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i2C - architecture practice of the future

Author: Jamie Millar
i2C architects is a multi-office architecture firm on the front foot with technology. In search of efficiency and reduced IT costs, the company has adopted a cloud infrastructure and is now reaping many benefits.

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i2C managing director Anthony Merlin says the reason for choosing to set-up a cloud infrastructure was mainly that it was expensive to maintain an internal infrastructure.

“Every time we wanted to run up a new piece of software we seemed to be told we’d need a separate server,” Merlin says

“Then every three to four years our IT support would recommend a hardware upgrade that became a 30 to 40 thousand dollar hardware exercise in each office.

“What we wanted to avoid was becoming a keeper of hardware in three different offices.”

i2C’s solution was to set up a virtual private cloud where hardware, software and data is centralised in one location for the whole company. The service provider operates in each office region (Sydney, Melbourne, Perth) providing a dedicated data link to the central ‘cloud’.

“Our cloud partner provides the datacentre where we can run up as many virtual servers as we like,” Merlin says.

“Each office has a dedicated link to the datacentre where our software and databases are held and it doesn’t require an internet connection to login.

“Our internet connection also happens from inside the datacentre meaning we only need one internet connection for the whole company.”

In addition to that, each office has some acceleration hardware that helps with caching, managing and acceleration of data across the data links.

i2C’s virtual private cloud set-up is not too far removed from a full public cloud offering such as that offered by Microsoft’s Windows Azure. Aside from being on a significantly smaller scale, the key difference is connecting through a dedicated link instead of via a web browser.

The team can still login via VPN connection if off site or working from home.

FLEXIBLE PRACTICE

A key benefit for a growing architecture practice is lower start-up overheads for a new office.

Anthony Merlin said the process of switching to a cloud infrastructure had begun before the company opened its third office.

“To open a new office all we need is a connection to the datacentre, add the acceleration device and we’re done,” he said.

“This is a real eye-opener for a growing practice where before there would have been a much higher capital expense in terms of internal hardware.”

SYNERGY CENTRAL

By centralising its technology infrastructure, i2C has discovered several efficiency benefits in how it works as a team across multiple offices.

A key benefit for a growing architecture practice is lower start-up overheads for a new office.

Anthony Merlin said the process of switching to a cloud infrastructure had begun before the company opened its third office.

“To open a new office all we need is a connection to the datacentre, add the acceleration device and we’re done,” he said.

“This is a real eye-opener for a growing practice where before there would have been a much higher capital expense in terms of internal hardware.”

Merlin said they had previously seen some lag when the Melbourne office logged-in to Synergy [hosted in the Sydney office]. Since centralising Synergy on the cloud server, the lag time has reduced to virtually nothing.

Senior associate Anthony Palmas said as a result the team has been able to collaborate more effectively.

“On the technical side of things we had Synergy hosted in Sydney but had project files on each office server [in Sydney and Melbourne],” he says.

“Once we moved to the cloud we were able to put all project files in the same place and work much more collaboratively and a lot more smoothly.”

One aspect making it easier to host Synergy centrally is that it’s not very “data hungry”, Merlin says.

“Some of our other design applications are very heavy with data, which has resulted in a couple of issues simply with the volume of data crossing over.”

FUTURE ARCHITECT

Both Merlin and Palmas agree that the future is inevitably heading to the clouds. They see a future where the firm could be fully cloud-based with no infrastructure hardware.

“It’s definitely the way everything seems to be going,” Palmas says.

“We’re certainly not putting our heads in the sand and just thinking we’ll stick with this current set-up… we’re always looking at the next big thing to see if it’s where we want to go.”

He says the company is making good use of some of Synergy’s cloud timesheets and expect there’s more to come in this area.

“Cloud timesheets have been great – when people are behind on updating timesheets or want to update remotely then the cloud app has been really effective.

“We do see that it [Synergy] will one day go all the way to that environment [cloud] and we look forward to that, but there are limits to what we can do currently.”

Anthony Palmas says he thinks i2C will remove the reliance on server infrastructure altogether if the public cloud offerings can be equivalent to what they have now in terms of functionality.

In developing a cloud strategy, the team at i2C discovered it’s not as straightforward as copying a load of files to another location.

Anthony Palmas says they spent a considerable amount of time researching and testing the systems they wanted to use.

“It’s important to have realistic expectations,” Palmas says.

“Problems won’t be solved with a magic wand, things trialled may not work exactly the way you think in a full working environment… we’ve had those challenges and still do to a certain extent.”

Anthony Merlin says it took around a year to decide to go down the cloud path, then another year to implement the solution.

“If I was to offer any advice to anyone considering moving to the cloud it would be to allow 12 to 24 months for the whole project,” he says.

“It’s certainly not something that can be done in a couple of months.”

UP TIME

Once teams adapt to a new way of working and thinking, though it may not be all that much different overall, it’s easy to forget about the way the world used to be, it seems.

Anthony Merlin says there is an occasional lag in connecting to the cloud server which can result in a grumble or two from the team when it happens.

“It’s easy for people to forget how problematic on-premise server infrastructure can be,” he says.

“In the past if the server goes down you have to call out your support team which is supposedly on a four-hour call-out contract – they may not have brought what they need to solve the problem and it can snowball from there.

“We had one occasion where our server was down for two whole days, which for an office of 24 people, at the time, is not good.”

SILVER LINING

i2C is at the leading edge of architecture practice management with integrated business management software, latest design capability and a centralised virtual private cloud infrastructure maximising efficiency across three offices.

The future looks bright for i2C, clouds and all.

Click to find out more about i2C
Click here to learn more about Synergy Cloud Services
Click here to learn more about timesheets


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