HOK enables productive design collaboration with global SD‑WAN built on Aruba EdgeConnect

IT Professional Services
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About the Organization

HOK is a global design, architecture, engineering and planning firm with a presence on three continents. HOK designs buildings and spaces that respond to the needs of people and the environment, leveraging technical excellence and applying creative imagination to deliver solutions that inspire clients and communities.

The Vision and Challenge

One of the top design, architecture, engineering and planning firms in the world, HOK has global project teams that rely on advanced building information management (BIM) systems and 3D visualization tools for collaboration and client presentations. However, sluggish performance across the firm’s low-bandwidth private MPLS network impaired productivity, and upgrading the MPLS circuits was cost-prohibitive.

“Collaboration is key in our environment and one of our challenges, as applications become more visual and complex, has been to make sure our WAN is able to keep pace and provide a reliable platform for the business.”

JEFF HAMER, DIRECTOR OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY, HOK GROUP, INC.

The Requirement of Strong WAN

HOK has 23 offices on three continents, each operating as a regional business unit with its own set of industry specialties. Unique among firms of its size, HOK has no formal headquarters, which encourages clients to work with the right teams based on their specialty rather than physical location.

Hamer notes, “Collaboration often takes place across multinational offices and, during the pandemic, across everyone’s homes. Having a strong network to keep those teams productive was paramount. We knew SD-WAN would enable us to move away from MPLS and use higher-bandwidth, more economical internet connections. And we knew it could give us better visibility and control over our network.”

After watching the SD-WAN market for several years, Hamer consulted with networking and infrastructure partner, InterVision, to evaluate the SD-WAN leaders that ultimately emerged from the pack. Silver Peak, acquired by Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, was at the top of the list. “Aruba came to the table with a fully baked SD-WAN solution and that made a very positive impression on us,” Hamer says.

Enabling Smooth Cross-continent Collaboration

To enable smooth cross-continent collaboration, HOK relies on a mix of cloud-hosted and on-premises applications that include its BIM solution, Revit, as well as VoIP and general business applications such as finance and HR.

Due to HOK’s complex requirements that continually change as the firm extends its services and capabilities, flexibility was one of Hamer’s prime requirements for any technology solution—and a key reason for selecting the Aruba EdgeConnect SD-WAN edge platform. “It became clear very quickly that EdgeConnect gave us the flexibility we need to align and adapt the network to changing business requirements,” Hamer says.

He adds, “Aruba is absolutely industry leading in vision and direction. We could see they were continuing to innovate and add capabilities to the SD-WAN offerings. It’s important to me that the solution will continue to evolve.”

The Outcome

Dramatic Reduction in Transport Costs

With the help of InterVision, HOK deployed the EdgeConnect platform at 29 locations worldwide, including all 23 regional business offices and several job sites. The team also deployed a high-availability pair of EdgeConnect appliances in HOK’s data center, and two virtual EdgeConnect appliances in high-availability configurations at each of InterVision’s data centers where HOK’s VoIP services are hosted.

With the Aruba SD-WAN implemented across the enterprise, Hamer is now in the process of decommissioning MPLS as quickly as possible. “We have already reduced our monthly MPLS spend by 64 percent,” he reports.

Ultimately, Hamer intends to terminate each EdgeConnect appliance with dual broadband circuits from two separate providers, with bonded tunnels to take full advantage of all the advanced SD-WAN technical capabilities available on EdgeConnect such as path conditioning, automatic sub-millisecond circuit failover, and quality of service (QoS).

Flexible WAN acceleration on a unified platform

Having used WAN optimization for many years, Hamer also implemented the optional Aruba Boost WAN optimization performance pack that’s unified on the EdgeConnect platform. Unlike previous solutions, Boost does not require his team to manually make exceptions for applications or protocols that are negatively impacted by the optimization.

Using the Aruba Orchestrator management console, Hamer created business intent overlays for different application categories, including one for those applications that benefit from WAN acceleration such as SaaS applications, the local Revit Server modeling software, and 3D visualization tools. Hamer points out, “Boost has largely been hands off. We just turn it on and realize the benefits. That alone has made Boost more valuable to us than our previous WAN op solutions.”

Hamer also appreciates having flexibility to change Boost allocations when needed. For example, to accelerate a one-time backup of virtual machines before performing a critical firmware upgrade, the IT team simply increased the Boost allocation for those sites during the backup, then reduced it down again to normal levels when the backup was complete. “We love that flexibility,” Hamer says. “It’s a great value add for us.”

Added security of a built-in stateful firewall

Hamer also appreciates having a zone-based stateful firewall unified on the EdgeConnect platform. When initially planning the WAN transformation, the IT team considered deploying next-generation firewalls at each location. Instead, Hamer says, “EdgeConnect already has a robust, stateful application-aware firewall built in that meets our needs.”

Now, HOK has a centrally managed zone-based stateful firewall across all locations, enabling Hamer and his team to configure and enforce a consistent set of security policies. “We didn’t have much consistency in our security policies before,” Hamer notes. “Now we have a single set of security policies that fit all our offices, which is much easier to manage centrally with Aruba Orchestrator. That translates to a more secure environment for our business.”

The EdgeConnect firewall is also integrated with HOK’s security information and event management (SIEM) system. Hamer explains, “We take logs from the zone-based firewall on EdgeConnect and send them to our SIEM for real-time visibility into potential cybersecurity threats and breaches. These logs contribute to our overall situational awareness by providing valuable insights and metrics.”

Simplified WAN Management for Small Infrastructure Team

With a team of just five people supporting the global back-end infrastructure, Hamer says it’s imperative to simplify WAN management so the team can stay focused on supporting the business. A major advantage of the Aruba solution has been the ability to simplify and consolidate the WAN edge infrastructure at each branch location on a single platform that unifies SD-WAN, routing, security, and WAN optimization, enabling HOK to retire existing routers and firewalls.

Also key is having centralized management and control of the SD-WAN through Aruba Orchestrator. “Network visibility has traditionally been a challenge for us,” Hamer notes. “Orchestrator provides exactly what we need in terms of understanding our network traffic as a whole and at the application level.”

For example, insights from Orchestrator revealed ways the team could reclassify Revit Server and configure a business intent overlay to prioritize Revit traffic across the network. “Orchestrator gave us visibility and control we never had before,” Hamer says. “This is a real-world example of how we were able to shape traffic for a critical line-of-business application so it performs more efficiently across the SD-WAN.”

Helping IT better support the creative process

Since deploying the Aruba SD-WAN, application performance has improved overall, providing HOK’s designers, architects, engineers, and planners with a higher quality of experience whether they’re in the Americas, Europe or Asia.

“We’ve received unsolicited feedback from people about how well applications perform now,” Hamer affirms. “They notice that their Citrix sessions are snappier, that a Revit model opens in half the time it previously took. This makes a difference in terms of productivity but also in our ability to improve the client experience when working with our teams.”

Hamer concludes, “My focus is on providing platforms to support HOK’s innovative design technologies and enable our creative teams to deliver exceptional projects for clients. Our Aruba SD-WAN is one of those essential platforms, allowing IT to always be in a position to say ‘yes’ whenever the business comes to us with new initiatives that can further enhance the creative process.”

 

“Our Aruba SD-WAN is one of those essential platforms, allowing IT to always be in a position to say ‘yes’ whenever the business comes to us with new initiatives that can further enhance the creative process.”

JEFF HAMER, DIRECTOR OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY, HOK GROUP, INC.

 

*A version of this success story appeared first on Aruba’s website: https://www.arubanetworks.com/resources/case-studies/hok-group-inc/