This article was developed by the editors of Cadalyst, a magazine and web site devoted to providing software and hardware information, advice, and tips for CAD managers and users. It is published here with permission of the publisher.
CAD software tools are increasingly linked to servers, license-management apps, and cloud data repositories — and they frequently connect to other offices via corporate wide-area networks or cloud-based connections. As these technologies take hold in the CAD environment, CAD managers inevitably will need to interact more with their IT departments. That process, of course, will be much simpler if you know how to communicate with IT staff in a way that makes sense to them.
This article will help you build your IT knowledge base and vocabulary so you can have productive conversations about CAD with your IT department. Let’s get started.
What Are the Key Issues?
Based on e-mail exchanges with Cadalyst readers, conversations with hundreds of CAD managers at industry events, and consultation with private clients, I’ve come to believe the following IT issues are most important for CAD managers to grasp:
understanding IT’s position
bandwidth and latency
cloud application permissions
administrative support task permissions
anticipated network changes
Of course, there are other IT issues that may affect you, but these represent the most common problems, so I’ll focus on these.
First, Understand IT’s Position
Before anything else, let’s think for a moment about the challenges that IT departments have had to deal with as the Internet has become pervasive in the workplace. If we stop to consider everything IT has to maintain and keep secure, it’s easy to understand why IT is so protective of company resources. Consider the following concerns:
unauthorized network Internet use (games, Facebook, etc.)
unauthorized high-bandwidth streaming media (Pandora, YouTube, Netflix, etc.)
malware/virus threats embedded in seemingly legitimate web sites
cloud account hacking and/or data loss
IT is first and foremost charged with securing your company’s assets and preserving its network resources for legitimate business use, right? The easiest way for IT staff to accomplish these goals is to simply block or disable anything that hasn’t been thoroughly tested for compliance. Often, that can include Internet-enabled CAD utilities.
As you address future IT-related challenges, keep in mind this reality and ensure your IT colleagues that proper use of company resources is your priority, too.
Bandwidth and Latency
The concepts of network bandwidth and latency come up often when talking about running CAD applications over a wide-area network (WAN) or using a cloud-based data storage. In this context, we can define the two terms as follows:
Bandwidth: The maximum rate at which files can be moved between network servers in the WAN. Often expressed in megabits per second (Mb/sec), this rate determines the maximum speed that a large CAD file can be shared between locations. (Note that Mb/sec is not the same as megabytes per second (MB/sec), since it takes 8 bits to equal 1 byte.)
Latency: The maximum speed at which you can contact a remote server and have it answer back. Often expressed in milliseconds (msec), latency can become noticeable as CAD applications make many remote server contact requests to load files, update project folders, etc.
If you’ve ever waited 5 minutes for a 20-MB file to copy from one server to another, you experienced the throttling effect of bandwidth impeding your file transfer. On the other hand, if you’ve ever waited 20 minutes for a 10-MB Revit project to load — even though the bandwidth speed suggests it should happen more quickly — you’ve experienced the full effect of latency. Deemed “chatty” because they spend so much time making requests to load project files, CAD applications often experience big delays due to latency.
Why should you know this? Because many times IT departments don’t understand how many file requests are executed in order to load CAD projects. In other words, IT departments tend to think of bandwidth as being the issue but CAD managers know that latency is the real problem.
What should you do to communicate? Demonstrate to IT how long it takes to open your CAD files between servers in your WAN so they’ll understand your users’ pain. Then you can start talking about ways to solve the real problem.
Nobody likes to lose files, but IT is absolutely paranoid about it — and rightly so. When you think about the consequences of large-scale data loss, you begin to realize how expensive the proposition can be for a company. Consider these CAD-centric data loss scenarios:
a user inadvertently deletes a folder while viewing some files on the network or in a cloud account
a user copies old versions of files over newer files
files or directories are misplaced or copied to C drives
Why should you know this? IT has to assume the worst and lock down networks in a way that minimizes the chances of data loss. IT comes at the problem by default with a fear of data loss.
What should you do to communicate? Make it clear to IT colleagues that you understand their fears. Work with them to carefully control who has access to CAD data and create a plan to stay on top of file permissions so you can make sure only the right people have access to the right tools.
By far the most effective weapon the IT department has to secure files is the use of network permissions. Let’s define some useful terms.
Permissions: The level of access a user has to read, write, overwrite, or delete a file or directory. When all permissions are granted, it is said to be full control permissions.
Named user: A user’s login and password combination.
Groups: A collection of users that will all receive the same permissions.
Administrator: A super user who has full control over the files and folders on a computer or network server.
