CAD Central

31 Mar, 2008 By: Kenneth Wong

DWG 2007 Format Found to Choke WAN, Rhino Charges into Space, Architectural Cinema, and more.

DWG 2007 Format Found to Choke WAN

Ray Sirois, IT director for the New England–based engineering firm Wright-Pierce, is putting the brakes on his company's migration to AutoCAD 2008 "due to poor performance issues" related to the use of wide-area network (WAN) accelerators such as RiverbedTechnology Steelhead appliances. Wright-Pierce attributes the performance degradation to "AutoCAD's version 2008 Save command reorganizing or reordering much of the content within the DWG file."

"We suspected the problem actually existed to a lesser degree in version 2007," Sirois noted. "However, in our testing, we found the problem is much worse in version 2008." In addition to putting a strain on WAN transfer, the change can have a negative effect on IT backup operations. "Our Exagrid disk-to-disk backup system heavily leverages data de-duplication to enable months of backups to be stored on one disk array," Sirois said. "If all our DWG files look to be 80–90% new data each time they are touched, then that kills the effectiveness of the backup system."

Ironically, the modified DWG 2007 format was meant "to make it more compact and improve performance for AutoCAD users." Nevertheless, Autodesk acknowledges that "one of the side effects of the DWG format changes is that when users perform a complete save from within AutoCAD (as opposed to an incremental save), virtually every byte of the file gets changed — even if zero changes were made to the file itself" (see "Potential for reduced write performance for Riverbed WAN links when working with AutoCAD 2007 DWG files" at the online AutoCAD Services and Support page, published March 12, 2008).

The affected products include AutoCAD 2008 and 2007, AutoCAD Architecture 2008, Autodesk Architectural Desktop 2007, and AutoCAD Civil 3D 2008 and 2007. While it tries to come up with a permanent fix, Autodesk proposes the following workarounds:

  • 1. Use a feature in AutoCAD called Incremental Save Percentage (ISP) and set it to 50.
  • 2. Use a version of the DWG format other than the AutoCAD 2007 DWG format.

Wright-Pierce is cautiously experimenting with the first approach. Sirois hopes rumors of increased potential for file corruption with higher ISP settings will prove unfounded. For his firm, "saving the file in an earlier version's format is certainly not a workaround at all for Civil 3D and may not be for other verticals such as AutoCAD Architecture," he observed. "The newer model objects and entity types created in Civil 3D are simply not supported in earlier versions. Such objects can't exist in earlier-version DWG files without losing all their intelligence."

Sirois is encouraged by Autodesk and Riverbed's reaction. "The big news is, Autodesk has become enlightened about how important multioffice interoperability is to its mid-size and large customers," he noted.

Silver Peak, Riverbed's competitor, jumped at the opportunity to declare, "There has been uproar recently among AutoCAD customers because certain older WAN optimization products appear incompatible with newer AutoCAD file formats. Silver Peak has worked with Autodesk and other customers to verify that Silver Peak's NX appliances do not suffer this limitation."

Rhino Charges into Space

SpaceClaim, which describes its mechanical design package as "3D for non-CAD users," wants to claim some space in the styling and surfacing market. Last year, taking advantage of its partnership with Robert McNeel & Associates, the company added round-trip interoperability between its own SpaceClaim Professional 2007 ($1,795 plus $545 for one-year maintenance subscription) and the latter's flagship product Rhino.

According to the announcement, "The [integration] solution allows Rhino files to be opened directly in SpaceClaim for creating and modifying solid geometry. The 3D model can then be sent back in the Rhino file format for precise surface modifications by the industrial designer."

Pushing the feature downstream further, SpaceClaim revealed in February that the round-trip data exchange is now available for the less-expensive SpaceClaim LTX ($895). In the workflow envisioned by SpaceClaim, product stylists will create freeform surfaces in Rhino and then import them into SpaceClaim Professional or LTX to add mechanical components.

