In 1983, three University of Kansas design school graduates started Lawrence Group with the vision of becoming a design and construction “Super Firm.” They built the firm on the following core values: Legendary Customer Service, Inspiring Individual Growth, Growing Great Relationships, Having Fun, and The Business of the Built Environment.
Lawrence Group’s executive team decided early that to stay true to its core value of “The Business of the Built Environment,” they must constantly innovate and seek new methods for delivering their design services in the most efficient, effective, and productive way. Innovation in the 21st century involves technology. Businesses that want to stay relevant to their customers and employees must adapt to the ever-changing opportunities that technology provides.
Lawrence Group seeks to be an industry leader in new technologies and services that will benefit clients and enhance their opportunity for success. In 2010, the firm had the opportunity to be a member of a pioneer group that helped Citrix get Autodesk Software certified on its platform. Due to the software’s high graphics demands, it worked reasonably well though far from perfect, as graphics card technologies and the virtual environment were still advancing. The platform was useable, but the firm utilized it as a remote tool and not for every day production.
Lawrence Group operated a small pool of desktops on the pioneer version of Nvidia Grid and Citrix XenDesktop with limited success. Lawrence Group engaged Conversant Group in 2018 to upgrade their virtual environment. Initially, Conversant Group conducted a free remote readiness assessment. As part of the “working” assessment, Conversant Group drafted an assessment document inclusive of the POC proposal, design, timeline, budget, tasks, and phases.
The assessment was co-presented to the executive management team with Lawrence Group IT staff, where the plan, proof of concept, success criteria, priorities, and timeline were modified and agreed upon to move the effort forward. The assessment, that ultimately became the working plan, accomplished the following goals/priorities:
- Develop an infrastructure design and strategy
- Decouple user experience from the endpoint chosen
- Provide intense graphical capability to all users without purchasing $4-12K desktops for each user
- Modernize the infrastructure and application delivery capabilities
- Improve the redundancy of all core systems
- Enable limitless, effortless scale
- Enhance security
It was a bold move:
“In my life, I have swum across many rivers and hiked many trails. The path is never linear, but the end always surprises you.”
– Tim Rowbottom
Chief Operating Officer, Lawrence Group
The proof of concept work that needed to be accomplished would require at least four months of consistent, relentlessly focused technical efforts between the two companies technical and executive team. Confident that the increasing demands of architecture software and the need to be able to work from anywhere on any device could be accomplished through an improved virtual environment, Lawrence Group decided to move forward.
During the Proof of Concept, there was a highly successful result: graphically intense applications, such as Revit, AutoCAD, 3DSMax, and Enscape, functioned as if users were operating a desktop machine. When the test group demonstrated to their peers what the new system allowed them to do, additional users asked leadership and IT to be placed into the test group. Because space was limited In the Proof of Concept, some users were allowed into the environment when they were off site. Once they returned to the office, they did not want their Citrix access taken away.
Subsequent to the Proof of Concept, the work to be done was immense. A new infrastructure was constructed using Cisco UCS compute and Nexus/Catalyst switching, Citrix Virtual Apps & Desktops [formerly XenDesktop], a new remote datacenter [spinning down of the legacy, onsite datacenter], new WAN connectivity to all offices, new firewalls, new mail filtering controls, new endpoint controls, new endpoints, and additional HPe Nimble Storage.
Citrix VDI technology in cooperation with Nvidia GRID was implemented to shift 90% of the workforce to VDI. Many endpoints were replaced with IGEL thin client technology, and other users received Microsoft SurfaceBook Laptops. Windows 7 was replaced with Windows 10 on the endpoints.
The datacenter was modernized by moving the then recently purchased POC gear and newly purchased hardware to a colocation facility. The original, onsite datacenter was in need of improved environmental controls and modifying it would have been too costly.
Security was improved by protecting e-mail with Mimecast. Perimeter security was enhanced. Multi-Factor Authentication [MFA, 2FA] was added to ensure identity. VPN was discontinued and replaced with the VDI capabilities to keep all data in the datacenter. Role based access controls were implemented. Network security was addressed and stronger endpoint controls were implemented.
Conversant Group and Lawrence Group were in the final stages of deployment when COVID-19 impacted commerce around the globe. After a call to Conversant Group on a Sunday morning in early March, Conversant Group and Lawrence Group’s joint teams fast tracked getting all staff members on VDI. By the end of day Monday [within roughly 48 hours], with Conversant’s assistance, Lawrence Group was ready to transition the workforce home. Altogether, the effort has been herculean:
“We will jump through the fiery hoops of Hell for our clients if necessary. We have the expert skill, and most important, the will to do what needs to be done. We are thankful for Lawrence Group; we are better together!”
– John Anthony Smith
Chief Listening Officer, Conversant Group
All 160+ users have the capability of securely working from home. High-end designers and architects are designing from a Citrix published desktop. Renderings are being created on back-end infrastructure in the datacenter instead of on local, limiting, individual PCs. As Sara Moritz put it, “I have happy users and that’s what I care about most!”