Real Estate and Technology

NAI Wisinski moves to new data system

Virtual Systems gives the real estate firm’s desktop system a mobile element.

May 20, 2016
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Virtual Systems created a platform for NAI Wisinski that gave agents Windows desktop access from anywhere. Courtesy NAI Wisinski

There’s now a secure way to make a company’s desktop system more mobile and agile.

NAI Wisinski of West Michigan, a Grand Rapids-based commercial real estate firm, recently had its entire desktop system re-tasked with this in mind. Last month, NAI launched a customized cloud-based remote desktop with help from Virtual Systems, a Byron Center company,

“NAI came to Virtual Systems to discuss moving into technology that would perform with better speed, better agility and meet their needs of Windows desktop access from anywhere. They wanted something more modern,” said Michael Wolthuis, chief technology officer at Virtual Systems.

“We proposed a combination of a couple of our products that would improve end-user employee experience and modernize their technology while requiring minimal upfront capital expense. In the end, we added additional services while meeting NAI’s existing budget for the project without large increases in monthly expenses.”

NAI was experiencing staff growth, which meant IT had to keep up with their needs, Wolthuis said. The commercial real estate firm wanted to make its workforce completely mobile and secure — meaning data would not be stored on devices in the field — while also allowing brokers to operate on any device they might choose, whether a laptop, tablet or smartphone, he said.

NAI also wanted the ability to connect with iPad and Android tablets and be ready for the end-user device influx known as BYOD (Bring Your Own Device).

In short, it needed to be able to troubleshoot faster.

“NAI was running into a common problem facing businesses that are running a Microsoft terminal server or remote desktop model: It doesn’t scale well. Users were complaining of sluggish responsiveness of their software and this led to loss of productivity,” Wolthuis said.

“NAI was lacking the ability to customize their environment for their own individual needs,” he said, such as the ability to provide finance software only to those users who need it.

“The current system was running aging hardware and software and was reaching an upgrade lifecycle. The new system is done entirely as an operating expense with minimal upfront transfer costs.”

The relationship between NAI and Virtual Systems existed prior to this project; Virtual leases its main office facilities in Byron Center through NAI. There also were existing connections between the principals of NAI and Virtual Systems, Wolthuis said, making Virtual the natural choice for the task.

“With our sales team constantly on the road, it was important for us to make the switch to a more advanced system that would accommodate work needs away from the office,” said Brad Bruinsma, general manager at NAI.

“Virtual Systems took the time to understand our needs to increase speed and performance, and came back with a robust plan that they then executed seamlessly.”

Here’s a breakdown of what Virtual Systems did. First, it implemented FreedomView Virtual Desktops for each of 50 users and a fully refreshed server environment built from the ground up on the latest software available, according to Wolthuis. Second, Virtual Systems moved NAI’s entire environment from its previous provider to the Virtual Systems HIPPA/PCI/SOC compliant data center. Virtual Systems made BYOD a reality, now that tablets and smartphones can access the environment securely and efficiently, as well as traditional PCs and Macs.

“The new system allows us to be more productive in our workdays,” said Tom Kilgore, principal/property manager at NAI. “We are now working on a faster and more stable environment. Technology can be frustrating, and anything we can do to mitigate those frustrations will enable us to focus all of our energy into our work.”

The project took about 45 days from contract signature to cutover, although the cutover period itself was less than 48 hours. There was a 4 p.m. Friday shutdown and the new system was ready for action at noon Sunday, Wolthuis said. A testing period of several days took place prior to the cutover, he said.

The new system went live April 18. The first message Virtual Systems received from NAI came from Abby Terpstra, commercial property manager for NAI, who commented, “This is amazing how fast it is and how everything works the same, just faster.”

The new system also is capable of providing an individual desktop experience for each user. This is different from the previous system where each user had to be set up identically, Wolthuis said. When a software license was made available for one user, it had to be purchased for all users, which was costly. On the new model, a software license can be purchased only for those who actually need it.

But the biggest difference from the old Citrix environment to a VMWare VDI environment is each user has individual resources applied to his or her working environment. 

“A Citrix server (sometimes called a remote desktop or terminal server) uses all the power of the server for all users on the server. VDI gives individual resources to individual users and is customizable,” Wolthuis said. Power users can have a premium desktop, while email-only users have a basic desktop, and an advanced VDI desktop can be used by middle-of-the-road users.

“If a broker’s device is lost or stolen, there is no proprietary or confidential information on that device. In the event of a lost or stolen device, the broker can simply log in from another Internet-enabled device and go back to work.”

The project was Virtual Systems’ first in the real estate industry, something it now feels more comfortable doing again.

“Many companies are told VDI deployment is a minimum of 100 desktops, and they have to spend a large amount of capital to get started. The truth is that we can start with a single user with minimal to no (capital) and 100 percent business expense providing a service instead of buying hardware,” Wolthuis said.

“NAI saw the advantages of working with a local company that was bringing the latest in technology offerings to West Michigan.”

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