The Rhino and SpaceClaim integration features previously available in SpaceClaim Professional now are available in the affordably priced SpaceClaim LTX as well.
The Rhino and SpaceClaim integration features previously available in SpaceClaim Professional now are available in the affordably priced SpaceClaim LTX as well.

Architectural Cinema

Digital moviemakers have discovered new spaces and dimensions to explore much closer to Earth — in architectural visualization. And where they go, software developers follow. With the release of Autodesk's 3ds Max (part of the 2009 lineup), Autodesk's popular 3D animation and rendering program leaps headlong into this field, specifically targeting architects and designers. 3ds Max may go up against MAXON's CINEMA 4D, a 3D product similarly repackaged for the architecture market.

CINEMA 4D Architecture Edition ($1,795) comes with the Architecture Extension Kit, which includes

  • 1. plug-ins for CAD data exchange (for DWG, DXF, Allplan, ArchiCAD, VectorWorks, and other file types),
  • 2. more than 300 furniture items and 400 materials, and
  • 3. virtual walk-through tools (with collision detection).

These features, MAXON points out, will let you create films with moving objects (such as opening doors, walking people, and moving cars) and QuickTime panoramas (virtual reality for construction clients). For added realism, you can also get the +VB Plant Collection, which allows you to place seasonal vegetation around the scene.

Targeted specifically at the architecture visualization market, MAXON released its popular 3D software CINEMA 4D in an architecture edition.
Targeted specifically at the architecture visualization market, MAXON released its popular 3D software CINEMA 4D in an architecture edition.

Running AutoCAD on SharePoint

How do you deploy AutoCAD with Microsoft SharePoint? In other words, how do you share your AutoCAD files within the company and let SharePoint manage the external references (xrefs)? The topic has generated a number of discussion threads on forums frequented by AutoCAD users and Microsoft developers, so it was only a matter of time before someone began offering a product to address the demand. The latest one to appear is CADnection ($6,995 per 25-seat bundle; 18% of purchase price for maintenance).

CADnection operates within an internally hosted environment. It uses a drop-down menu accessible from within the AutoCAD interface to let you check in, check out, and search for files. Martin Van Der Roest, CADnection's CEO, realizes AutoCAD users also have the choice to use Autodesk Vault, included at no additional cost with most AutoCAD products, but he anticipates his SharePoint-based solution will find a market among "organizations that have mandated SharePoint as the primary file repository."

If your organization is already using SharePoint to manage other file types, the IT chief may prefer that you manage your AutoCAD drawings in the same environment. In addition, SharePoint is designed for file shuffling between geographically dispersed offices, whereas Vault isn't ideal for those kind of operations.

IM-Incorporated Lifecycle

Instant messaging (IM), the little pop-up window mostly associated with chatty teenagers, is gradually gaining legitimacy as a collaboration tool. If you're an engineer using Dassault's 3DLive, a Web-based graphical interface for exploring enterprise product data repositories, you can consult (or socialize, as the case may be) with your coworkers and suppliers using IBM's IM, supplied via integration with Lotus Sametime, or Microsoft's IM, provided through integration with Microsoft Office Communicator Server 2007.

When 3DLive publicly debuted at the CATIA Operator Exchange conference (COE) in Las Vegas in May 2007, its display function was limited to Dassault's file formats only. Six months later, the product entered the multi-CAD phase. In January 2008, Dassault declared, "3DLive can display and navigate product information created in CATIA, SolidWorks, Pro/E Wildfire, Siemens/UGS NX, and Autodesk Inventor." At the same time, it introduced integration with IBM Lotus Sametime and Microsoft Office Communicator Server. Similarly, Arena Solutions, which licenses software-as-a-service (SaaS) product lifecycle management (PLM) modules, offers integrated voice over IP (VoIP) features via Skype.

Siemens PLM Software's Teamcenter suite provides the same feature by incorpo- rating Microsoft's IM and Outlook products.

About the Author: Kenneth Wong

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