So far, we’ve discussed the value of building a network system for CAD operations. From an operator perspective, the workstation has the CAD application itself stored locally. But the files should reside on the shared storage device.
The next component of a network system for CAD operations is data vaulting. Data is the core of your business. All of your data — your CAD designs as well as your emails, customer records, documents, invoices — they’re all data you can’t do without. A data disaster can be crippling for a business, and the cost of downtime is typically in tens of thousands of dollars.
Offsite Data Vaulting
The solution is to backup your irreplaceable data from your desktops, laptops and servers with an offsite secure data vaulting service. This service should provide your business with the ability to back up your data offsite, to a dedicated backup server that’s managed 24/7 at a secure datacenter.
Did you know that 43% of U.S. companies experiencing data disasters never re-open, and 29% close within 2 years? The loss of revenue for each hour of downtime varies from industry to industry. Don’t let your company become a statistic.
Why Backup Online
Online backups are the easiest and surest way to protect your data. Backing up to an offsite server ensures that you can recover your data even in case of a physical disaster, theft or loss. Online backups also eliminate many of the error prone steps associated with traditional backup methods like tape. Users can restore ‘point in time’ versions of files without loading tapes one after the other.
With an online backup solution, your data is encrypted and compressed even before it leaves your computers. After the first full backup, only incremental block level changes are sent — optimizing bandwidth & storage usage.
How Offsite Data Vaulting Works
With offsite data vaulting, your IT department installs an agent on each computer (workstation /server) that you wish to protect. After the initial configuration, backups happen automatically and your IT team can monitor and manage the process remotely.
The best data vaulting services will backup your data off-site to the main office and replicate it to another office, giving you redundant backups just in case the worst happens.
Data backup is inexpensive insurance against a business disaster!
Authors: Mark Shaw and James Ecklund
Our first post introduced the idea of building of a network system for CAD operations. From an operator perspective, the workstation has the CAD application itself stored locally. But the files should reside on the shared storage device.
RAID – Redundant Array of Independent Disks
In general, you want to talk to your IT department about RAID, which stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks. In essence, the term describes exactly what it is – computer data storage devices that are set up to divide and replicate data among different drives. The drives are separate, but the operating system enables them to function as one disk.
RAID has many levels. One of the simplest, called RAID-1, creates an exact copy of a set of data on two or more disks. RAID-1 is useful when read performance or reliability is more important than data storage capacity. RAID-1 can be set up on a CAD workstation itself, which is common in high end workstations to ensure their uptime as well.
RAID-5 and Higher
For comparison, RAID-5 stripes both data and parity information across three or more drives. It exchanges the dedicated parity drive for a distributed parity algorithm, writing data and parity blocks across all the drives in the array. If one drive fails, the duplicated data is still safe on other drives. RAID-1 and RAID-5 are two of the most common levels, but there are many more. Your IT department can help you develop a system that meets your company’s needs.
Taking every precaution is vital because recreating CAD work is hard work. Next, we’ll discuss data vaulting.
Authors: Mark Shaw and James Ecklund
A network system in a CAD facility is a vital part of the operations of any CAD production team. The nature of CAD work has value far beyond the price tag of the workstation, software and server. CAD files often have hundreds of man hours wrapped in data files – time and effort that equals money.
From an IT perspective, no CAD operator should have all the work he/she does sitting on a computer. It is essential to make CAD files available as shared files. Often, teams of people work on CAD designs. Plus other people need to review the work. It’s important to have a network that facilitates the review process as well as the data integrity. Updates of CAD software have continually improved the operator’s ability to work as a team. However, a solid network is still an essential part of the CAD production environment.
Don’t Rely on Luck
We had a client with CAD files sitting on his laptop that represented 150 man hours. He had been traveling extensively overseas, and he wasn’t able to back up his computer as normal. The hard drive failed. He was lucky. At great expense, we were able to retrieve most of his data. But besides the hefty bill for recovery, he lost the time involved in retrieving the data, not to mention the mental anguish.
So, given that your CAD files represent a huge chunk of your time and mental energy, how do you prevent catastrophic failure? You make sure you have your files stored in a secure location.
Authors: Mark Shaw and James Ecklund
So far in this series, we’ve discussed system requirements, commonly used terms, processors, RAM, hard drives and connectivity. This installment of Hardware for the CAD Professional will continue our discussion about graphics cards.
Installation and Configuration
Once you’ve decided on a specific graphics card and determined that it will work on both your operating system and the software package(s) you intend to use it with, then comes the installation and configuration of the software drivers. All the companies that manufacture workstation-level graphics cards spend a lot of time and energy in not only keeping their software drivers up to date, but also in certifying that a number of industry-standard applications work correctly with them. This, and the related support, is one of the added benefits in using a professional-level graphics card that can save you lots of expensive troubleshooting time.
