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New cloud desktop delivers apps and data where VDI can't

Panzura's DaaS-cloud storage combo one-ups VDI for one firm that needs to make geographically separate employees seem like they work in the same zip code.

VDI is a good option for companies that want to deliver desktops to employees close to the corporate home base, but cloud desktops may be better when users work thousands of miles away.

C&S Companies, an engineering and construction firm in Syracuse, New York, discovered this when it sought to make its geographically separate employees seem like they all worked in the same space.

The company operates 14 offices and has 500 employees, many of whom work in construction seasonally depending on the region and who need access to data in the field, said Eric Quinn, director of IT at C&S. The company's IT team gives employees access to that data in various ways, including VPN, VDI and desktops as a service (DaaS).

VMware Horizon serves up virtual desktops to C&S employees who work in the company's offices, and performance is fine, Quinn said. But for distant workers and partner companies that need access to graphics-intensive building and design applications such as AutoCAD Civil 3D, Revit and MicroStation, a cloud desktop from Panzura SkyBridge provides a better user experience, he said.

With SkyBridge, released in May, the data is encrypted and secured and can be delivered to end users coast to coast via Amazon Web Services' (AWS) Virtual Private Cloud, according to Quinn.

There are many other DaaS options, including Amazon Workspaces and VMware Horizon Air, but C&S chose Panzura because the company already used its Global File System (GFS) cloud storage with good results, and Panzura makes VDI extremely simple, Quinn said.

"Panzura provides a way to build a virtual desktop in Amazon that doesn't require a whole lot of knowledge about virtual desktops," he said.

SkyBridge automatically configures and launches storage, compute, applications and networking with one click to provision Citrix XenDesktop or XenApp in AWS' Elastic Compute Cloud. Because all the file and application data are available in the cloud or in branch offices, IT doesn't need to tunnel back to the data center to access data, according to Panzura.

SkyBridge allows IT to run on premises apps in the cloud without changing those applications. Antivirus, indexing and rendering are some applications that can run in the cloud, Panzura said.

Storage is the Achilles' heel of virtual desktop environments, but Panzura, known for its cloud storage, connects its virtual desktops to GFS.

All of C&S's unstructured data is in the GFS storage environment, which looks like a global, locking Windows filer to users, but is actually backed by a central cloud repository and spans hundreds of sites, according to Panzura. GFS made it possible for C&S to run an efficient, geographically dispersed organization, Quinn said.

Panzura provides a way to build a virtual desktop in Amazon that doesn't require a whole lot of knowledge about virtual desktops.
Eric QuinnIT director, C&S Companies

"[GFS] has been the game changer that no one else has been able to accomplish," he said. "It allows us to all work as if we are in the same room, and SkyBridge connecting to virtual desktops makes all the difference for us."

GFS eliminates the "file open" problem for CAD or similar applications, to give users network-attached storage-like performance in remote locations.

"Things like Dropbox and Citrix ShareFile are good, but they create copies of your data, so you could have multiple copies out there," Quinn said. "Panzura allows us to provide a virtual desktop that goes straight to our data. That's a very powerful thing, to allow multiple companies to work off one set of data."

DaaS' drawbacks

However, DaaS isn't all rainbows and cupcakes. It costs about the same as a good engineering workstation. And there are still some processes that work better locally. For instance, C&S inspectors who download a lot of photos and have to send those images miles away find the process to be much slower in a cloud desktop environment, Quinn said.

"It's the reality of working with virtual desktops and we take things case-by-case on what we deliver that way," Quinn said.

For C&S, flexibility and shared access to resources is more important than cost.

"The thing that strikes to the heart of engineering firms is that many times, we partner with other companies that provide services we don't, and we all need access to the same data at the same time," Quinn said. "Panzura allows us to do that."

Panzura's license is based on concurrent users. List prices for SkyBridge start at $25,000 for a 25 user virtual system, $50,000 for a 60 user virtual system or $85,000 for a 120 user virtual system. Additional cloud providers, VDI software, and applications will be supported in future releases.

Bridget Botelho is Senior News Director for TechTarget's Data Center Virtualization and End User media groups. Contact her or follow her on Twitter @BridgetBotelho.

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