Managing Your Project Data with Autodesk Vault
Do you cringe at the very thought of data management? If so, you are not alone. Many people struggle with how to effectively and efficiently manage their project data. As painful as it can be at times, properly managing project data is a critical part of a successful workflow. To some degree, you likely are already using a data management process. Simply organizing your files in a Windows folder structure is a very basic form of data management.
I have seen companies use everything from an unorganized project folder structure to a custom database that must be manually updated with file location/information to manage their data. While these methods may work, how much extra work are you doing by manually entering information in a database? How much time do you spend searching for the right file and making sure it’s the latest version? If you wanted to know who last edited a drawing and what they did, how long would that take you? Could you even find that information? There is a way to have all this and much more at your fingertips through efficient and effective data management with Autodesk® Vault.
With Autodesk Vault you can easily organize, manage, and track your data. Quickly and easily find the latest version of a file, and view detailed information about the file and its status without having to open the file. Customize Autodesk Vault to your workflow with Lifecycle and Revision Management.
What Is Autodesk Vault?
Autodesk Vault is a comprehensive data management solution that can be customized to fit your needs and workflows. Direct product integration with many of Autodesk’s design products allows you to easily get access to your files without having to leave the application.
Autodesk Vault runs on top of Microsoft Windows Server operating systems and utilizes Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS) and MS SQL as the backbone of the server side application. A client-side application is also installed on each client machine. The client installs a Windows Explorer-like application called Vault Explorer that provides deep access into the data, settings, etc. It also adds ribbon tabs for Vault in each compatible Autodesk application, as well as Microsoft Office applications.
Vault is a complete local solution and none of your data is stored in the cloud. With Active Directory Integration, users can seamlessly log into Vault with the same credentials they use to log into their computers. User groups can also be imported from Active Directory, allowing Vault administrators to provide access and permissions to Vault using your existing Active Directory users and groups.
How Does Autodesk Vault Server Work?
The Vault server comprises three main components: a Database, File Store, and Web Server. Each of these components work together to store metadata, files, and provide access to this data. A brief explanation of each follows.
Database – All metadata related to the files in Vault is stored in a Microsoft SQL database. It catalogs the location of each file and the metadata associated to the files. By default, Vault will install SQL Server Express. This is great for smaller environments, but must be upgraded to a full version of SQL for large or replicated environments.
File Store – This is a secure Windows folder structure where all files in the vault are stored. It is setup and managed by SQL, optimized for fast search and retrieval of files.
ADMS Web Server – Autodesk Data Management Server (ADMS), which handles and processes user requests uses Microsoft IIS to provide access to the contents of Vault.
Vault provides flexible scalability from a single site to many sites spread across the globe. A vault environment can be configured to allow project teams from many locations to seamlessly collaborate. This can be accomplished through two different forms of replication, File Store Replication, and Full Replication, which is also referred to as Connected Workgroups.
File Store Replication – This allows for a single SQL database to be shared across multiple locations, while the data contained in the file stores is replicated between each of the locations. This replication takes place on a scheduled interval such as nightly, weekly, etc. In between these scheduled replications, files can be replicated on demand as they are accessed. For example, if two sites are replicating file stores nightly, but during the day Site A modifies a file, then site B goes to access that file, it will be automatically replicated from site A to site B. This ensures a user is always working with the newest version of a file regardless of site location. This type of Replication is optimal for locations with low network latency.
Prior to the 2014 release of Autodesk Vault, each site required a file store and ADMS services. During the 2014 release, Autodesk released a new method for file store replication using Autodesk Vault File Server (AVFS). This is simply a replicated file store, and user requests are processed by a central ADMS server typically located at the same location as the SQL database. This provided a speed increase for remote sites’ access time, while also cutting down on hardware requirements for remote Vault Servers. AVFS can be installed quickly and easily and does not require the level of server hardware required when also running ADMS.
Connected Workgroups – For environments with high network latency, full replication can be used. This utilizes multiple database servers replicating using Microsoft SQL Publisher/ Subscriber technology. This method will replicate SQL data, as well as the file stores as described above. Each group of servers that share a single SQL database is called a Workgroup. These workgroups can be connected with full replication to allow all sites from each workgroup to collaborate together.
How Is Vault Used in a Daily Workflow?
The biggest question I hear when discussing Vault is: How is this going to affect my daily workflow? Vault was created by Autodesk for Autodesk users and workflows. What this means for you is an optimized environment to allow you to work day to day in a way that is familiar to you.
Unlike other methods of data management where files are stored on a server and where a file is opened and edited over the network, Vault moves a copy of the file to your machine locally, and marks the file as “Checked Out” on the server. This means while you are editing a file, it is stored locally on your machine allowing for quick access to the file. When you have finished modifying the file, or want to save significant changes back to the server, the files are “Checked In” to the Vault, syncing any changes to the file back to the sever.
With the CAD application “Add In for Vault,” opening a file from Vault is accomplished through the Open button on the Vault ribbon tab. This opens a file explorer window that allows you to browse the contents of the Vault, search for files, view properties associated with the files, and open/check out the file. Once you have finished editing the file and would like to sync your changes back to the Vault server, you simply click the Check In button on the Vault ribbon tab. This will you give you the option to check your changes in, but keep the file checked out to you to continue modifying.
