Seeking the Ideal Civil 3D Setup, Part 2

13 Mar, 2008 By: Kenneth Wong

This installment looks at data preservation options, the future outlook, and more details about file storage with Vault.

In Part 1 of this article we looked at how two firms, Bowman Consulting Group and David Evans and Associates (DEA), are approaching the migration from Autodesk Land Desktop to Civil 3D. In Part II, we examine three possible Vault setups for firms adopting Civil 3D and the requirements for backup operations.

Alternative Vaulting Schemes
J.C. Davis, DEA's corporate Autodesk administrator and Civil 3D project manager, observed, "Through our research, we found several methodologies for setting up Vault within any organization." He identified a few as follows:

  • individual Vault servers in each location with individual working folder locations
  • centralized Vault sever with working folder locations at each individual site
  • centralized Vault server with a centralized single location accessed by each site

Click for larger image
Click for larger image
Click for larger image Three possible Vault setup schemes to explore for those considering Civil 3D migration. (Click images for larger versions)

Like many of his peers, Davis is concerned with the impacts to the WAN. "Pipe size isn't cheap," he acknowledged, but added, "The key is where you set up your working folder location. If you have a centralized working folder location for your Vault, your WAN traffic increases greatly each time you check in or check out a drawing, since it travels across the WAN. If you have individual working folder locations in each of your organization sites (offices), your WAN traffic is minimal as the only time the data is transferred across the WAN is when the current file version is not in the same location as the end-user leveraging it.

"If you have a file stored and the current version resides in office A working folder location, and office B needs to use this file, Vault will transfer the current version of this file to office B across the WAN. When office A accesses this file again, Vault will transfer the current version back from office B to office A across the WAN again. If the current version of a file resides in the same location as the user leveraging it, then the only traffic across the WAN is the SQL call to the Vault server to issue the drawing to the user. The actual drawing only travels across the LAN then. So, depending on your setup architecture, WAN acceleration hardware/software (Riverbed) may provide increased benefit and performance. I have tested WAN accelerators (Riverbed) within our environment and found WAN accelerators beneficial in file transfers between offices; however, WAN accelerators have not been tested -- nor are they supported -- by Autodesk."

If you must share project files, Davis suggests you share the DWGs between projects but avoid sharing drawings between vaults. Furthermore, he suggested, "You cannot share data between projects, but you can xref data from one project to another. But with xref-ing, you risk replicating the data in both projects."

(For a thorough explanation of Davis's recommended Vault usage scheme, see sidebar "Vaulting in Greater Detail.")

DEA adopted a centralized Vault server system with full SQL and let the work folder reside in each of its offices. "We determined that, by this setup, we were able to implement Vault through our entire organization with minimum up-front cost and have the flexibility and room for growth." Davis explained. "In theory, as our centralized Vault server reaches optimum capacity, we can introduce a regional Vault server to house new projects and so on."

The Backup Job
Over the years, Bowman Consulting Group's office in Fairfax, Virginia, has accumulated more than one terabyte of data, a substantial amount for any backup operation.

"With the amount of work we have, it could take anywhere from eight to ten hours to back up the existing data," said Jason Bjornsen, Bowman's IT manager. As he sees it, every time IT runs a backup, the centralized database -- and the Vault file stores in the respective offices -- will be locked out.

"We have engineers sometimes coming in at 10 o'clock at night to finish a project in time to meet the county's submission deadline," he explained. "If I tell them they can't [work while backup is in progress], I wouldn't be too popular."

As the Vault database and the file store grow, Bowman's Jason Bjornsen anticipates longer backup times. In his assessment, the traditional method of backing up from hard disk to tape is no longer efficient enough, which prompts him to look for alternative methods.

"I wish that Vault was developed in such a way so that I could do live backup," he added. "That way, people could still be checking in and checking out files while we're doing the backup, and afterwards the files get synchronized."

DEA's Davis agrees with Bjornsen that live backup (or hot backup) would be preferable. "DEA has individual work folder locations on each of our offices project servers, which has standard backups that take time." he explained. "The bigger concern is with the Vault database and file store; they can be up to four times larger that the actual work file store. Depending on your purge management routines, this can grow significantly as you can have scores of versions for each working drawing or file. As DEA sees longer backup times occurring, we may need to move to staggered backups."

Looking Toward the Future
Autodesk has not officially declared Land Desktop a dying product, but the company's aggressive push for Civil 3D migration suggests Civil 3D is the platform it intends to devote its energy and resources to. So for most of its customers, clinging to Land Desktop is not a viable option.

Based on his conversations with his counterparts in other civil engineering firms, Bjornsen concluded Bowman's multisite workflow is not an uncharacteristic practice. Therefore, if his challenges are shared by other Civil 3D users, many of the issues he's raising will eventually find their ways into the Civil 3D developers' to-do list, queued for inclusion in future versions of the software.

"The main reason Vault is so powerful is that it provides a viable solution to an industrywide problem -- limited resources to complete a project from a single location. So having the ability to leverage personnel and expertise from multiple locations provides a value service to the client," Davis said.

Vaulting in Greater Detail

J.C. Davis, DEA's corporate Autodesk administrator and Civil 3D project manager, provided more examples on the rules of Civil 3D file storage.

"For example: In my ADMS Vault server I have a vault called Test," he said. "Within the Test vault I have projects A and B. In project A, I have two drawings: one called SITE.DWG and one called ROAD.DWG. In SITE.DWG, I created a surface called EG and checked it into the ADMS Test vault inside of project A. Within Project A, I can open the ROAD.DWG and xref the EG surface. This is because the data is in the same project as the drawing I am working in. Anytime the EG surface is modified, I would be notified of this change. In short, within the same project, I can xref drawings. Data references keep all items dynamically linked. If one person is in Office X, and one person is in Office Y, you can still have this same type of functionality. Each person would be logged into the same server and project vault."

Davis likes this arrangement because, he said, "I can have multiple offices and multiple users working on a single project with real-time dynamic updates."

"The limitation of Vault occurs when working with multiple projects," he noted. "You cannot share data, like the EG surface mentioned above, from one project to another. You can xref a drawing, but with xref-ing you risk replicating the data in both projects. So I can xref SITE.DWG or ROAD.DWG from Project A in Project B, but I cannot link them dynamically. Because SITE.DWG with the embedded EG surface is xref'd from Project A to Project B, I can see visually when the surface is updated in Project A. But within Project B, I have no access to the EG surface data."

According to Davis, although this is a limitation, it's not an insurmountable hurdle. "To share data such as surfaces, alignments, and so on, you need to be in the same project within a vault," he suggested. "For large projects, this means you may want to examine your project phasing and staging in order to best leverage this data."

About the Author: Kenneth Wong

More News and Resources from Cadalyst Partners

For Mold Designers! Cadalyst has an area of our site focused on technologies and resources specific to the mold design professional. Sponsored by Siemens NX.  Visit the Equipped Mold Designer here!

For Architects! Cadalyst has an area of our site focused on technologies and resources specific to the building design professional. Sponsored by HP.  Visit the Equipped Architect here!