Some vendors integrate special support for an application such as AutoCAD with their base drivers, while others provide accelerated drivers for such applications as a separate download. In either case, you want to be sure that you’re using the best drivers to get the maximum performance from your system. I am a strong proponent of regularly updating software drivers, finding that many such updates increase performance or add benefits beyond the typical “bug” fixing ensured by such releases.
Maximize Your Performance
First you have the drivers installed and have determined that they are working with your application. The next step is to maximize your performance. There are number of operating system level adjustments to make, but I’ll cover these separately. In terms of the graphics card drivers, there’s one big adjustment that can significantly increase performance — so much so that we automatically do it when testing graphics cards at Cadalyst. In your graphics card settings found in the operating system’s control panel, be sure that your settings for Vertical Sync are set to OFF or FORCE OFF. Changing this simple setting will provide significant performance benefits to your system.
There may be other configuration options you wish to make to your video drivers, but this one will certainly need to be done. Combined with the operating system configurations to be discussed next, the Vertical Sync settings will enable the level of professional level performance you expect from your hardware. Once you’ve made these settings, it’s time to configure your operating system for its maximum performance.
Author: Ron LaFon
So far in this series, we’ve discussed system requirements, commonly used terms, processors, RAM, hard drives and connectivity. The next two installments of Hardware for the CAD Professional will talk about graphics cards.
Three General Categories for Graphics Cards
The graphic card you select for your workstation can either make or break all your carefully chosen workstation configuration options, thus this topic gets two entries in this blog. As with the three categories of workstations that I outlined earlier, graphics cards also fall into three general categories based on their capabilities. While you could certainly configure what is generally considered an entry level workstation with a high-end graphics card, it would make no sense economically — some of these high end graphics card can be comparably priced to the workstation itself. Also, to really perform at its best, the high-end graphics card needs robust system support as found in higher-end workstations.
As you go from entry level graphics cards up to high-end graphics cards, you not only gain in the amount of video RAM on the card, you also gain in processing power, capabilities and often connectivity options. Vendors typically offer a range of graphics card that are supported by unified software drivers for commonly used operating systems, so that no matter which card you use, the drivers will work in the same fashion.
Power, Fan System, Vents
When configuring your workstation, there are a couple of important considerations that I’ve waited until now to discuss. First involves the capacity of the power supply on your workstation. As graphics card increase in power, so do their demands for electricity, so if you’re configuring a workstation that will use such a card, you’ll want to be sure that you’re configuring the base system with a power supply that has sufficient wattage. Be aware also that such a graphics card will generate a significant amount of heat, so you will want to be sure that the fan system and vents for the workstation are adequate.
High-end graphics cards generally require addition electrical feeds from within the system — these are generally available, though other options you choose for your workstation might also make use of such connections.
A final configuration consideration is the width of high-end graphics cards. While they actually only use one electrical slot in the system, the width of the graphics card typically makes the adjacent slot unusable by any other devices. Plan on having two adjacent slots available if you expect to be using one of these more powerful graphics cards.
Once installed, then the next consideration is software drivers.
Author: Ron LaFon
The modern PC has become an electronic version of Grand Central Station, with connectivity options that add capabilities, allow data storage or transfer, communicates with the world outside, or with another computer on your local network. Choosing a workstation that has sufficient connectivity options may determine the longevity and usefulness of the system you acquire.
Network connectivity is standard on modern workstations, allowing you access to the Internet and to other workstations in your local network. A 1GB connection is common, though some workstations also offer WiFi connectivity. Typically your Internet connectivity will come from a network cable attached to a router, a cable modem, or a DSL modem.
It seems that you can hook almost anything to your workstation these days using the flexibility and chaining capabilities of USB. USB v.2 is generally standard, though newer workstations are beginning to incorporate USB v.3 with its “SuperSpeed” connectivity and power management options. USB has largely become the standard way to attach mice, keyboards, digital cameras, external hard drives, thumb drives, scanners and printers, so you want to be certain that you have a number of available USB ports.
USB does allow chaining of devices, but chains have a way of getting unwieldy. Some vendors include an internal USB connector to keep software dongles secure, and most have connections on both front and back of the system. Personal preference here: make sure there are USB ports readily accessible from your sitting position at your workspace — this means a few connections on either the top of high up on the front side of the case.
It won’t hurt to have a FireWire connection or two for use with devices that rely upon this connector to function. Also known as a IEEE 1394 High Speed Serial Bus, this connection was originally found on Apple computers, but the broad array of external devices are also useful with PCs using the FireWire port.
Most modern workstations also provide an eSATA connection. eSATA is a computer bus interface that’s used to connect host bus adapters to mass storage devices such a hard disk drives and optical drives. It provides a high speed data path for such storage devices.
Author: Ron LaFon