Thursday, February 01, 2007

How to deal with 300 users that all want it their way - Part 1

For one of my current clients, I've had to develop an interesting solution for their environment. While we would like to take the approach to develop the same customization for all users, this simply was not acceptable for this environment. There are over 175 seats of ADT in a 3 building campus and 3 sattelite offices with about 10-20 users each in addition to the main 3 building campus - and they are growing. Within this environment, there are teams of about 15-20 people each. 70% of them use ADT as AutoCAD and 30% as ADT. Each main campus employs a network license server for that office location. They also encourage employees to work from home if needed so they keep laptops ready to be checked out for working from home. In addition they also have consultants which like to use the same tools so that means the consultants need to be able to run the same tools from their end also.

This makes for an interesting scenario. Most of us like to keep everything on the server since that is usually backed up on a nightly basis, can be locked down with permissions to prevent tampering with customized CAD content and is conveinent if a change is required in the content that was customized. However, how do you handle those that want to work from home or the consultants? Those working from home could use a VPN, but think of the logistics and paperwork nightmare this would create for the consulants to be allowed into another companies network. Even if VPN was an option, you would now be at the mercy of the speed of your connection to the outside world and in a production environment this is no good.

This meant that all custom CAD content needed to be located on the users local C: drive. What content? Fonts, menus files (cui), Lisp routines, tool palettes, CAD blocks, etc. Many will counter with the arguement that the user now has local access to this content and can modify it at whim. Well, since the process of placing the content is completely automated, and the users job is architecture - not CAD Management, we have found they leave the custom content alone. We encourage them to submit requests for changes in the content or custom menus instead of them doing it themselves which seems to be working for now.

Currently there are 2 default setups for the general populace. One for AutoCAD and one for ADT. The site employs Architectural Desktop (ADT) solely for ease of installation in a mixed environment such as this. One network delpoyment is created of ADT and installed from that to all users systems. In addition, one deployment per campus is created since each deployment must point to the correct network license server. This means that a total of 4 network deployments are created, one for the main campus and 3 additional ones for each of the sattelite offices. When I build the deployment, I set it so that no desktop icon is created on the users desktop when they install from the software image on the server. I also use the application default for locations of all support files. Also be sure to choose to install Express tools and/or 3D DWF Publishing as they are not turned on by default. The beauty of this is that now I can keep the customization of their CAD content completely seperate from their software installation. I'll discuss that in the next post.

Also, keep in mind that as I discuss this, I will interchange the terms AutoCAD and ADT. At the level we are dealing with here, they are one and the same. They both use similar installation methods and both use the same behind the scene methodologies for running the programs. I am also basing this write-up on 2006 and above platforms of AutoCAD/ADT and you will see plenty of references to CUI's and how to handle them. If you are still in a 2004 or 2005 release of the software, this is still fully relevant since the programs were setup the same for those releases as well. Instead of CUI's, you have the good ol' mns files and the joys of text coding your menus and getting appload to run what you want and such.

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