Customer Stories | Case Study: Perkins+Will

Top Architecture Firm Overhauls Storage with Nasuni to Support Global Growth and Cut Costs

Industry: Architecture & Construction

Cloud File Services: Nasuni

Cloud Storage: Amazon S3

Sites: 24    Users: 2,200

Founded in 1935, Chicago-based Perkins+Will is one of the premier architecture and design firms in the world. The company has expanded exponentially over the last two decades and now operates twenty-eight global design studios. Perkins+Will also employs 2,200 of some of the brightest minds in the world and prioritizes sustainability, health and wellness, innovation, social purpose, and diversity. The award-winning and environmentally-conscious firm works with clients in corporate, technical, civic, educational, residential, transportation, sports and recreation, and healthcare sectors. Additionally, it offers services in architecture, interior design, branded environments, urban design, and planning and strategy.

As Perkins+Will has increased in size and reach, the challenge of protecting, managing, and accurately provisioning storage in all locations evolved. The firm’s leadership tasked the IT team with finding innovative solutions that would support a more global, collaborative business model. And no one wanted to keep sinking capital into storage hardware that would be obsolete soon after it was deployed.

That’s where Nasuni entered the picture.

Business and IT Challenges

Rapidly Increasing Storage Costs

At Perkins+Will, the firm’s architects work with business-critical BIM files as large as 300 GB each. These models represent 80% of Perkins+Will’s data, so strong protection and uninterrupted access are critical. However, with their continuous growth in both locations and employees, data was growing so quickly that their traditional three-year NAS solutions with numerous file servers were no longer sustainable. Projections reached millions in backup systems alone.

Ineffective Collaboration and Globalization Support

Effective and efficient collaboration has always been a key requirement in Perkins+Will’s business. In recent years, more than 25% of the firm’s projects have involved multiple offices. This distribution of teams is convenient for clients but frequently resulted in lost productivity for design professionals, as the dispersed employees were forced to wait for models to open or “sync to central.”

Inefficient System Management

With the complexity of design and management applications such as Revit, Navisworks, and Autodesk, an added premium is not only placed on the performance of the file storage system, but also the management of that system. Perkins+Will’s previous file system created numerous management headaches. From inconvenient and cumbersome remote backup to the multiple, independent storage systems in each office, IT was wasting far too much time babysitting its storage infrastructure.

A Drastically Different Approach

The IT group also had some higher level demands to satisfy. The firm’s leadership was calling for innovative solutions that would accelerate project delivery and allow Perkins+Will to transition from a studio-specific workflow to a more global model. To better serve its clients, the firm wanted to be able to use its best people on any project, in any global location. “We needed a drastically different approach to storage,” says Murali Selvaraj, Chief Information Officer at Perkins+Will.

“The way we’re implementing Nasuni, it’s essentially a complete replacement for all of our unstructured data. Autodesk, Revit, AutoCAD, Adobe products, anything that you save from your desktop to a Windows share, we’re now hosting that on Nasuni infrastructure.” Gregory Fait, Director of IT Infrastructure

Solution

To facilitate instantaneous file access, infinite storage scalability, and cost-effectively store, manage, and collaborate on rapidly accumulating data, Perkins+Will concluded that it needed to modernize its file infrastructure. After an exhaustive search and extensive testing, the firm chose Nasuni Cloud File Services, backed by Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3). “We tested all the solutions on the market,” Selvaraj recalls. “Nasuni was the only one that offered a pure service solution without a major capital investment.”

Perkins+Will deployed Nasuni and Amazon S3 in a hybrid cloud configuration. The Nasuni UniFS® global file system stores all files and related metadata in limitless Amazon S3 object storage as the authoritative “gold copies”, then caches only the actively used files at each office on Nasuni Edge Appliances. Each local, LAN-connected appliance ensures the same high-performance file access as traditional NAS devices or file servers, but with a far lower hardware footprint. When files become inactive, they automatically leave the Nasuni edge appliances, existing only in Amazon S3 cloud storage. This eradicates the need for full-sized file servers or NAS arrays in all offices.

Today, Perkins+Will has a high-performance storage infrastructure that has grown from 40 TB to 400 TB, and extends to all 28 of the firm’s global design studios.

Results

High-Performance File Storage and Collaboration

Because Nasuni consolidated all of Perkins+Will’s files in Amazon S3 object storage and Nasuni Edge Appliances cache active files locally in each office, IT can rest assured knowing that, on the rare occasion that an edge appliance in one location goes offline, no other offices will be affected. End users utilizing the offline appliance can be rerouted to another appliance in the same office, another office, or a virtual appliance in the cloud, in minutes, preventing IT from spending days on restores alone.

Nasuni’s unparalleled caching algorithms yield a cache hit rate of nearly 99%, diminishing cloud egress charges and protecting users from cloud storage disruptions, while Amazon S3 increases storage durability by replicating all of the firm’s data to multiple data centers in different regions.

