Why Your Data Management Plan Depends on Your WAN25 Mar, 2015 By: Robert Green
CAD Manager Column: A workable wide-area network is key to keeping your users on the straight and narrow procedural path.
In the previous edition of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I made the case for a data management strategy that goes well beyond simple backups done by your IT department. I received responses from a wide variety of companies asking for more specifics on how to put a strategy in place. It seems that there is wide acknowledgement of the need, but a lack of knowledge on how to proceed.
In this edition, I'll start the process of guiding companies through a discovery of their needs and discuss some possible solutions. Here goes.
What's Really Required?
Perhaps the best first question in the data management process might be: Exactly what should a good data management strategy include? Here, in no particular order, are the key components I've come to believe are required.
An enforceable storage, numbering, and revision scheme. This is how you know where the current versions of files are and ensure that everyone is on the same page. Whether you use a software application or file folders and manual file naming, the point is to achieve consistency. Note that enforceability (via software tools or management edict) is key — users cannot be allowed to improvise on naming, revising, and storing files!
Some sort of file-locking mechanism. In cases where multiple team members may need access to the same file, there must be a way to prevent team members from writing over each other's files. There are a variety of software and wide-area network (WAN) management tools that can provide file locking, which we'll explore later.
Durable backup and restoration for disaster recovery. This is most likely taken care of by your IT department and includes the ability to store massive amounts of data offsite, then retrieve it rapidly to restore entire servers, user e-mail accounts, etc., in bulk. (CAD managers typically don't need to worry about this.)
Local project archive storage. These archives contain all the data needed to "reload" an old job and work on it again. Archives typically are made at key points in a project timeline (bid, initial submittal, final submittal, as-builts, etc.). The archive data must be locally available to the CAD manager so jobs can be quickly pulled from archive (no waiting two days to download something from the cloud).
Company Size and Topology
Now that we know what to manage, let's turn our attention to how our company size affects our approach. The first thing to consider for your data management plan is how your company is configured, from a topology point of view. The reality is that the more far-flung your offices and workers are from each other, the bigger an IT problem you're going to have. So think about which of the following categories your company best fits into:
Small company with all data in one location and minimal employee travel.
Medium-size company with a few branch offices and travelling workers.
- Large company with many branch offices and travelling workers.
Using the size-based breakdown allows us to reach the following conclusions quickly:
Small: Moving files over WANs isn't required in this case, so a complex IT networking infrastructure doesn't need to be part of the equation. Therefore any filing/naming/revision standards can be enforced locally, file-locking issues are handled by the network, and when all else fails team members can easily "yell across the cubicle wall" to resolve issues.
Medium/Large: The need to have multiple offices working on the same files inevitably leads to users complaining about network speed between the offices. Workers then tend to "work around" the obstacle by making unauthorized copies to their local machine/server, which means the same data can be edited in multiple locations. This "working around the WAN" scenario often leads to a total lack of file locking and frequent violation of the filing/naming/revision criteria that any good data management system must maintain.