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Archive for April, 2011

Build a Network System for CAD Operations, Part 3: Data Vaulting

April 29, 2011 1 comment

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

Plan a CAD Software and Hardware Upgrade, Part 3: Find the Right Solutions

April 28, 2011 2 comments
Do your research for CAD upgrades.

Do your research before asking about upgrades.

The first part of this series about upgrading CAD software and hardware talked about using the Information Technology Lifecycle to help define how computer software and hardware can support your company’s business goals. The first three steps help you define the needs and measure your current productivity levels. Next we’ll discuss how to recommend solutions.

Step 4

Recommend solutions that fit your business. If you are going to the company’s decision makers with a problem, it’s best to have the solution. Take the initiative to find out the benefits of the upgrades you want, and then include those as part of the solution. Also, be aware of any software system requirements. Your new CAD software might require Windows 7, but will your other, older applications work on that operating system? Do your own research now to prevent unpleasant surprises after your company invests in new computer systems.

Step 5

Think outside the box. Many design professionals and their IT personnel understand that software upgrades, particularly upgrading from 2D to 3D CAD or taking on demanding design analysis or visualization applications, means you also need to increase computing power. What many don’t realize, however, is that simply increasing the memory or processing power of a standard desktop PC isn’t necessarily enough. Be sure to work with IT to fully consider the value of upgrading to a professional workstation. Many workstations are certified for specific CAD applications. They can improve throughput as well as decrease down time to such a degree that they often pay for themselves within months of integration — and many of the latest models start at prices that are comparable to those of standard PCs. Work with your IT contacts to be sure you consider all hardware options, not just the familiar. You’ll be more productive and your IT department will spend less time addressing system crashes.

Step 6

Consider managed services. Here’s the gist: Your IT personnel have a lot of things to deal with on a daily basis. Many companies are using managed services to control the workload. Managed services are externally provided operations and management capabilities delivered over a networked infrastructure, using a monthly subscription model or recurring charge. Managed services can be provided for networks, security, databases, servers, storage, and applications. Think of managed services as making your IT personnel’s job a little easier, instead of harder. Find out how managed services might fit in with your company’s upgrade plans. Automated Windows system updates, CAD licensing services and security patches are good examples of managed services that will keep you focusing on your CAD designs instead of calling your IT personnel about computer problems.

Explaining how technology integrates with your company’s business goals will make it easier for your management team to understand your suggestions for upgrade. Once all parties are on the same page, you’ll have a much stronger position for advocating for the hardware and software upgrades that can help you do your job better.

Authors: Mark Shaw and James Ecklund

Plan a CAD Software and Hardware Upgrade, Part 2: Define Needs, Measure Productivity

April 27, 2011 2 comments
Define your CAD needs, Measure your productivity

To plan a hardware or software upgrade, define your CAD needs and measure your current level of productivity.

The first part of this series about upgrading CAD software and hardware talked about using the Information Technology Lifecycle to help define how computer software and hardware can support your company’s business goals. These first three steps help you define the needs and measure your current productivity levels.

Step 1

Define your company’s needs to understand how it uses technology. The truth is that if you are a CAD user, technology is highly relevant to your job function. In fact, we’d go so far as to say the two elements are inseparable. Summarize your company’s need as succinctly as possible. My company develops and manufactures widgets that are designed with ABC CAD software and produced via XYZ CAM software using DEFG equipment.

Step 2

Measure your technology pain points and their impact on the organization’s productivity. Here’s where users get to really show how an upgrade can make their life easier. Are systems timing out? Crashing frequently? Are you missing deadlines because of system inefficiencies? Do you need better collaboration tools? List the problems and how they make your job harder, because these things are making your IT department’s job harder too.

Step 3

Analyze what works and what needs to be improved. Chances are not everything is problematic, so figure out what works well, too. By identifying what is working right, you can better define the areas that need to be improved.

Next we’ll discuss how to recommend solutions.

Authors: Mark Shaw and James Ecklund

Plan a CAD Software and Hardware Upgrade, Part 1: Working with Your IT Department

April 26, 2011 4 comments
CAD Software and Hardware Upgrade

Present your CAD needs in terms of their business benefits to get approval.

Spring has sprung, and with it comes the buzz that surrounds all the announcements of new CAD software, workstations, and other hardware that burst onto the scene this time of year. As a CAD user or manager, you might be eyeing these new products and considering the benefits of upgrading. However, as is often the case, your IT department has different ideas about how your computer system should work. Here are some tips from the perspective of a systems integrator about how to speak the language of the IT professional and improve your chances of getting the hardware and software updates you need.