Additionally, Nasuni’s utilization of public internet links to securely synchronize file changes across locations allows end users in different offices to work on the latest version of any file. When users need to work together on the same files at the same time, Nasuni Global File Lock™ technology prevents version conflict by allowing only one user to update a file at once.

Integrated Data Protection and No More Backup

Nasuni Continuous File Versioning™ has replaced the firm’s backup system, reducing cost and complexity and improving recovery point and recovery time objectives (RPO and RTO). As files are edited, the “shards” representing only the data fragments that have changed are stored in Amazon S3 object storage as their own unique WORM versions, thus establishing an enduring history of every file.

Proactive Business Continuity

The elimination of backup – and all the time sunk into babysitting backups ¬– gives IT cycles to work on more important projects. But Nasuni’s unique approach to data protection, and the fast recoveries that result, have also earned IT internal credit. Architects and designers now expect to be able to keep working in the event of an outage or disaster. In some cases, IT has even spun up virtual appliances in advance of an approaching storm or weather event. This proactive approach to business continuity meant the firm’s designers barely missed a beat.

“When we first had to do it three or four years ago, people were amazed,” recalls Gregory Fait, Associate Principal and Director of IT, Perkins+Will. “It has become expected today.”

Easy-to-Use Central Management Console

The Nasuni Management Console (NMC) vastly simplifies management by centrally controlling a uniform, but distributed, storage environment. As a cloud-based file service, Nasuni has unlimited scalability: a higher capacity can be provisioned on-demand in the Amazon S3 cloud with a few clicks, and it does not affect local infrastructure. Nasuni Edge Appliances still provide the same high-speed file access in every office. The NMC permits Perkins+Will’s IT department to centrally administer, provision, and monitor volumes, shares, appliances, and protocols through its web-based interface or programmatically through its REST API.

“We had some of our executive leadership coming into our Atlanta office, and right before they came in, we made the cut over [to Nasuni]. When people started showing up for work, no one knew anything was different. But we knew we had solid backups, we had capacity, we had everything that the Nasuni product could offer us.” Gerald van Benschop, Director of Global Technology Services

Supporting a Global Studio Model

Most AEC firms are organized by studio. Each of these offices its essentially its own entity. If Perkins+Will had attempted to link these studios together and shift to a global, collaborative model using traditional storage infrastructure, the costs would have skyrocketed, and inefficiencies and delays would have run rampant. Amazon S3 and Nasuni allowed the firm to build a true high performance global storage infrastructure. This not only saved the firm money. It also supported the shift to a global workflow.

“We can move data from one place to another place, but we still have that single source of truth across all our studios around the world,” explains Selvaraj. “So we’re not replicating data from one place to another and creating these inefficiencies. If you think about the drivers for why Nasuni is at Perkins+Will, it’s fundamentally about economics and rock solid, reliable performance. ”

Easing M&A Integrations

The firm recently expanded from twenty-four to twenty-eight global studios. In the past, integrating these new locations would have been a hassle. Provisioning storage when these studios ran out of capacity would have been time-consuming and expensive. Nasuni is designed to simplify the process of integrating newly acquired companies, studios, or offices, all with a minimal impact on end users. These new studios and their talented architects and designers quickly become productive members of Perkins+Will’s global studio, allowing the firm to see a return on its M&A investment faster.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

Now that file data is stored in a single repository instead of siloed at different global locations, Perkins+Will has a tremendous opportunities around artificial intelligence and machine learning. One early example: The firm just recently began conducting detailed analytics on more than 500,000 drawings and photos of the company’s projects. When working on a new project, designers can now search for graphics that illustrate how other, similar projects were designed and completed. This capability gets projects moving faster and helps studios when they bid for new work.

Cost Savings

With twenty-four locations worldwide (now twenty-eight) and an ever-increasing volume of unstructured data, Perkins+Will was projecting to spend millions over the next three years in backup systems, while storage at those locations would have escalated that total by more than a million dollars. Nasuni efficiently delivers additional functionality for less than $1.5M over the same period, yielding 65% savings while improving the overall user experience and reducing risk to the organization.Concludes Gerald van Benschop, Infrastructure Manager at Perkins+Will, “In addition to meeting all of our technical requirements, the cost-effectiveness and the ease of expansion made Nasuni the right solution for us.”

Next Steps

Perkins+Will wanted an IT strategy that could bring them closer to clients as they continue to globalize. Nasuni now provides Perkins+Will with high-performance data storage with more efficient economics and premier data protection capabilities. File synchronization services have enhanced the simplicity and success of file sharing and collaboration for the entire organization. IT has freed up money to invest in other initiatives to help the firm. With the addition of Nasuni to Perkins+Will, plus more opportunities to improve the user experience, employees’ confidence in IT has never been higher and will continue to grow.

“The reason why we are using Nasuni, in addition to the cost exercise, it’s in complete alignment with the way the business is headed. We talked about global, near our clients, the best team across multiple offices. There’s not a whole lot of choices in the storage world. And Nasuni is in perfect alignment with that thinking.” Murali Selvaraj, Chief Information Officer