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Setting up office space, workstations

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I need help solving a hardware deployment problem for a client! I've got just over 1500sq ft of floor space + 300-400 sq ft max for IT data center. I've got to get 20 game developers / 3D graphics artists, plus 4-5 admin & managers into this space. Workstation configuration will depend upon job function of each employee, but minimum configuration will be Core 2 Quad with 2GB RAM, NVIDIA 9800GT. Maximum configuration (at this point)will be Dual Quad Core Xeons, 16GB RAM, NVIDIA Quadro FX 1700 x 2 (quad monitor config). For those of you out there who manage or operate in small and/or medium-sized studios, how do you manage the PC real estate, noise, & heat issues in limited spaces? How do you plan for growth? Your help is appreciated! PParker

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We hire experienced IT people for the hardware, but cube layout is a different matter.

For the heat, that's a matter for the building people. Most office buildings have good enough HVAC systems to handle those computers.

The bigger issue will be if they have enough electricity and outlets, and the draw on each circuit. That size of a studio should have its own dedicated IT person who should know where the outlets are and how they fit into the different breakers.


It will be a tight fit for 25 people in that space. That's an issue in itself, but something for the team leadership to figure out. Obviously each cube will need some power, and that's something to coordinate with the IT person listed above. There are political issues involved that make it complex. Certain people want to be neighbors and some try to avoid each other. Some people with a bit of power will additional space, and some people will have a genuine need for the space.

You won't have much room for growth in that space. It will feel a little crowded to start out, and will quickly become cramped as the studio grows. Careful subdivision of space is important, but it really depends on more factors than could possible be addressed in a single forum post.

Noise is always an issue. Proper cubicles help cut down on the noise if you buy the more expensive kind with bafflers or even just muffling panels. Even then you'll have heads pop up a few cubes away when an interesting conversation takes place.

Because of the space you might be better off going with open desks rather than cubes. It will be much more noisy, though. At least a few people will want the privacy that three walls offer.

You'll probably want to subdivide the space based on teams, but the details vary with the shape of the areas. You'll need to know the sizes of cubicle wall segments and play around with it until you find something that works.

I'm not sure why you're mentioning the hardware in the development boxes, it doesn't really play a big role.

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Thanks for the input, Frob, most definitely helpful insights. A friend of mine who manages an engineering firm with a bunch of 3D CAD/MCAD users told me they tried rackmounting the PCs centrally in the data center, and then extending KVM-over-IP to the individual operators. They had some limited success with this configuration - certainly reduced the issues you went over, but at the expense of transparent PC performance (latency issues, mouse ghosting, and others). Have you or anyone you tried any KVM-over-IP or thin client technologies? Any opinions?

I'll try looking for a different forum which might be a better venue to address this, but thanks for the input anyhow!

pparker

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Quote:
Original post by pparker
Thanks for the input, Frob, most definitely helpful insights. A friend of mine who manages an engineering firm with a bunch of 3D CAD/MCAD users told me they tried rackmounting the PCs centrally in the data center, and then extending KVM-over-IP to the individual operators. They had some limited success with this configuration - certainly reduced the issues you went over, but at the expense of transparent PC performance (latency issues, mouse ghosting, and others). Have you or anyone you tried any KVM-over-IP or thin client technologies? Any opinions?

I'll try looking for a different forum which might be a better venue to address this, but thanks for the input anyhow!

pparker
I've never tried KVM over IP, but then again, I'm not really an IT guy.

Each machine needs to be on a KVM in the room. You always need that.

Every major server OS supports secure remote login. You can use ssh or other programs to get command prompts, and either Windows Remote Desktop or an X Window client for a gui view. These can be properly secured with very little work.

The only reason I can imagine KVM over IP being necessary is if the machine is somehow unable to fully boot up or needs to be interrupted during the boot process. Once it is running you should be able to use a remote login system listed above.

It is not very common to take a server machine down or reboot it while not having somebody physically present. It is impossible to do it if the machine powers down completely. When it is rebooted remotely, it is best to have a pair of "remote hands" who can go to the server room just in case there is a failure. From the IT guys I've worked with in the past I've seen a pattern when there is a kind of server that ends up getting rebooted often: The server is actually a virtual server on a machine that only hosts VMs and can be remotely logged in. The virtual server can be power cycled and otherwise adjusted without adjusting the physical machine.

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Server-side:

Virtual servers rock. Even if you only run one VM under VMWare's ESX (or some rival tool), you'll still have the advantage of not losing access to the PC itself if the VM crashes. (There are cons, so look into that, but the pros are very, very compelling. For instance, you can use fewer servers, reducing the footprint and power loading of your server room.)

Another way of reducing the footprint of the server room is to look into appliances such as QNAP or Synology's RAID server boxes. These often include web-serving features and the like, so you can run an intranet and some mirrored RAID in a box roughly the size of a Shuttle SFF PC. (Remember, email and web-serving don't need much raw processing power; reliability is usually of more importance.)

You'll need to set up plenty of file storage, but you should also ensure you have a rock-solid off-site backup regime in place too. This is going to add some costs, but if your server room has a fire, you'll be glad you have a backup in place.


For the office space:

- I hate all "open-plan" office layouts. They scale poorly and create unnecessary distractions. Cubicles can help a little, but there are still many who find the whirring of fans, clattering of keyboards, low murmuring and shuffling of feet very distracting. (I'm one of them. I need *silence* of librarian proportions in order to work.)

