To Vault or Not to Vault, That Is the Question, Part 2 (Solutions from Synergis Tutorial)

29 Feb, 2008 By: Bill Frederick

AutoCAD Vault is the most powerful way to share data in Civil 3D.

In my previous column, I discussed some of the options available for collaborating using AutoCAD Civil 3D. Using xrefs and data shortcuts, users can accomplish most of their everyday tasks.

Autodesk also provides a more robust data collaboration option -- Autodesk Vault. Vault is a very powerful tool that will allow the majority of users to work to their fullest capacity sharing data as well as Microsoft-based products. So what is it and how can you use it?

Vault is an application that has existed for several years. Its original function was to support Autodesk Inventor and data management within a project. AutoCAD Civil 3D 2007 introduced Vault into the workflow environment and is in the current release as its data/project management component.

What is Vault?
Vault is a comprehensive data management system. Think of Vault as a file repository for drawings, engineering data, and associated files. Vault can keep track of drawings and documents and keep them in a secured environment. Vault contains a server component and a client component to operate. Vault is a tool that can be managed by non-IT personnel.

Many CAD managers and IT personnel cringe when Vault's server component is mentioned. Most of the issues arise around the perception that a company needs to purchase new hardware, for example, spending thousands of dollars for a new server. This is not the case. Vault will run on a standard workstation, even running Windows XP. Just remember the maximum number of concurrent users with Windows XP is limited to 10.

ADMS -- Server Side
Vault has recently been renamed. Autodesk Data Management Server (ADMS) is the new alias for Vault Server. If you break down Vault, it is a file store and a data store (database). The two stores work together to supply data to the users.

ADMS server components.

The file store houses all data that has been checked in to ADMS. Data could vary from drawings, Civil 3D objects, image files, Microsoft Office files, and more. The check in process is done through the client side of the application.

The SQL database inventories all the transactions relating to the data stored in the file store. The database also performs checks for users requesting data. The data is managed with user accounts, checks for versioning, and links to projects.

ADMS is a Web service that works with SQL Server (SQL 2005 Express) and the file store. SQL Express is generally sufficient to run most medium-to-small offices. You can select from many flavors of SQL, depending on your needs.

Internet Information Services (IIS) is an important component for Vault to install and run properly on a machine you designate as the Vault (ADMS). IIS is a crucial component if you desire to use Vault in a multi-user environment and across a LAN/WAN. Autodesk Web Server is designed for single user environments only. Note that not all operating systems are supported to run IIS in conjunction with ADMS. If IIS is not found, Autodesk Web Server will load by default. Be sure to disable any firewall settings blocking port 80. Port 80 is the standard Internet protocol, so it is usually open for use.

On the server side you can force a location of a working folder. A working folder is where drawings are placed when they are checked out of the Vault. The working folder can be handled in two basic ways. One scenario allows the files to be copied to the user's workstation. This method often can speed a process that could be hinder through network latency. The other scenario would copy files to a shared network folder. This method is congruent to the way most Land Desktop users set up their projects.

Once the Vault is configured, very few tasks are left. Vault can run its own set of tasks for backups. You may need to do some additional housekeeping and data management over time. You should note that if no management is taking place, your file store will grow exponentially over a long haul.

Vault -- Client Side
Civil 3D has a built-in client within the Prospector on the Toolspace. To access the Vault, you must login to the Vault. A listing of available projects will be included in the view.

The Vault client interface.

In comparison to the data shortcuts, Vault has the capability of managing additional data. Vault can manage drawing files and their dependencies. Other notables include the ability to stored point data and survey databases.

The client side of Vault has an intuitive interface to work within the SQL database and the files store. Symbology is very important to the interface. The open circles located next to points and survey collections are indicators to notify the user of object status. As data is added to the Vault and shared within the project, the other collections will be populated.

The drawings folder is the file organization applied to the project. You could compared this to the folders used in Land Desktop within the DWG folder. The default folder structure can be applied to all projects upon creation with the Vault. By default a folder is created on the root of the C drive. The default directory is C:\Civil 3D Project Templates. Within this folder you can create default folder structures to upload into the project interface. The use of this default will help ensure consistency between all projects created and managed within AutoCAD Civil 3D.

Default project structure template.

Vault works in a similar fashion as data shortcuts. Source drawings contain object data. The source drawing must be added to a Vault project to enable the data referencing functionality. The interface may seem clumsy to navigate at first, but it asks all the appropriate questions regarding which data to use and where to locate the drawings.

Adding drawings to project.

The next dialog box confirms whether the drawing has any dependencies. File dependencies are files that are attached to the AutoCAD Civil 3D file. Some examples could include attached images, attached drawing file formats (DWF, DGN), and any xrefs. Dependant files will be copied to the Vault when the drawing file is checked in. Be careful when adding dependencies; the file store size will grow very quickly because these are saved with the file you are adding to and editing in the Vault.

Select the proper project and folder location for the drawing to reside.

The next dialog box allows the user to select the object to be shared in the Vault.

Vault Check-in dialog box.

After objects have been checked in to the Vault, a user may access them for data references. This procedure is similar to the operation of data shortcuts.

Object data to be checked-in to Vault

After selecting Finish, the objects will display in the Prospector in the Projects interface.

Vault project data organization (client side).

Take note of the drawings added to the project and the surface that is now available for data references within this project.

When a user hovers over the Vault icons in the Prospector, a notification regarding its state will show in a tool tip.

Vault status icons.

In conclusion, I have explored the three main ways to share data among a group of users. You can use these methods in conjunction with one another to meet the needs of your organization.

Xrefs are the simplest. Note that xrefs can display Civil 3D labels that are reactive in the reference drawing. Although you cannot edit the styles directly, you can open the source drawing and make the appropriate changes. A notification will appear letting a user know the drawing has changed. Also note the ability to have Vault manage the dependencies (attached files) within the drawing.

The data shortcut is the easiest way to move toward a data reference-based environment. The ability to share data from a source drawing and display the information as needed in any reference drawing is priceless. Many users ask about file security with using data shortcuts. Most IT departments could apply specific user rights to folders to aid in the integrity of the data. A good example would be to have surveyors have a separate folder labeled survey and apply rights to a survey organization unit. This process could allow survey to have full control over the folder and all other user would be granted read-only privileges.

The process of creating a data shortcut is manual, but it is not a difficult task to accomplish. Users must err on the side of caution when creating the XML files to prevent overwriting or compromising the integrity of the original files. A good strategy for file management is a plus.

Last but not least, we have Vault. It could be noted that Vault and data shortcuts are closely related in functionality. Vault allows a secure environment to work within. Files are stored out of sight, out of mind. The Vault also controls files with the user rights capabilities built into the system.

In addition to security, Vault can offer version control for submission or even file tracking. Versioning can allow users to revert back to previous renditions of files. Vault can also fill the holes with additional sharing of object data (points and survey), and Vault can manage non-CAD data (Microsoft Office files). Some other additions include multioffice support across a WAN and the ability to back up the Vault file store and SQL Server.

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