Civil Engineering

Seeking the Ideal Civil 3D Setup, Part 1

18 Feb, 2008 By: Kenneth Wong

Examining what it takes to create the best Civil 3D-SQL-Vault configuration.

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With AutoCAD Civil 3D and Vault, Autodesk introduces what it describes as “a dynamic engineering model that delivers proven power to complete projects up to 75% faster.” The software is designed so that “surfaces, cross-sections, profiles, production drafting ... are dynamically linked and updated automatically,” the company states. Some users see it as a possible solution to an age-old problem: sharing work across offices to make the most of organizational resources. But with this benefit, they also face new challenges.

In Part 1 of this article, we follow the progress of two firms, Bowman Consulting Group and David Evans and Associates (DEA), to understand the work involved in migrating from Autodesk Land Desktop to Civil 3D. In doing so, we follow their decision-making processes and their workflow considerations.

The SQL Quest
If Bowman chooses to install Autodesk Vault with Civil 3D, the company will be installing the Autodesk Data Management Server (ADMS). By default, ADMS installs Microsoft SQL Server Express 2005. It used to install Microsoft SQL Desktop Engine Edition (MSDE), which limits the number of concurrent connections to 10, but that’s no longer the case. SQL Server Express 2005 doesn’t put a limitation on the number of concurrent users, but caps the database size at 4 GB (as noted in Microsoft’s datasheet for the product).

For Jason Bjornsen, Bowman’s IT manager, the first issue he faces is selecting an appropriate version of Microsoft SQL, without which he won’t be able to implement the Vault architecture. In Bjornsen’s experience, “We have seen some performance hits [some strain on performance] with over 10 people simultaneously working on the SQL Express database. Because of this limitation, SQL Express is only viable in the smallest offices.”

Bowman has nine offices. Bjornsen estimated that most of them have about 20 simultaneous connections, and the larger ones have about 50 connections. Below are his upgrade options, as listed in Autodesk’s online Q&A document for Vault:

  • SQL Server 2000 (Standard or Enterprise)
  • SQL Server 2005 (Workgroup, Standard, or Enterprise)

Bowman plans to use SQL Server 2005 Express in its smaller offices. “We have considered installing SQL Server (full version) in our offices that regularly have more than 10 concurrent users. This generates more expense because each instance of SQL Server would require a server license from Microsoft for the SQL Server. As you may know, SQL server and client access licenses aren’t real cheap,” Bjornsen said.

J.C. Davis, DEA’s corporate Autodesk administrator and Civil 3D project manager, is in the process of implementing Civil 3D using a centralized full SQL server with individual working folder locations in each of the company’s offices.

Based on DEA’s research and experience, Davis said, “Full SQL may solve some of the performance issues encountered by a company of Bowman’s size, but with database management systems like Vault, your entire network is being leveraged. So any of the switches, routers, or hardware can cause performance issues.” By contrast, he added, “Full SQL gives you better tools for maintenance and management of your server,” but he pointed out that smaller organizations may not need this complex level of functionality.

Sensitivity Training for Vault
Lag times were also noted within DEA regarding file check-in/check-out. Davis said, “Through our diagnosis regarding these issues, [we discovered] the majority of these lag times were a result of ‘unclean’ drawings being checked into Vault.” In addition, delays may be increased due to distance or latency between the SQL server and the client as described in Autodesk’s ADMS 2008 Advanced Configuration Guide.

He advocates good file handling standards to eliminate the majority of these lag times. “Vault is sensitive to unclean drawings,” says Davis. “Good database management requires that, when a user receives outside drawings from other sources, you should purge, audit, and clean these files prior to bringing them into your environment.” Other performance issues DEA noticed were related to WAN and file size.

Despite the findings above, Davis said, “We found a number of our performance issues were minimal and have been addressed through the replacement of the MSDE with the ADMS. I would recommend any organization thinking of moving to Vault to weigh your choices between full SQL and SQL Express -- not only on performance but also on the feature functionality differences.”

File Shuffling Between Vaults
“Vault is made up of a relational database and a file store,” said Bjornsen. “The relational database stores information such as file versions and respective owners. The file store contains the project data such as alignments, profiles, pipe networks, and surfaces.”

For Bjornsen, this setup presents a new challenge when it comes to transferring files from one office to another. “For example, if someone created a surface from a base file, then that surface is tied to the original base file. If the base file is changed, the corresponding surface file would change as well. The data of how these files are linked together is held in Vault. If the files can no longer reference [the same] Vault, then you lose the link between the two files. As soon as you move a file from one Vault store to another, the files quit talking to the database because they become out of sync.”

Bowman’s current method for file transfer -- which Bjornsen would be the first to admit is less than ideal -- is to move the entire project to the server located in the office where it needs to be worked on. “We put the entire project on the internal FTP [file transfer protocol] site and move it out to another file server,” Bjornsen said.

With this method, the file associativity remains intact, but Bowman pays a heavy price in performance. For example, if the staff from any other office needs to access the files that reside in a remote office server, they will have to endure the lag time that comes with remotely accessing large files over the wide area network (WAN).

Next month, in Part 2 of this article we will look at data preservation options and will provide more details about file storage with Vault.

About the Author: Kenneth Wong

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