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Panzura helps engineering firm get collaboration back on track

With help from Panzura, engineering firm Bolton & Menk was able to coordinate projects across 14 offices and eliminate terabytes of unneeded data.

Until recently, project collaboration for Mankato, Minn.-based civil engineering firm Bolton & Menk Inc. was a messy game of back-and-forth emails. The firm desperately needed a way to cut back on file versions while coordinating projects more efficiently among its 14 offices.

Engineers at the 360-employee firm, which boasts clients such as Coca-Cola and Tyson Foods, had been working with each other across locations in Minnesota and Iowa by sending large AutoCAD files back and forth, leading to an excess of duplicate data and confusion around which files were last updated.

These problems eventually culminated in the purchase of Panzura Inc.'s Global File System in November 2013 to leverage the Amazon Simple Storage Service public cloud for Bolton & Menk's 12 TB of data and business-specific applications. "One of the problems we faced when we moved to [the AutoCAD program] Civil 3D was [that] it was nearly impossible to do collaboration upfront. With Panzura, we are trying to improve collaboration so manpower can be distributed to 14 offices," said Herman Dharmarajah, the firm's principal engineer.

Bolton & Menk installed seven Panzura controllers -- a hybrid flash NAS-4048 at the main office and the AEC-2800 at six others. To the cloud, the existing Internet connections that were between 30 Mbps and 50 Mbps had to be boosted to 100 Mbps. Copies of all data still live on the existing SAN and network-attached storage (NAS) boxes as backup, but the firm is also using Panzura's snapshotting feature to copy data back to the cloud daily as a means of disaster recovery.

Dharmarajah said he searched for a better storage system for more than three years. Bolton & Menk considered cloud gateways from Nasuni and GlobalScape file transfer software. "One of the issues with those is the file locking -- that was critical for us," Dharmarajah said.

File locking -- a feature of Panzura Global File System that prevents more than one person from working on a file at the same time -- ensures files are always up to date with the latest version. "That's the reason file locking was critical for collaboration. Without it, you'd have to call and say, 'Just don't open it for two hours,' when you were working on a project with someone," Dharmarajah said.

Other features, such as data deduplication, turned out to directly solve another problem Bolton & Menk was having: growing data. Dharmarajah said that because employees had been individually storing the same copies of files, they were on the brink of purchasing additional arrays to house it all. But by centralizing the storage and using deduplication with Panzura, the firm was able to eliminate between 6 TB and 8 TB of storage capacity.

Cloud security concerns didn't affect Bolton & Menk as much as it might for a different type of company because most of its work is public information. Dharmarajah said confidential information from two clients is being kept off the cloud for the moment. He added that they are looking into a plan of action should something happen to Amazon, but with Amazon's impressive uptime and data still residing on the existing NAS and SAN hardware, it's not a priority.

Dharmarajah said Panzura AEC-2800 controllers will be added to the company's remaining seven offices by the end of this month. "By having Panzura in each office, we're centralized and it all looks exactly the same. Quality control and quality assurance is a big plus," he said.

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