Civil engineering firm goes follow-the-sun with Azure cloud and Talon

Robert Bird deploys Talon Storage CloudFAST with Microsoft Azure cloud storage on the back end to enable 24-hour working between offices on three continents

Civil engineer and consultant the Robert Bird Group has moved to follow-the-sun working across offices in three continents after deploying Talon Storage CloudFAST and Microsoft Azure File Service cloud storage.

The company – which has offices in the UK, the Middle East, South-East Asia and Australia – needs to be able to work on projects collaboratively between offices using architectural modelling software that is also shared with partners in India.

Robert Bird used to package files up for transfer via FTP, but this was a cumbersome method, said Stephen Cottham, group IT manager.

“We couldn’t work on projects very efficiently as we had to break up [Autodesk] Revit models and send them,” he said. “We have now moved to a way of working on projects at the same time.”

From FTP, Robert Bird initially moved to Talon Storage’s RemoteFAST to allow file shares between company offices. Then, when Microsoft made Microsoft Azure File Service generally available in 2015, it moved to Talon’s CloudFAST with cloud storage in Azure and allowed partner companies to share files too.

Talon Storage’s CloudFAST runs as a VMware virtual appliance at company and partner offices and allows file sharing via CIFS with data residing on cache locally but primarily in the Microsoft Azure File Service cloud.

This allows Robert Bird’s offices and partners to collaborate in near real time on files that effectively exist as a single version of the data. Work carried out on the files is initially written to local cache, with delta changes then fed to the main copy on the Azure cloud.

CloudFast for Azure File Service creates a virtual Server Message Block (SMB) file share that uses the Microsoft Azure cloud as a back-end file server. CloudFast integrates support for Microsoft Active Directory, NTFS file system security and Microsoft Access Control Lists.

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CloudFast is the cloud-based variant of Talon’s RemoteFAST for Windows Server, which allows customers to create an on-premises hybrid cloud with Microsoft StorSimple storage.

Cottham said using CloudFAST and the Azure cloud had “allowed [the company] to work with partners and share files via a virtual file system that exposed data between offices”.

He added: “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.”

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