CAD Manager's Newsletter #80 (Feb. 27, 2003)

26 Feb, 2003 By: Robert Green

If you haven't had a chance to read Cleaning the CAD House--Part I and II in Issues #79 and #78, I suggest you do before continuing.

Backups and Archiving

As I promised in the last issue, I'd like to focus on backing up data. Many of you may be thinking, "Why should I worry about backing up CAD data when the computer/IT department does it for me?"

Assuming the source of all backup information is your central computer/IT department, ask yourself the following questions:

  • When I need to retrieve data, how long does it take?
  • When I need to find all the drawings from a job completed a year ago, how long does it take?
  • If I need to look at various versions of a drawing that were saved as the project was in progress, how long will it take?

For most CAD managers, the answer to the first question is several hours. The answer to the second question typically ranges from many hours to days. In response to the last question, they typically say, "You must be kidding! Our computer department can't supply that!"

Centralized Backups Defined

Sometimes the central computer/IT department gets a bad rap. Accessing backup data does take longer than users expect. The computer department is frequently expected to drop everything else it's doing to locate old files, which may or may not be easy to locate. Of course, when someone needs computer files retrieved from backup, he or she is in a panic (naturally) and wants the files retrieved immediately.

I'd like to point out that the computer/IT department's role is not to compensate for simple user errors, such as inadvertent deletions, or to manage drawing revisions and job archives. Rather, its job is to bring the computer network back online in the event of an emergency. An emergency recovery means getting company computer systems back to their pre-crash state. Emergency recovery is not finding an old file that the engineering or CAD department never bothered to archive in the first place.

To summarize, archiving jobs to be able to trace the progress of CAD work over time is the CAD department's responsibility--not the computer/IT department's!

A Better Way

Now I'd like you to envision a system in which data is backed up on CDs with your own CD burner, and the backup CDs are in a locked cabinet within easy reach. Now let's further assume that you've been running this backup system for a year or so.

When you have your own set of local backup CDs, retrieval of data happens essentially as fast as you can grab the CDs and insert the correct disk in the drive. If you back up jobs as they are completed, and also at the project's milestone stages, you should be able to find old files and incremental revisions immediately. How much time could you save?

At this point, I hope you understand why you should regularly back up CAD data even though the computer/IT department does it. The simple reasons for having your own backups are convenience, speed, and peace of mind of knowing.

Suggested Steps

First, you'll need to have a reliable CD writable drive and a supply of recordable CDs. Be sure to purchase blank CDs with a speed rate compatible with your CD recorder; it'll do you little good to have a 40X CD-recorder with a collection of 16X blank CDs! Be sure to record some sample CDs and verify the reliability of the recorded data before embarking on a major backup program.

Here are some backup strategies:

  • Keep a list to record job status updates so you'll always know which jobs need to be backed up. Jot down everything you think of on the list right away.
  • Set aside a specific time each week to perform your backup. I've found 11:30 AM on a Friday works well, since you can organize your files for backup and start the recording process just before heading out the door for lunch. Stick to your schedule and never put off the task.
  • Keep a logbook. I use Microsoft Word to record the dates of all backups along with the job names/numbers and descriptions of the data being backed up. Since electronic files can be searched later, this logbook will help you find key files from backup CDs later.
  • Assign a CD number to each backup CD and clearly label the CD so you'll know which CD contains what data. Put the CD number in your electronic logbook so you can establish a correlation between the data and CD numbers. Nothing is more frustrating than keeping a detailed log only to have the CDs unlabeled, thus untraceable.
  • Invest in a heat resistant, lockable cabinet for storage of your archival data. Please note that storage safes sold in office supply stores are typically rated for paper storage rather than magnetic media storage. In case of fire, disks tend to melt way before paper, so you want to be sure the fire rating of your storage cabinet is adequate to protect all of your data. (Hint: Sporting goods stores carry small gun-safes for ammunition storage and they make great fire-resistant storage cabinets.)
  • Periodically, make copies of key archives and place them in an offsite location or another building. Your company may already have offsite storage services for accounting data that you could use for this purpose. Ask around and find out what your company does to secure key information and you'll likely find a solution for offsite storage.

Justifiable Paranoia

As you put together your backup plans, always ask the following questions:

  • Are my files protected from fire?
  • Are they safe from thief?
  • Is my log file detailed enough to allow me to find key information a year or two from now?
  • Have I included other trusted personnel in the process, ensuring that someone else can navigate the system in my absence?
  • Have I made copies of the key for trusted personnel?

Admittedly, you have to think of the worst possible scenarios. Your preparations will all be worthwhile if disaster and data-loss ever strike. Be sure to involve the senior managers by keeping them posted as you formulate your backup strategies. Your management will be very impressed with your efforts to minimize data loss.

Summing Up

Using the strategies outlined in the last three issues, you should now be able to clean up your CAD house, keep it clean, and produce a secure data archival procedure. I congratulate you for tackling the CAD mess and building the management support and authority required to manage your CAD department in a more optimal manner. Please send me any approaches you've used to manage backups/archiving in your company at

In the next issue, I'll show you how prepare for software upgrades. As you may know, Autodesk, PTC, and SolidWorks have all announced pending upgrades to their flagship CAD products, so this spring will be a good time to evaluate your department's readiness for new technology.