As a CAD user or CAD manager, you want your CAD system to work efficiently and help you get your job done on time and on budget. Your IT support staff members want that too, but they also have to weigh in on how the CAD system integrates with all the other computer software and hardware in the company.

What all parties have at heart are your company’s business goals. To instill a spirit of cooperation during system upgrades, we at StoredTech use the Information Technology Lifecycle to help define how computer software and hardware can support your business goals. Use this six-step process to develop a strategy to talk about CAD upgrades with internal departments, from your IT personnel to your company’s management team.

The overall goal is to present your CAD department’s needs in terms of their business benefits to improve the chances that they will gain acceptance. Our next two posts will explain how to do just that!

Authors: Mark Shaw and James Ecklund

Build a Network System for CAD Operations, Part 2: RAID

April 25, 2011 2 comments

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-1

RAID-1 can be used in a workstation.

RAID-1

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

RAID-5 is just one level of RAID -- there are many configurations available.

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

Build a Network System for CAD Operations, Part 1: Prevent Catastrophic Failure

April 25, 2011 5 comments

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.

Our next post will explain one way to do that.

Authors: Mark Shaw and James Ecklund

Optimize Your Hardware for Autodesk 3ds Max Design

April 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Autodesk 3ds Max and Autodesk 3ds Max Design software are applications for the creations of special effects for TV and movies, video games and design visualization assets. With such broad capabilities, the software’s systems requirements reflect the diverse aspects of this powerful tool.

Often I see 3ds Max used to review hardware speeds and capabilities because it will draw on every morsel the hardware can give. So, while the development team here at Autodesk works hard on giving you a good list in their system requirements documents, here are some hints to help you get the most out of your 3ds Max experience.

Processor

3ds Max relies on your systems processors for a number functions, and as 3ds Max develops, more and more of these functions should become multithreaded.

The most dramatic use of processor is during rendering. Taping into every processor available on the machine, some rendering technologies like mental ray can actually draw on processors from other PCs through its distributed bucket rendering settings.  So when it comes to rendering there’s no doubt that faster and more processors help.

Video Cards

During the course of 3ds Max software’s life, there has been the misconception that the video card contributed to the speed of rendering. With recent releases, the GPU on the video card is just NOW starting to help in the rendering process. Add to that the new viewport capabilities and the value of strong video cards has come into their own. For example, Quicksilver hardware rendering requires additional GPU resources to work effectively. A minimum of 512 MB of graphics memory should be used. A minimum of 1 GB is recommended for more complex scenes, shaders, and lighting modes. This wizard can certainly help narrow down the field.

Another consideration to your video card purchases is the amount of on board memory it will have. When it comes to loading and displaying large texture maps on screen, you will need more video memory the larger and greater the amount of textures.

Also, to optimize their products for the 3ds Max artist, many video card manufacturers develop drivers specifically for 3ds Max and their hardware.

Physical Memory (RAM)

Physical memory needs are directly proportional to scene complexity. To load all of that data into 3ds Max with texture maps, plugins, modifiers stacks, etc., will all require higher and higher amounts of physical or RAM memory. Your operating system will also affect your memory needs. 64 bit operating systems will require more physical memory, but also allow for greater amounts to be installed. So, if you are dealing with multiple objects or high numbers of polygons, you will benefit from both a 64 bit system and lots of physical memory.

What this all boils down to is a solid workstation. The more you work in 3ds Max, the more I encourage you to increase the values in the systems requirements link. 3ds Max and 3ds Max Design will use every bit you give them.

Author: Eddie Perlberg, Autodesk Application Engineer

Hardware for the CAD Professional, Part 8: More Graphics Cards

April 22, 2011 1 comment
Update Software Drivers

Regularly update your software drivers.

So far in this series, we’ve discussed system requirements, commonly used terms, processors, RAMhard 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

Hardware for the CAD Professional, Part 7: Graphics Cards

April 21, 2011 6 comments

So far in this series, we’ve discussed system requirements, commonly used terms, processors, RAMhard 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

Hardware for the CAD Professional, Part 6: Connectivity

April 20, 2011 3 comments
CAD Hardware Connectivity

Choose a workstation with sufficient connectivity options for longevity.

So far in this series, we’ve discussed system requirements, commonly used terms, processors, RAM and hard drives. This sixth part of the series will cover connectivity.

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

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.

USB Ports

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.

FireWire

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.

eSATA

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.

Next we dive into graphics cards.

Author: Ron LaFon

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