Spanning the Distance

10 Sep, 2006 By: Michelle Nicolson

Civil engineering firm incorporates wide-area networking system to speed CAD file sharing and increase accuracy among remote offices.

Like any company, V3/Landmark Engineering wants to ensure its employees are as productive as possible, which requires access to up-to-date information. But project teams at the civil engineering firm are usually composed of in-house and remote staff in disparate locations, and the logistics of sharing large CAD files was leading to delays that hampered productivity on time-critical tasks. In some cases, just opening large AutoCAD files could drag on for five to ten minutes. In addition, project collaborators relying on once-nightly file transfers sometimes created multiple file versions that could spell disaster. Something had to give.

Complex Logistics
V3/Landmark has several dozen employees in two offices in Arizona, as well as remote employees and temporary staff, providing services in land development, natural resources and infrastructure. The firm uses Autodesk Land Desktop 2004 and Civil Design 2004 with an upgrade to the 2007 version pending. File sizes can range from 500KB for a standard drawing to upwards of 200MB for a drawing that has several aerial images (not including the xrefs to other drawings). About 90% of the company's 500,000 computer files are AutoCAD -- files that are often slow to access and problematic to share. In the "old" days, multiple project collaborators were working on the same file simultaneously then submitting updates once each night. Multiple copies could readily become outdated and out-of-sync.

"Engineers were potentially introducing inaccuracies into drawings or basing decisions on a completely outdated revision -- obviously a potentially disastrous occurrence in our business," explains Jonathan Krautter, senior systems administrator for V3/Landmark Engineering. Often engineers would save files on their hard drive or on a CD to take to the other office -- leading to an even greater number of versions of the same project.

V3/Landmark's civil engineering projects, such as the Artisans Parkview multifamily development in Phoenix, involve engineers in multiple locations.

Technology to the Rescue
To address its long list of file-sharing woes, V3/Landmark installed Availl WAFS (wide-area file system) in mid-2004 on its WAN (wide-area network). The Availl technology was the only WAFS solution the firm found that provided real-time file locking across any number of sites. Availl gave users access to identical files at LAN (local area network) speed from the local server -- including files that were currently in use by other colleagues elsewhere. Using a coherent storage mirroring approach, Availl projects native file locking across the WAN in real time, so users cannot conflict on the same file even when working at different sites.

Availl WAFS software lets employees access large AutoCAD files stored in its remote offices at local access speeds.

Availl's software sends only byte-level changes across the network, which reportedly eliminates 95% or more of the required network bandwidth. Krautter says that Availl optimized the company's remote office file sharing by eliminating chattiness and supporting almost every file type, while also reducing bandwidth.

"Suddenly my life got a lot easier after we added Availl," Krautter says. "It means we now have multiple offices working on the same file at the same time across the WAN, productively and without conflict."

Within a few weeks Availl WAFS had reduced file access times to a matter of seconds -- and allowed V3/Landmark to more effectively deploy its engineering workforce. Remote project engineers no longer found themselves needing to copy or e-mail files -- or drive to the other office when files resided there -- to be productive.

File Restoration Bonus
Availl WAFS also provided V3/Landmark with CDP (continuous data protection) features for consolidating disk-to-disk backup in one direction from a remote office to a main data center -- something that Krautter found to be a pleasant surprise.

"It simplified our disaster recovery plan, and the file restore function is the simplest I've seen to date," Krautter comments. "At least several times a week I get calls from engineers who have worked for hours on a version, and then suddenly deleted it. With Availl I can restore engineers' work without having to go back to my tape archive -- even if they lost a file just minutes ago. I can show them every file revision since its creation, and they can choose which one they want restored rather than having to go back to the previous night's backup."

V3/Landmark's upper management has been impressed with Availl's effectiveness in its Arizona offices and is now considering deploying Availl WAFS to offices in the Midwest. As Krautter reports, "The bandwidth reduction made possible by Availl WAFS' byte-level differencing holds great potential."

About the Author: Michelle Nicolson

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