National House-Building Council enhances remote user productivity with NVIDIA GRID

The National House-Building Council (NHBC) is the leading independent standard-setting body and provider of warranty and insurance for new homes. Its role is to work with the house-building industry to raise the standards of new homes and to provide consumer protection for homebuyers. With no shareholders, NHBC is able to invest in raising standards and activities to improve the quality of UK house building. As an expert authority on the housing industry, active in research and development, it works with government and stakeholders to help shape housing policy.

The NHBC workforce uses around 1,100 workspaces across the UK, from which 500 users, including Inspectors, Surveyors and Engineers connect to the NHBC servers remotely. A variety of connection methods are used, but the end user experience does vary greatly with the quality and throughput of the network connections. As a result, the IT service desk became frequently called upon with support queries, which led to the realisation of the need for a solid, working, virtualised solution. NHBC reached out to Phoenix Software, a long-time partner providing soft- and hardware infrastructure, to define new ways to provide robust access to remote users, thus increasing their productivity and user experience, as well as allowing secure access to and from any given device. Phoenix Software is one of the UK's leading independent providers of software licensing, Software Asset Management services and IT infrastructure solutions. Agreeing to use a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) to support NHBC’S remote users, Phoenix Software and NHBC tested different scenarios at Phoenix Software’s testing facility near York.

As Phoenix Software was one of the first companies to integrate NVIDIA’s innovative GRID technology into its testing facility, it was for the first time in the UK able to introduce graphic processing units (GPUs) into the three month long Proof of Concept (POC) and Pilot phase. Traditionally, the standard Software 3D driver required high CPU usage and larger 3D type objects were slow or unusable. NVIDIA GRID technology offers the ability to offload graphics processing from the CPU to the GPU in virtualised environments, allowing the data centre manager to deliver true PC graphics-rich experiences. Adding NVIDIA GRID GPUs also made it possible to run more VDI desktops per host than would be possible using only CPUs. Rounding up the solution was a dual integration with a Teradici GPU offload card, for capturing Pixel changes and reducing CPU load even further. With two Dell PowerEdge R720 servers housing NVIDIA GRID K1 graphics boards, Fusion-IO and Teradici hardware, Phoenix Software was able to serve 100 remote users through VMware’s Horizon View software providing a high level of resilience.

The result of the POC and Pilot phases was promising. Remote users experienced highly responsive Windows and a rich multimedia experience, with fast access to critical applications across the NHBC network. The difference, when comparing to a CPU-only VDI solution, was huge and particularly noticeable when working with numerous A0-size building plans, having the ability to zoom in and out without the lags as experienced before. Productivity increased and users had smooth and easy access from anywhere, on any device. Increasing the performance and user experience helped homeworkers to become more efficient and faster at producing quality work, therefore boosting throughput levels. The result of a more managed process meant that the IT department could support different user types and departments much more efficiently. Changing to Zero Clients will enable the IT department to save cost on maintenance and hardware needs and help NHBC to reduce costs on hardware upgrades and system power, while securing better performance on all PCs.

The decision was then made by NHBC to fully implement the new GRID VDI solution. NHBC will deploy 8 Dell PowerEdge R720 to support their 500 remote users. The implementation of this new infrastructure will improve overall efficiency and productivity, by giving users the access they need to the NHBC servers. Central data storage and centralised printing will also help streamline the work of remote Inspectors, Surveyors and Engineers. The new VDI solution opens up many new opportunities for NHBCs interaction with its’ customers, for example the ability to connect the NHBC core applications from customers’ premises. New applications can be assigned in just a few seconds and the desktop that the user logs on to remains clean, typically reducing helpdesk calls by 60-80 percent.

It is now planned to extend the GRID VDI implementation to general office users at NHBC, as the experience using state-of-the-art NVIDIA GRID technology proves better than using the existing heterogeneous PC infrastructure with aging hardware. This will ease up the process of rolling-out Windows 7 to all PCs within the company, without having any compatibility issues and offers the ability to unify the application deployment through ThinApps.