CAD Manager: Primer on Project Archives

30 Sep, 2004 By: Robert Green Cadalyst

A structured approach to archiving projects makes quick work of retrieving old data.

Webster's defines an archive as a place or collection that contains records, documents, or other materials of historical interest. Why not extend this definition to think of CAD archives as collections of electronic files that describe a project from its inception to its completion?

Such an archive allows companies to go back in time and resurrect old data quickly and accurately without extensive searching. Such an archive allows quick responses to customer inquiries and facilitates accurate project cost estimating. Does your company have a structured archive system, much less one that lives up to these lofty goals?

Backup = Archive?

I've heard many CAD managers say, "Our IT (information technology) department does all our backup tasks for us." The fact is that a backup system serves a totally different purpose than an archive system. Backups are run via centralized systems under the control of the IT department, beyond the reach of most CAD managers. A full backup is run periodically to capture a complete image of a file server. More frequent, incremental backups capture the files that have been edited since the last full backup was run. This incremental style of backup means that all project files that were modified in any given week are scattered over a number of backup data sets, making it difficult to locate files.

Backup systems are simply a tool with which a system server can be restored to where it was prior to a catastrophic failure such as a disk crash or a natural disaster.

Backup systems are not for finding all the files for an old project that was never archived properly. Even in cases where long-term backups are stored, it's usually on a weekly or even monthly schedule, thus leaving large time gaps where substantial amounts of work can be lost.

Archive Defined

Archives, on the other hand, are project-specific file sets that completely describe a project at various milestone points in its timeline. A good archiving scheme lets you go back to all revisions of a mechanical design or every customer submittal of a building's layout and construction. In short, an archive serves as the definitive electronic record of how a CAD-generated design actually progressed over time.

Archives are targeted on a project-by-project basis rather than encompassing an entire server, as IT backups do. With archives, you specifically store only the files and directories required to describe the project—nothing more, nothing less. For archives to be most useful, they must be well documented so that anyone in the company can find a given archive and understand its contents with little to no effort.

Archive Logs

Creating a log file for each archived job makes it simple to locate files within archive sets later. To create an archive log, you must meet the following minimum requirements.

Assign an archive number. Ideally this is a sequential number starting with 000001 and progressing ever upward to 999999. I start with 000001 to make computer searching and filing more consistent.

Produce a text log of files that are archived. Because I create my archives using ZIP compression, I find it easy to use WinZip's Print function to create a list of all archived files. I then capture this print to a PDF file with Adobe Acrobat. I end up with a perfectly formatted PDF file that is machine searchable and printable. Always name the archive log files using the archive number, for example 000001.PDF.

Establish long-term storage. Invest in a lock box in which you can store archive CDs. The purpose of this box is simply to keep CDs from walking away so you'll always be able to find them. You can provide extra permanent copies to your IT department for permanent storage.

Suggested Methodology

I assume that you have a fast, reliable CD-ROM drive and CD archiving software application installed on your workstation so you can burn your own CD-ROMs. I've had very good luck with the Roxio Easy CD Creator application—it supports every piece of CD hardware I've ever thrown at it. If you haven't already done so, burn some CDs with a bunch of files and then copy the files back to a local hard drive to verify file integrity. If all files made the roundtrip to and from CD with 100% accuracy, you're ready to archive.

When you're ready to create your archives, perform the following steps.

Alert project team members. Let everyone know that a job archive will occur and that all team members must update their files and upload any files from personal drives to network drives, if needed.

Delete all BAK and SV$ files for AutoCAD projects. Simply use the Search function for the entire project directory and delete.

Delete all known junk from project folders. If your users habitually create junk folders or files, delete them before archiving to get smaller archive files and to break bad user habits.

Copy files to be archived to a local drive. Don't trust CD-writing software to work over a network connection. Small hiccups in network transport can cause file corruptions. Copying to local drives also eliminates the chance that a project team member may have a file open. I know it takes a while to copy the data, but the security gained is worth the wait.

Assign the sequential number for your archive CD. When you burn CDs, use this sequential archive number as the identification code for the CD. I prefer numbers to names because numbers indicate chronology and make it much easier to find the one CD you need from hundreds in a vault.

Store the archive log to the CD and to your hard drive. The archive log file you create (using PDF as outlined above) is the electronic Rosetta stone that you and others can search later. Be sure that the archive log is burned onto the archive CD using the archive number naming scheme outlined above and keep a copy on your local drive so you can search easily later.

Burn two CDs. One copy goes into your lock box and the other copy goes to your IT department for permanent storage. Label the CDs and cases clearly with the archive CD numbers using permanent pens or adhesive labels that can't be removed.

Store All Logs

As time goes by, you'll create more and more archive sets, so keeping track of them will become key. At this time, design a spreadsheet to track the archive numbers with the project titles or other key information that can help you find files later. Take the time to update this file every time you create a new archive, and you'll build an incredibly detailed database with almost zero effort.

Be a Star

I realize that tracking archive sets is yet another task and that your life is already complicated enough. However, a well-documented project archive helps you find drawings much more easily and saves valuable time as you recycle old data more efficiently. I've also found that running a well-conceived archive system gets management's attention and makes you look like a star when everyone else is fumbling to find lost information.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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