Burgess & Niple Discusses the Influence of Cloud Technology at a Corporate Level
Dan Hamilton - Central Ohio Tech Power Player Honoree
Burgess & Niple
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CTO of Burgess & Niple, Dan Hamilton, discusses the influence of cloud technology at a corporate level.
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JB: Hello, today we are here with Dan Hamilton, who is the Chief Technology Officer for Burgess & Niple, an engineering firm based here in Columbus, Ohio, with about 350 employees. My name is Jim Burden with RoundTower Technologies and I will be your guest moderator today. So Dan, let's get started with a few questions. In your opinion, which one of the most exciting disruptive technologies as that is beginning to impact our work or our lives today?
DH: I think a lot of the cloud technology is, is interesting. Now that sounds contrite – okay, everybody's talking about the cloud today, but from a corporate perspective, it really is starting to impact companies in a, in a pretty big way. Our software vendors, for example, are, you know, they're moving away from a perpetual licensing model. They're now moving to a subscription model, and a lot of them are doing that because they're wanting to pull you into their cloud version of the product and get more onto a named user subscription model.
So it has, you know, can have, if you're not careful, a fairly significant financial impact on the company as well, because they typically want to charge a lot more than they would have for what used to be concurrent use model for perpetual licenses. So, from a licensing perspective, that made a big difference. We're looking at putting our archive data into a cloud. We're not having to buy, uh, archive storage solutions any longer, so we're beginning to move data into Amazon for an archive perspective. Um, so cloud in a lot of different ways is, is big. Um, I think the software defined world of starting with networking for us and moving into storage and uh, you know, hyperconverged type technologies, all of it being more driven by software that can run on commodity type hardware has been a big, big impact.
Um, and then I think just, uh, there was a third one that I'm trying to think of that was important….oh! I think for our business, we're a civil engineering firm, so augmented reality is starting to come into play a good bit. So, you know, if you're carrying an iPad and you're holding it up in front of you and walking an engineering site, you're going to see things popping on the screen that would be relative to the construction documents for that developing site, which is pretty interesting if you think about it. Or an existing site, you know, if you're going into a city planning office or something and they’re, you know, bringing up visuals of the city, you can pop stats about demographics or anything as you're kind of moving around whatever you're looking at. So it's going to start playing a pretty important role, I think, in in the engineering space.
JB: I suspect as the, as the chief technology officer for an engineering firm, you've got a lot of people bringing ideas to you that they'd like to do. How do you balance keeping the right technology and what's right for your business versus what your engineers want, the latest and greatest toy?
DH: Yeah. We manage that at the executive level and an owner level. It's an engineering firm that's got 25 to 30 owners and so, some of the bigger decisions, depending on the expense, they come in and they would have to review that. We've got certain levels of project existence that are designated as newly developing ideas or ideas that are a little bit more mature and are worth a little bit more investment, and then you really roll it into an operational level idea. So, we've got somewhat of a process that we try and manage in, uh, it's not as formal a way as it should be or could be, but it works for us. Um, so we definitely try and get the right people involved in deciding which ideas deserve funding.
JB: Sure. Yeah. With the advent of cloud, you talked about how it's impacted your business. Has it changed the way you approach and manage your infrastructure?
DH: It has. I mean, and more from a planning perspective, what we're trying to do is work our infrastructure into a model where we can run without having to buy hardware anymore. So we want to have our processing in the cloud, our infrastructure in the cloud, and our data in the cloud. And I don't want to have to pay for a separate DR Site that is like a big expensive insurance policy, honestly. So, we're looking at moving to where we could have an active, active setup within cloud infrastructure and we're looking at software companies that have that in their roadmap that are, that are talking about that. Probably three years ago now, we began to move aggressively into a virtualized desktop setup for our company. We had to wait until the NVIDIA grid card came into play, to where could put that in the back end servers to have GPU acceleration on the back end. And probably two years ago, we finished with getting most all of the company on VDI.
So with everybody in now, one virtual office, we've got 19 physical locations around the country. So, with everybody being in one physical office, we have really moved away from so many of the problems we used to have with the size of the CAD files being so large and trying to use all kinds of crazy expensive technology to put at every location to try and mitigate that sharing of data across a wide area network and just the latency issues, but with everybody being literally in one office with virtual desktops, that makes it so much easier.
JB: That's great. That makes it much nicer.
DH: So, that's been a big step for us. And our cloud management, our, a lot of our products, the management of the technology is now in the cloud. So, we had started with Nimble and it was their InfoSight product, which was sort of a cloud managed, uh, administration if you want to look at it that way and reporting. We've now got our antivirus products from SOPHOS, we’re now in a cloud, a central manager platform, and it's just gonna continue to move that direction. A lot of our collaboration with other agencies, other partners is done through cloud services. So, it's making a big impact over time.
JB: Absolutely. You talked about antivirus in the cloud – what are you seeing in terms of security overall with moving to the cloud? Is that easier to manage or does that make a little tougher?