External references are fully compatible with Vault. To add an Xref to your drawing you click the Attach button on the Vault ribbon tab in your CAD application and select the drawing you would like to reference. This will then initiate the same Attach External Reference dialog you are accustomed to. When a drawing is checked into the Vault, any Referenced drawing that does not exist in the Vault will automatically be selected for Check In to Vault. When viewing a file in the Vault client application, the Vault Explorer on the Uses/Where used tab, you can quickly see if a drawing has any drawings referenced into it or if it is referenced into any other drawings. Because the properties of drawings in Vault, including their location within Vault, are stored in a SQL database, drawings, including those with Xrefs or being referenced in another drawing, can be freely moved to other folders or even renamed without breaking any references.
Vault with Civil 3D
Vault was initially created for the manufacturing industry and Autodesk Inventor® in particular. It was included in AutoCAD® Civil 3D® from the 2008-2011 releases. Being included with the software, many people took advantage of this and attempted to use Vault with Civil 3D. While some were able to successfully implement these versions of Vault into their workflow, many struggled with it and were left with a bad taste in their mouths for Vault. The features and functions were biased for a manufacturing workflow and the integration with Civil 3D was lacking in many areas. This time Autodesk has made tremendous improvements with Vault and the Civil 3D integration. Put whatever you have heard about these past releases of Vault out of your mind and give Vault another look!
Vault now fully integrates with Civil 3D including survey databases, pipe networks, data shortcuts, etc. Don’t let the bad memories of past Vault/Civil 3D integration woes sway your opinions of the new highly improved versions of Vault. It is a whole new animal!
Data Shortcuts in Vault
When using Civil 3D with Vault, the data shortcuts process is simple and easy to use. When you are working in a vaulted drawing and you create an alignment, surface, pipe network etc. you want to create a data shortcut for, simply check the drawing into Vault. During the check in process the object will automatically be selected and a data shortcut will be checked into Vault. With the Vault add in for Civil 3D, the prospector will have a new section called Projects. This will contain project information for all projects you select to view from Vault. Under each project you will see sections for each type of Civil 3D objects such as alignment, surface, pipe network, etc. These will contain all data shortcuts for the project. To use a data shortcut you simply right-click on the data shortcut and select Create Reference. When the source drawing is updated, you will receive a message in Civil 3D that the reference needs to be updated.
While this process is different than what users are accustomed to, it can be simpler and easier to use then the current process. All data shortcuts are stored in Vault and are quickly found and used from the prospector. Wouldn’t it be nice for this to be a Civil 3D feature in itself? This portion of Vault alone can be a very valuable addition to your company’s workflow.
Tips for a Successful Implementation
Don’t Do It Alone. Implementing a data management solution can feel like a daunting task, but with the help and guidance of a Vault expert you will get an optimized Vault environment up and running quicker. There are many components to Vault, from the vault server architecture, to replication, to optimizing your workflow with lifecycles, revisions, user defined properties, etc. within the Vault. Vault is a very customizable solution, a knowledgeable Vault expert will be able to help you understand each component and develop a configuration optimized for your workflow and environment.
I have found that companies that on take the task alone get overwhelmed with the process and end up scrapping Vault or using it in a dilapidated state. Having an expert guide you from the beginning will result in properly configured Vault environment, in less time.
Discovery and Planning. To successfully create a plan for Vault, discovery of project requirements, scope, and existing infrastructure will be key. Start at a high level—number of office locations involved and the amount of users that will utilize the Vault. You will then need to know what kind of network latency you have between the offices, whether or not existing server hardware is capable of running Vault Server. Continue the discovery/planning process through each component. It is important to document the plan and the information discovered along the way; you may need to refer back to it.
Test Test Test. Before putting a Vault into a production environment, thoroughly test your configuration. I have found it extremely helpful to set up a test environment for Vault, allowing those involved to play around, change settings, and really get familiar with Vault without the fear of messing up a production environment. When you are ready to begin setting up your Vault for production, use this test environment to configure and test until you are confident with your configuration. You can then import this configuration into a production Vault.
Vault is a comprehensive data management package capable of being configured to your needs. If you used Vault during the releases it came boxed with Civil 3D, you may have developed a bad view of Vault. Throw any of those memories out the window and give the new version a second look—it is greatly improved! Civil 3D is now fully integrated with Vault. Get the help and guidance of a Vault expert when starting an implementation. They can help you get a properly configured Vault, optimized for you in less time than going about it alone. Don’t give up, and good luck!
Bryson Anderson has worked in the IT industry since 2008. During this time he has been involved in many aspects of IT including Systems Administration, Networking, Telecom, Hardware, and IT consulting. He has assisted numerous companies in a variety of industries including healthcare, software development, engineering and architecture; to plan, implement, upgrade and maintain their IT infrastructure. At ProSoft, Bryson administers all aspects of the internal IT infrastructure. With his knowledge and experience in IT, he assists customers with the licensing and installation of all Autodesk products. He also consults with companies worldwide on the planning, implementation, and training of Autodesk data management software, and especially Vault integration. Bryson can be reached for comments or questions at Bryson.Anderson@prosoftnet.com.