challenges of change, especially when it comes to the technology people use to do their work every day. In the process of evaluating and implementing Workspot’s cloud workstation solution, I received a solid education in change management!

Power Users Come First

Over the course of several years, my team had evaluated different approaches to virtual desktops. The promise of greater IT simplicity and the ability for power users to work from home or a job site went unfulfilled. The first hurdle we could not clear with traditional VDI was performance. This is why I came to the Workspot evaluation with some preconceived notions about VDI performance; for the graphics-intensive work we do, the performance of traditional VDI just was not acceptable, especially when we’re talking about people who are not close to the data center. For Southland, power-user performance satisfaction was the top priority. Our highly valuable engineers and BIM managers cannot wait around for designs to render or for large files to upload/download.  Those pauses in productivity are expensive, both to the firm’s bottom line and to employee satisfaction. Secondary was solving the complexity of replicating a vast amount of data that comes with each of the projects we undertake. At the point where we were replicating multi-terabytes of data cross more than 17 locations to enable collaboration, we knew that this methodology was not going to be sustainable. But first things first – performance!

Job one during our initial proof-of-concept (POC) was to work closely with one of our engineers and detailers because performance was the first gate the Workspot solution had to get through. The way we approached this was to engage our BIM leads as champions. We had to be sure that the performance of the Workspot cloud workstations delivered from Azure was sufficient to meet our most demanding users.  What worked well, unlike other VDI solutions that take months just to get to a POC, is that we were able to have the Workspot solution up and running in a week; really an astonishing accomplishment in my experience. We were quickly ready to put the solution through its paces without having invested much in the way of resources.

Transparent Evaluation Process

We began socializing the idea of cloud workstations by allowing our BIM managers to test different configurations and all the Autodesk suite of products. We were concerned about making sure everyone was heard as we communicated our plans to the team, so we made sure that it was easy for people to provide feedback. Because of the unique requirements of our power users, and the difficult prior experience we had with VDI, the BIM manager who worked on the initial POC with us knew that the infrastructure team was not willing to compromise on their most important requirement – performance – and this ensured a level of trust between the teams; our power users felt comfortable that their satisfaction was the gating item for moving forward with the rollout.

We ran into a few challenges along the way, however, our biggest challenge was the management of change. When it came time to make the transition to the new solution, some users had a hard time letting go of their powerful laptops and desktops. What helped everyone through the transition was ensuring proper communication at all levels and empowering business leaders to assist with communication. One of the most important takeaways is that making sure everyone is close to the rollout process through consistent and open communication is critical to acceptance.

Take Advantage of New IT Efficiencies

Power users weren’t the only people who had to change. Our IT staff had to change too because desktops are now deployed and managed in a whole, new way. By moving our workloads from physical servers and desktops to the cloud, there is an adjustment in thinking about how to manage the infrastructure and what user expectations need to be set. Now that Workspot and Azure take care of the infrastructure heavy-lifting, our desktop staff, no matter where they are located, can focus on assisting users whether they are working from one of our offices, at home, or at a job site.  Our engineering team can also be more effective without having to be local to the data center, and now that they have fewer physical desktop systems to manage, they can spend their time on more valuable projects for the company.

Change is Good!

While some of our power users were initially uncomfortable with change, and our IT folks had to make their own adjustments, the outcome of managing through that discomfort could not be more positive. The Workspot solution has brought with it significant opportunity, not only for Southland to grow, but also to keep our valuable employees happy. Now they have the freedom to be productive anywhere, and because we can deploy Workspot in any Azure region in the world, users see amazing performance that they just did not think was possible, the firm can pursue new projects globally and we can bring improved productivity and greater ROI to the joint venture partnerships we lead. All in all, it’s an exciting time for Southland and the customers we serve.

For more details about Southland’s Workspot implementation, view our on-demand webinar, featuring Israel discussing his rollout experience and the benefits the firm is achieving.