DH: Well, I think the benefits of, from a security perspective, come…and I'll speak to SOPHOS, because it's been a product we've been pretty satisfied with, but they've got a capability now where, if you go to a website, they'll spin some executable, active x, whatever it is, they'll spin it out to what they call their sandbox in the sky, and they'll open it. They'll basically execute it, and test to make sure that that is not going to be harmful. And then they'll let it pass through to the user. So, if, as, as the population of their product set use grows, you then have, somebody else has already hit that. So, it's instantaneous. And if it's new, it's being opened and tested basically in a, in a sandbox area, to where it can protect you a good bit more from, um, you know, especially ransomware, which became a big problem for us. But, it's basically become a non-issue with, uh, with SOPHOS.
JB: Yeah, that's great. That makes it much nicer to manage. As, as a firm that, that obviously engineers, you, I assume you want to attract new talent. They want to bring their own desktops or their own products to, whatever it might be, cell phones or whatever to work – how have you managed that process?
DH: Uh, they do. They've got their own equipment. They like, uh, at times, uh, it used to be that the company was run more of a siloed…whatever this located wanted to do, they could do. And that's changed over time, the, the time that I've been there, and it's been a big help. We do have bring your own device for mobile, mobile tools, if you want a laptop or, or not, I'm sorry, not a laptop, but a, um, iPad or android tablet or an iPhone or android phone. Uh, we support that and it's be a BYOD policy. We've not yet gone to BYOD for your desktop equipment – laptops, desktops, monitors, that kind of thing, but we do plan to. Uh, we're going through an initiative now where we're trying to enable mobility and collaboration across the company by buying new laptops for everybody in the company. We just signed the deal with Hewlett Packard here, probably three weeks ago and just got our first shipment. So we're going to kind of aggressively roll through everybody, giving everybody a new laptop, new HP monitors, docking station, where it's just one USBC cable they plug into the side of the laptop and connect up to the monitors, keyboard, mouse, or they unplug it and go conference room or team room, whatever they need to do.
JB: That's great.
DH: It's going to be pretty nice.
JB: With, with 19 locations, Dan, and I know you mentioned a lot, a lot of your data is residing in the cloud, have you embraced SD-WAN? Is that something that's important to you as a company, as you, as your share technology across these locations?
DH: Yeah, the truth be told, SD-WAN is really what enabled us to get to VDI. We've been on SD-WAN since 2011.
JB: Wow, you're, you're an early adopter.
DH: So we were early with a company called Talari. They were excellent back then and, um, did a great job for us. We wanted to try and move to more of a pay-as-you-go model. So, we evaluated a few other products, probably two years ago and thought about changing, but at the end of the day, Talari was still the best solution for us, so we ended up negotiating, a new, new equipment deal with them and been using them. So we've, we've got at least two circuits at every office that we can find them and it's, it's gone to just, you know, whatever kind of circuit you could find, you know, business class cable has been a big, uh, use there. Um, we've had to use some more expensive circuits at times depending on what the providers are offering for that physical location. We started using, uh, the connectivity options in the decision as to where we would place a new office or where we might move an office to if we're moving an office. So, we've been on the SD-WAN bandwagon for a long time and it's, it, I mean it pretty quickly cut my infrastructure costs by oh, well over 40 percent. And now it's probably 50 percent less than it would be, at least. Probably more than that if it truth be told with the bandwidth we have if I were to try and buy fiber circuits everywhere.
JB: Dan, last question, I'm going to ask you to put your crystal ball on for a second. We've talked about a lot, a lot of new technologies that are impacting the way business is done today. Do you see anything else coming in the next three years that might change the way you do business?
DH: Yeah, so I think Windows 10 is going to make a difference. So, that's one of the technologies that I think is going to make a difference. It's, it's enabling on the user side, I think, for, from an ease of use perspective, they're beginning to have that so much more so at home and having to still be on Windows 7 with a lot of the engineering software has been hard for our users. Getting to Windows 10, I think will be a big help for us and many other companies are still, I think the recent stat I saw was 70 percent of enterprise are still on Windows 7, which is surprising. So. that that will be a big help. The cloud is obviously going to still continue to be a big impact. Um, and I think augmented reality, as I said, from an engineering perspective is going to be a big impact.
And from an engineering firm perspective, we're looking a lot at the Smart City type initiatives. So, you know, we've got the Columbus initiative that's going on, um, autonomous vehicles, you know, how do we, a big part of our businesses is transportation and roadway design. So, how do we need to work with manufacturers of vehicles to change the way roadways might be designed to support whatever kind of technology they're going to place into automobiles? So, we're starting to think about ways to partner with software companies, for example, and manufacturers to decide, where do we want to take the market as the people who design these solutions, or where is the market going to go, to where we need to be ready for that as well. But I think it's going to change things from a user perspective as well as our business.
JB: That's great. Well, thank you for your time. This has been Jim Burden and Dan Hamilton. To learn more about us, please visit comspark.tech, and goodbye, until next time.
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