by Mary K. Pratt

Engineers get rapid-fire access to giant files in the cloud

News Analysis
Aug 31, 2015
Cloud ComputingCloud StorageMarkets

Milwaukee Tool's designers in the U.S. and China no longer have to wait hours for their CAD files to open. They can open the latest files instantly in a cloud-based storage system.

cloud apps
Credit: Thinkstock

At Milwaukee Tool, the long, long waits to open large CAD files were making international collaboration between engineers in the U.S. and China inefficient–and threatening the company’s goals for innovation, agility and speed.

Eric Hanson, the company’s vice president of IT and business optimization, says engineers in China often had to wait multiple hours for the tool company’s design files, typically about 2GB each, to open.

Because of the lag, engineers in China saved files locally so they could be opened quickly. But that meant their changes weren’t visible to engineers in other locations, and vice versa, until files were later synced. Moreover, because engineers worked with local files, there was a chance that files might not have up-to-date information, which could lead to duplication of effort and incomplete product designs, Hanson says. That scenario could, and occasionally did, create costly “scrap and rework” situations when product designs moved into production.

Milwaukee Tool’s IT team sought to resolve the problem in 2014 as it prepared to launch a new custom application for the company’s product development process. “We created this new software solution,” Hanson says, adding that the question then became, “How do we infuse it with rapid-fire access?”

Milwaukee Tool selected Panzura’s Global File System, a cloud storage service, for the job. Now, files take seconds to open rather than hours, because Panzura’s technology ensures that only the latest version of a file is available, immediately, regardless of where a worker is based.

Many companies face the challenge of sharing large data files globally, says Scott Sinclair, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. Cloud technology alone won’t solve the problem, because files stored in the cloud still reside on a physical server that may not be geographically close to all the workers who need access to them. But cloud-based applications such as Panzura’s overcome the “proximity problem,” Sinclair explains, by using distributed file-sharing technologies to ensure that data is stored close enough to the applications that require the data, while also ensuring that files have the latest revisions.

As a result, Sinclair says, users and IT departments have neither the lag time opening files nor the need to sync files that had been stored locally.

“It allowed us to fix that file access and speed problem,” Hanson says. “We took this global team and, from a speed and efficiency standpoint, we put them in the same room virtually.”