- Admin and management do NOT need workstation-class computers. In fact, management are probably better off with laptops or SFF computers with low power consumption. You certainly don't need a 9000-series graphics card to run MS Project and Office apps. (A similar argument applies to their server-side needs. You can easily run a SQL database for such a small database on an ARM-powered Synology RAID box.)

- Since you're tight on space, I strongly advise looking long and hard at your team's requirements. Do they really need workstations? Really? Couldn't they use powerful laptops instead? This would allow for a more flexible "hot-desking" setup, whereby the team members would naturally group together in logical, task-based teams rather than teams based on their job titles. I.e., instead of grouping all the artists around one set of desks, the programmers around another set, etc., the laptops would allow them to arrange logical groupings based on tasks. These groups could easily change over the course of a game's development. Laptops would allow more flexibility here. (I'd ensure you have 802.11n support as a bare minimum, although sufficient switched Gigabit Ethernet cabling would be preferable.)

- Some team members will certainly need mighty ninja workstations, but these could be located around the office as needed, rather than kept permanently installed. (This might not go down as badly as you think: the latest and greatest graphics cards are usually accompanied by the latest and buggiest drivers!)


Regards,

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In a small, crowded room, cubes will make it seem more cramped.

I'd go open-plan. You can have 2 rows of desks backing on to each other, and a low barrier running down the middle (1-2 feet high) so you aren't able to see the person opposite.

Standard rectangle desks will be most efficient. You can manage with fairly standard desks for 2 screens if you don't want to give everyone 2 sets of drawers. Probably the desks for a 4-screen PC will need to be bigger, you could put these in the same place.

I recommend, try it on paper. Decide how big desks need to be and make a bunch out of paper/card, and draw a scale model of the room. Move them around and see. Or do it using Visio or some 3D software if you have anything.

There may be legal requirements for how cramped people can be, there are in the UK.

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Before we can really help with a layout, we kind of need to know dimensions. Total floor space is nice, but without an idea of how the walls are we can't help with suggestions on where everything else could go.


Do you have space to split it in two or three sections easily? Somewhere for managers to go in for more private meetings? Or a room for more general meetings?

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Raph Koster's Metaplace had around 30 employees at my last count, but I'd guess they're up to 40-50 now. Metaplace's office space is laid out like most architectural firms. You really don't want cubes — certainly not in a creative environment — from both practical and psychological perspectives.

I suggest you bring the issue of workplace culture to the leadership because where they want to go on that end will ultimately determine the layout. I highly recommend The Organization and Architecture of Innovation. (Here's the non-referral link.) The book covers many of the workplace issues to consider.

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Thanks for the input (and questions) everyone! Chewy, the project takes place in Reno, NV, in a 6-story office complex (with views of the Sierra Nevada Mtns:)). Morgan, the office space I've got to work with has 8ft. accoustical ceilings, and the open (for now) floor space measures 55ft x 18.5ft, with 6 private office spaces (including a conference room) taking up an additional 12.5ft-13ft added to the 19.5ft width of the open space (conference room has additional space since it occupies a corner). In a separate office space (2 floors up), I've got a 15ft x 22ft dedicated space for IT data center.

Stimarco - I share your dislike for ambient noise, but most of it would be generated by the mid-sized and some full-sized tower PC workstations that I'll need to configure per person (notebooks or laptops are a no-go). There are a couple guys who will each require more than 1 PC workstation, and several 3D artists with dual CPU Quad Core Xeon workstations, each using either an NVIDIA Quadro FX or ATI FireGL Series graphics adapter (client can't decide yet).

Nobody will be saving data to local disks - NAS at a minimum, SAN is a possibility. This is for both workflow efficiency and security purposes. Local drives are for OS boot and support purposes only.

I had a vendor rep try to sell me on their blade workstation products last week, (no names mentioned, but initials are HP) which I didn't think would hold up when considering the client's Win XP 64-bit OS support needs (for running client's Autodesk 3ds Max among other applications, which I'm not overly familiar with). Seemed like thin-client, felt like thin-client, but nice to look at from real estate footprint, power draw, and noise perspectives. Certainly supports the centralized data requirement the client seems intent on pursuing. Checking out other alternatives to tower PC workstations at present.

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I know the scale is drastically different, but I know at Bungie the floor is open and the desks are on wheels to allow the working groups to change as the team works through the requirements -- as another poster mentioned above.

If you were to go for a setup like this, there are some other considerations -- having the tower attached to the desk so that it moves in one piece (I've often wished for a desk with 8-9 Units of space for rackable rigs.), having a power-strip (and possibly local network switch) attached as well to minimize re-cabling (which prevents cable-clutter from forming -- wire it once, wire it right), Ideally moving the desk should be as simple as pulling a single power and network cable (or rather, one network cable for each physically separate domain, should you employ them), rolling it over and jacking back in.

Also, you might consider locating some of the staff in the other space... It doesn't seem like you'd need that whole space for just the IT back end... I know one of the local places I interviewed at had a server room smaller than that, and they had 3 studios totaling close to 200 people on-site, as well as functioning as the central hub for other studios in the organization located in the western half of North America. These would have to be people who don't need to be in the thick of it all the time -- corp folks & reception, IT folks. May not work in your situation, but food for thought.

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