Robert Bird Group Centralizes Global Data with Talon FAST™

About Robert Bird Group
Established in 1982, Robert Bird Group is a global consulting engineering firm with over 600 staff across ten offices. As a member of the Surbana Jurong Group, they are committed to delivering their clients vision through the relentless pursuit of engineering excellence across all projects. They focus on five primary disciplines: Structural engineering, Civil engineering, Construction engineering, Geotechnical engineering (UK & Middle East), and Virtual Design & Construction.

Robert Bird Group focuses heavily on global collaboration at a local level. By globally collaborating to address projects at that local level, they can quickly assemble teams of engineering and related professionals from their offices worldwide. Robert Bird Group believes that continued global urbanization will present diverse challenges throughout our planet, including security, sustainability, and flexibility, and so they work closely with clients to create structures designed to protect and nurture the planet while meeting global demands of urbanization.

Wayss & Freytag

Challenge: Collaboration between Global Offices
The bulk of Robert Bird Group’s file management revolves around design libraries and Autodesk Revit collaboration. These large design files not only take up significant space on local servers but demand immense bandwidth to transmit across the world between the United Kingdom, the Middle East, and Australia. With their daily operations relying entirely on collaboration between global engineers, not having a reliable and consistent method to share files hurt their ability to maintain a consistent project timeline.

With their massive portfolio of clientele and ongoing projects, Robert Bird Group chose to rely on Follow-the-Sun collaboration to keep up with project demands. This collaboration methods relies on global associates collaborating around the clock, from Australia to the Middle East to the United Kingdom and beyond, following the path of the sun. As the sun moves, so does the responsibility for any given Robert Bird Group project. This mandates that staff can access, edit, and share files quickly and smoothly across the world. Unfortunately, this was not the case.

Robert Bird Group had to rely on File Transfer Protocol (FTP) for file-sharing. FTP is a standard network protocol for transmitting files between clients and servers over a network. It requires individual connections between the computers and local servers to send data between clients. As it requires two communication channels between client and server to function, it’s not well suited to the files Robert Bird Group needs to transmit. Unfortunately, as time passed, and file sizes increased, the FTP solution only slowed down and became less responsive for all staff.

With their projects growing and their teams experiencing frequent file-sharing roadblocks, Robert Bird Group needed a reliable and consistently faster way to maintain their Follow-the-Sun collaboration goals. They needed a permanent, scalable, and easily maintainable storage network for not only sharing, but centralizing their large design libraries spread across the world.

Collaboration through Centralization
Since Robert Bird Group’s goal was to maintain a 100% uptime, Follow-the-Sun data environment, users needed access to a consistently up-to-date data set 24/7. Creating a “Single Set of Data” in a central data center or cloud platform would not only accomplish this goal but would simplify file-sharing and speed up users’ ability to access and edit large design files.

As such, Robert Bird Group needed to utilize and transform their existing infrastructure into a storage platform capable of maintaining the centralized data set through software-defined storage. By focusing on centralization and allowing collaboration to flow naturally from that goal, Robert Bird Group could maintain their current Follow-the-Sun collaboration method without compromising on speed or quality.

To achieve this, Robert Bird Group combined their on-premise file storage infrastructure with Microsoft Azure Files services to consolidate large project files into a single repository. This fully centralized data set, in conjunction with Talon FAST™ Intelligent File Caching, would provide internal and external contributors complete access to files without compromising on file management or speed. Since this virtual storage platform would be connected to each server throughout Robert Bird Group’s enterprise—ensuring 24/7 access to data—they would no longer need to rely on File Transfer Protocols to send data between clients and could instead focus on creating a centralized data set in the virtual cloud platform.

Collaboration the FAST™ Way
Talon FAST™ software was the final software layer in Robert Bird Group’s new storage infrastructure. While Microsoft’s Azure cloud handled data centralization, Talon FAST™ software would enhance file-sharing, speed up the network, and ensure consistent access to data. While FAST™ provides several benefits to an enterprise storage environment, there were two primary features of the FAST™ software that remain integral to Robert Bird Group’s new collaboration through centralization strategy: Intelligent File Caching and Global File Locking.

