Thursday, August 18, 2011

AUGI Salary Survey - Take It!

Have you taken the AUGI Salary survey yet? If not, make sure you are represented - the survey closes August 19th at midnight, PST, US!
AUGI Survey link

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Monitoring Autodesk License Usage

Keeping track how many licenses the company has in use can be a challenge, especially if you utilize multiple license servers at different locations. When I first started at HMC they had configured a DOS script to query each license server and generate a text file. That's great if you only have one server and only need to identify usage at a specific point in time. Once you get into multiple servers or needing to sample throughout the day, then you will want to look at something like JTB FlexReport. It's a very powerful tool which allows you to sample usage at intervals throughout the day and record the values so you can start to build historical license usage. However, depending on your budget, you may not be able to go for the full version.

I'd like to introduce you to JTB FlexReport LT which is a free, lite version, of their full tool. I'm immediately putting it to use as I can now query every server with the click of one button instead of using multiple scripts for each server. Here's how it works.

Licenses to Report on:
Setting up the servers you want to query is the first step. A simple @servername will do. Replace servername with the name of your specific server. Description is optional, but you can see that I chose to add one for each server (names have been removed to protect the innocent).

Adding the correct feature codes is really simple. Clicking item (1) "Add Features" will query the license files and list all possible feature codes that can be reported on. Due to the nature of our license files, I needed to exclude what it found by placing a check mark next to the individual entries for specific releases of products and only reporting on the main feature codes - see item (2). Then for item (3), I gave a brief description of the features I wanted to query. Then click Save Settings button - item (4) - to save your changes. Lastly, click item (5) - Show HTML Report - to display your report.

HTML Output sample
Below is a sample of the output generated by the program and quickly gives us feedback on what is getting the most use. Here is a breakdown of the data presented (with names/numbers removed to protect the innocent):

  1. Expand or Collapse license servers will quickly show you all users pulling licenses from each server. In my list of Servers, I've simply clicked on the heading for the first server to see what is in it (see #4). The Expand/Collapse buttons will get every server expanded/collapsed.
  2. Show/Hide users will allow the servers to remain expanded, yet hide the users pulling licenses and simply display the features you've asked to query for that are active on that server.
  3. Aggregated Usage will display the totals for all servers combined at the very end of the report (see #7).
  4. License Server Status = Individual license server details. This shows what licenses are on it and who is pulling which licenses.
  5. If there is an error with one of the servers queried, it will be displayed here. In this example, the server queried runs multiple vendor daemons - one for Autodesk licenses and another for SmartBIM, which is currently being indicated as being down for service (yes, that's daemons, not demons, although the complexity in license files sometimes warrants the nickname).
  6. Another type of error can be indicated, in this case, the license server simply hasn't been setup yet for the office queried. 
  7. Aggregated usage - this is where I really get the benefit from this tool. I can quickly see from a firm wide standpoint, how many licenses are in use, how many are available and a quick % of utilization.

In Summary
JTB FlexReport LT is a very versitle tool in itself and quickly provides you a snapshot of what is going on with your licenses at any given moment. As it's free, I'd highly recommend you take a look at it if you use network licenses. You may even decide in looking at it that you would want to give the full version a try. In that case, I would suggest to contact JTB World to inquire more about the full version and its capabilities that go far above and beyond what the LT version does. Personally, I'm hoping to get the full version sometime early next year.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Revit Wall Generator

Tired of maintaining a wall library file?
Tired of generating one off wall types for a specific project?
Tired of having to verify if your wall meets structural, STC or fire rating codes?
Tired of users not creating walls that conform to your firm or industry standards?

If you answered yes to one or more of the above questions, then you will find the tool I've been beta testing of extreme interest. The tool is being produced by a metal stud manufacturer, but the implications are huge. ClarkDietrich Building Systems has named the tool ClarkDietrich BIM Wall Creator. They have even taken the effort of posting a YouTube video showing the basic work flow of their tool.

In essence, you start with the Wall Type Creator and design your wall with a certain end result in mind, namely: design your wall by height, sound rating or fire rating.

For item (1), this is where you build out the desired parts of your wall assembly. In the image above, we are looking to design a wall assembly by height. By changing the different components in the assembly (Web, stud o/c, deflection, lateral load & wallboard type/layers) we will be shown the corresponding product by ClarkDietrich that will be applicable for the choices made.

Item (2) shows the 3 choices available based on our design criteria. Selecting one of the heights listed at the far right is the next to last step.

Item (3) is the button to click which will create your wall type. It's a simple copy/paste once it's built out for you.

You will see something like the following once the wall has been built in Revit:

Where things really start to get interesting is the type properties. They are filled out so extensively and well it serves to address a number of things that an as built model in Revit would need to include. Creating walls in this manner is so fast it's not even funny!

The only drawback I see to this, is you are now specifying manufacturer specific content. That's great if you are using ClarkDietrich studs on your project. Not so great if you aren't. I'm sure that's what they are hoping though, to get specified into a project via the use of this tool. Also, it won't create other types of walls such as CMU, Concrete, wood stud and other types. That being said, its making me want to give the API another look and see if I can't make my own, generic version of this tool that address all wall types. Then again, maybe this type of tool is something Autodesk should provide ootb for Revit!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Reflections on Testing and Setting up Revit Server

It occurred to me recently while talking with a colleague to make a blog post on some of the things I came across when going through setting up and testing Revit Server (RS). Hopefully this will help out others who are looking at implementing RS at their firm. I've made a post about Revit Server previously on my older blog which may be of reference, but already a few things on it have become out dated.