Let’s put this all in a CAD context. If you have several users who are electrical engineers, then they should be organized in a group that will be given permissions to create/edit/delete files in directories that contain electrical CAD files. Further, there a lead electrical engineer might need to create new folders for incoming projects so that person should be granted full control of the entire electrical folder structure. (However, this lead engineer probably should not have administrator-level permissions for the entire network server.)
Why should you know this? As CAD manager, you’ll need to tell IT which users should be in which groups and which folders they need to access.
What should you do to communicate? Write up the needed file, folder, and network permissions for your users and present them to IT for implementation. Remember that IT staff doesn’t understand how your CAD application works, so they’ll welcome the fact that you’ve done your homework to help them set up your CAD applications correctly.
Cloud Application Permissions
Cloud-based applications and storage typically have a basic permissions structure that allows any given user to log in only to his or her own directory. However, some CAD applications allow work teams to share folders, meaning that multiple users may be able to access (and overwrite or delete) shared files. Sometimes this security structure isn’t obvious or easy to understand, so permissions get overlooked or ignored.
Why should you know this? It is imperative that you understand how a cloud application secures its data — not only so you can discuss it with IT, but also so you understand the risk of users deleting valuable data inadvertently.
What should you do to communicate? If you want IT to implement any cloud-based CAD system component (such as Autodesk Application Manager or Autodesk 360), you must be able to show IT how the application secures data and how permissions are controlled. On the flip side, if IT tells you to start using a cloud-based tool, then they must explain to you how the security features work so you can assure yourself that you’ll be able to control project data and avoid inadvertent data loss.
New cloud applications are introduced every day, and no two are the same. Iinvestigate them thoroughly and don’t assume that any cloud application is secure until it is proved to you.
Administrative Support Task Permissions
Speaking of permissions, doesn’t it make sense that the CAD manager who is responsible for managing tools, data, and peripherals has the administrative-level permissions required to tackle the everyday tasks that require them? Tasks such as:
updating software versions on user machines
installing new software on user machines
creating/modifying/moving directory structures on networks
installing/modifying printer drivers
installing peripherals on user machines
modifying user permissions in cloud-based tools
Why should you know this? CAD managers are expected to support users promptly and make things work, but if they don’t have the administrative permissions required to perform these tasks, CAD productivity grinds to a halt while waiting for IT to step in. Explain to IT that if they grant you the needed administrative permissions, you won’t have to bother them so much.
What should you do to communicate? State your case by making IT aware of the pressure you’re under. Tell them about project managers and users pressuring you to perform IT tasks. Show them the things you have to deal with every day that are harder if you don’t have administrative permissions.
Anticipating Network Changes
If you’ve ever experienced a “quick printer swap” or a “simple server upgrade” that caused everyone’s CAD tools to go haywire, then you know that changes in network-configured devices can be problematic. But since these issues typically catch you unprepared, the question becomes whether there’s a way to see if these types of network changes could be a problem or not. To understand the probable causes, let’s define some scenarios.
Peripheral drivers: Drivers are the software components that connect a network printer/plotter (and other peripheral devices) to your users’ CAD tools. Sometimes updating drivers isn’t a problem; other times it can impede operation, such as when 32-bit drivers are updated to 64-bit drivers. Or, as another example, CAD scripting or automation tools may rely on specific command prompts enabled by a driver, so a new driver can cause your automated tools to stop running.
UNC pathing: A UNC path is unlike a normal drive path in that it uses a format of \\servername\share. So if your X drive is on a server called CADSERVER with a share called XDRIVE, then the UNC path to your X drive is actually \\CADSERVER\XDRIVE. Now, imagine that your IT department moves your X drive to a new location, \\NEWCADSERVER\XDRIVE. Any CAD files that are pointed to the old UNC path will now be lost. Think XREF disaster!
Why should you know this? CAD managers should have a working knowledge of network parameters affecting peripherals and shared drives simply because these things are integral to getting work done.
What should you do to communicate? Make sure your IT staff understands the example scenarios set out above so they are aware of the harm that can result from network changes. And always make sure IT leaves the old network resources in place as new resources are tested so that you’ll have time to fix any new problems while the old systems still run.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of network problems that could occur, but most of the issues that impact CAD managers are the straightforward cases we’ve just explored.
I hope this advice is helpful as you address the majority of your IT-related challenges as a CAD manager. Use these communication tips and vocabulary and you should find that your interactions with IT go more smoothly and that you experience fewer issues running your CAD tools.
Robert Green performs CAD programming and consulting throughout the United States and Canada. He is a contributing editor for Cadalyst magazine and the author of Expert CAD Management: The Complete Guide. Reach him via his web site, www.cad-manager.com.
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