FAST™ uses Intelligent File Caching to store active data at each branch location. This data is stored on-site only if it has been accessed by users at that location. If a user at that location accesses a file that has previously been cached locally, then the central FAST™ instance in Robert Bird Group’s Azure cloud will only transmit updates to that file set. Once the user makes edits locally, only the changes—instead of the entire file—are sent back to the Azure cloud through delta differencing. This massively reduces bandwidth usage, speeds up file-transfers, and guarantees the file is always up-to-date!

Additionally, FAST™ uses Global File-Locking to ensure file consistency, even across a global enterprise. If a file is accessed by any user, at any location, it will have a central lock placed on it. No other users will have permission to access or edit the file, and once the changes have been delta differenced back to the central file, other users will then have permission to access the file.

These two features, in combination with FAST™’s ability to centralize and consolidate distributed data throughout a storage network, drastically altered Robert Bird Group’s storage strategies. Robert Bird Group could achieve a true 24/7 collaborative environment while maintaining a “Single set of data” in their hybrid cloud and datacenter storage solution. By implementing a software-defined storage strategy in their existing infrastructure, Robert Bird Group can utilize a software that not only manages all global workloads but streamlines file sharing and enhances security. This not only addressed Robert Bird Group’s storage challenges but paved the way for them to grow far beyond their previous limitations with the infinite scalability and flexibility of the Talon FAST™ solution.

The Impact
With their design libraries and files centralized, Robert Bird Group was able to transform their infrastructure across the world into a seamless storage platform. Their distributed data was centralized in the Azure cloud while FAST™ united their global file servers into one large network. With FAST™ handling the heavy lifting in file management, Robert Bird Group had finally created a true, Follow-the-Sun collaboration environment.

Users no longer needed to spend hours waiting for massive Autodesk Revit files to transfer or deal with slow bandwidth as other users transmitted files across the world. Their new centralized environment fostered smooth collaboration for all users, which in turn allowed Robert Bird Group to catch up on ongoing projects, maintain a consistent workflow, and deliver global structures to clients at a local level.

“The ability to utilize Talon’s Microsoft-centric software-based solution that centralizes file-based data to a single location allowing our distributed workforces to access the data in a centralized fashion is of great value. Talon FAST™ does this while providing fully Microsoft-compliant file locking and security semantics. We use FAST™ to augment our existing on-premise Windows Server and Windows Server with Hyper-V virtualization infrastructure with Azure, and we can now seamlessly integrate on-premise and cloud infrastructures,” explained Stephan Cottham, Robert Bird Group’s Global IT Manager.

Since each part of their new storage infrastructure was designed to scale infinitely, Robert Bird Group no longer needs to worry about their ability to manage and secure their data, even during disaster recovery situations. Users could access, share, and edit files, which not only met Robert Bird Group’s needs, but ensured they could deliver consistent, quality work.

Results

  • Robert Bird Group adopted a collaboration through centralization strategy with Azure and Talon FAST™
  • Azure Files Services centralized all engineering and design files into a central repository, which enabled users to maintain consistent file access, anywhere in the world
  • Talon FAST™ ensured files were always up to date and accessible, at any time, anywhere, while still centralizing and consolidating all current and future design data
  • Azure and FAST™ work together to create a scalable, self-managed storage infrastructure that meets the current and future needs of the Robert Bird Group

Robert Bird Group’s IT manager, Stephen Cottam, had this to say about the new system: “It is flexible, efficient, and means we can collaborate with partners in near real time. We were using Revit Server, and Talon is about five times faster than that. We are able to work much more quickly and collaborate in real time. It allows our business to operate in follow-the-sun mode. With local cache, it’s as if you are writing directly to the file at LAN speed, while Talon sends delta changes to the Azure cloud.”

Find out how Talon FAST™ can handle data mangement for distributed enterprises
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