Testing on Revit spec Desktops
For starters and to get our feet wet, we setup 2 regular Revit spec desktop boxes with Windows Server 2008R2. One was the central RS and the other the local RS. Initial testing across the WAN was promising as save times dropped from minutes to seconds. When the average time for saves went from 7 minutes across the WAN for 180MB file done to around 30-45 seconds, I knew we had to get this going throughout the firm.

Expanded to Actual Servers
Now that we decided to implement this fully, we had to get our ducks in a row so to speak if we were going to place production projects into RS. We knew that for reliability, the setup needed to be on appropriate server grade boxes with redundancies built in that all servers should have, especially for the hard drive. Looking back, we spec’d out servers that are below the recommendations from Autodesk, but they have been working out so far just fine as we only have one active project going in it. If the use increases over time, then we will look at the need of whether or not the servers need to be upgraded.

File Backup for Disaster Recovery
We also verified that appropriate backup measures are in place. We are using Windows Shadow Copy 3 times throughout the day to ensure we have something ready in the event something is lost mid-day. Also, at night we employ a script per the RS Wiki site to place a server lock on all models andback up all files on a nightly basis.

Planning out Central vs Local Servers
We realized that we needed to establish early on which office location would serve as the central server as you can’t flip a switch and make a central server a local server. Also, we felt it would be an IT administrative nightmare trying to establish multiple offices with central servers.  We decided on making our office with the largest head count the central site. All other office locations will be local servers pointing to it. We felt this was appropriate because the majority of work is carried out in this location and it has the largest bandwidth for handling connections to outside locations. Connection bandwidth will have an effect on your experience with RS too. If it’s not fast enough, you can end up with corrupt models or models failing to access the central properly.

What needs to be installed for local/server systems
For local systems, getting ready to use RS will vary depending on the version of Revit you are dealing with. As detailed in myprevious post, Revit 2011 needs the following components installed: Web Update2, Subscription advantage pack 2 (link takes you to sub ctr), RS client app (link takes you to sub ctr), Project Bluestreak and RevitActivity Stream (more on these last two will follow). For Revit 2012, all you need is Project Bluestreak and Revit Activity Stream. Its recommended though to ensure Web Update 1 for 2012 is installed as it provides a number of stability enhancements when working with RS.

For server systems, you will want to ensure Windows Server 2008R2 is up and running along with IIS. Then, setting up RS is pretty much a breeze via the install wizard found on your Revit installation disk or downloaded files (it's been noted by Autodesk to not extract the files for RS install from the main Revit install setup). The latest recommendation from Autodesk is to install RS 2012, update1. I can confirm this is the desired tool as we were having issues with RS 2011.  One thing we did once we got one local server setup was we imaged the setup, then ghosted it onto the other local servers, changed the box and local server name and had a really quick setup.

Security issues
The biggest hurdle I had to overcome was when I said to IT that we needed to install Project Bluestreak (BK) for anyone using RS. BK requires certain ports to be open in order to allow it to communicate through Autodesk servers. These ports happened to be the same ones they had blocked for IM apps like AOL AIM. I was able to convince them that this was the only way to have automated messages display when people were STC.

The other thing we did was set only certain people to have access to RS. There are 2 ways you will want to have access setup. You will want to limit the number of people that can access any of these areas to minimize the risk of someone accidentally messing with files they shouldn’t. The RS admin panel operated via Windows Internet Explorer can be set so that only certain users can access it in order to set model locks for maintenance. Also, Windows Explorer should have 2 paths opened to allow access to the physical files. One goes to the location where the model data is stored and the other goes to the log folder for RS as both of these locations will need to be accessed in the event you need to send files to Autodesk if there is a problem. This applies to both the central and the local servers.

Stability issues
It would seem that RS 2012 update 1 has fixed many of the problems we were experiencing with RS. RS 2012 update 1 will work with both Revit 2011 and 2012. Things like model locks, where no one could save to central would randomly occur or the local files for users would become disassociated from the central. It seemed these issues were occurring once a week for a while. Still, even with the occasional issues we were having in RS 2011, the team estimated they were saving about 12 hours a week for 3-4 people working on the project. Now that we seem to be done with file locks and disassociated local files, productivity should increase even more.

As mentioned earlier Project Bluestreak (BK) is required for automated communication of actions such as STC. Earlier on there was a lot of communication interruptions due to working out server port issues and some bugs Autodesk was working out on their side. It seems that most of that has been worked through now.

Also, you will want to ensure that if in the event the team is comprised of people only in remote offices, that you have a support person or computer you can remote into at the central office location. You will want this if you need to place a model into RS. It can’t be done safely over the WAN and in order to ensure the model does not go corrupt, you need a local system in the central office for that.

The other thing to think about is that RS only hosts Revit models. You cannot place other files into it that you might normally link into a Revit model such as dwg files. You will want to make this clear to the team that the model will no live in a different place than the project. Also, when you go to send the file to other trades, you need to open the central with detach from central selected, otherwise, if they don’t have RS setup, they won’t be able to use the file. So plan for a little extra time for that.

Next steps
Now that we have it running smoothly for one project we will be opening it up to other projects that utilize teams from different offices. If this continues to scale smoothly, we will start looking at the possibility of building a DMZ to allow other trades to work on projects on the same server. That probably won’t be able to happen for testing until next year though.