A question was posed to me after my last article on Frame (via the comments)…
Did you try to install PDM system in Frame environment?
The answer was no and I did not know if it would work. Honestly, it was something I wanted to try, so thanks Oleg for the motivation (aka kick in the butt).
Quick review, for those just joining us. Think of Frame as a collection of computers in a network, similar to what you have in a bare metal environment. Each online computer is where you put your software, applications, and related tools and access it through a web browser, anywhere, on just about any device. There are many benefits of using Frame, including the flexibility of working from any location, only requiring an internet connection and a browser.
“Frame is the future of both software distribution and personal computing in the post-mobile era I’m going to call ubiquitous computing.” – Robert X. Cringely, forbes frame
Frame Personal is your online computer, where Frame for Business is your online network of computers. As I already had a Frame Business account, the next step was adding the Utility Server. After an email to support it was added and ready to go within a couple hours.
The Utility Server provides a general purpose Windows 2012 Server to host license managers, databases, and really anything you want to share amongst the users. Basically, it’s an area to put things that are accessible by all systems within your Frame ecosystem. And while it starts as a 1 CPU/2GB system, the number of cores, ram and storage can be scaled to meet your server needs.
[Note: this feature is currently in beta for use with Frame for Business, there is no pricing in place for the Utility Server]
Within the Utility Server, I downloaded and installed the Autodesk Vault 2016 Basic Server. [Not related to Frame, but why Autodesk have you made it so difficult to get the server installer for the basic server?] There were no issues, and the cloud internet connection is really fast!
The base Utility Server has 50GB of local storage, enough to get started with Vault. When this becomes a permanent option, I’ll either have the local storage bumped up or consider using an “external” cloud-based drive to host the Vault filestore and databases.
It’s funny how when using Frame you forget that you are actually using a “real-life” Windows Server 2012 system. If you fail to enable the SQL Server Agent, Vault will not work… just as if I was working with a local physical server. And yes this is a true story, and reflects on how well they have integrated the server into the environment…. it is Windows Server 2012, absolutely no different than if it was run on a physical box.
With the Server configured, I installed the Vault client into the Frame Sandbox. The Sandbox being the environment to setup and configure what the users see and have access. As I already had Inventor installed I just reran the Product Design Suite installer and enabled the Vault Client option. With it installed, I added it to my launchpad so that I can quickly launch Vault after logging into my Frame account.
Now, here is the only “catch.” As the Frame client is reset after each use, you cannot use the local storage as your Vault working folder…. unless you plan to be diligent in checking-in all your files each time. A better solution is to use attached cloud storage and configure individual user working folders.
This is an option within the Vault client to adjust the details of a folder to set user-specific working folders. In this example “X” is the mapped drive location to the attached Box cloud storage.
No one wants to have to enter in the Vault login details (Server and database) each time, nor configure their working folder location, so an important Frame feature is App Setting Persistency. With this feature, you identify folders, files and/or registry entries you need to be preserved for each user. This way specific settings are saved and restored each time they use Frame. Currently App Persistency is configured by the Frame Support team, but it is on the list to expose the Frame administrator in the future.
Tip… one file for persistency is “C:\<username>\AppData\Roaming\Autodesk\Autodesk Vault Basic 2016\ApplicationPreferences.xml”, which is where your login details are stored.
Now it is just normal working with Vault, either from the client or the CAD Application. Here’s an example… from my account I create a drawing using AutoCAD and check it into Vault.
The next user comes along and from their AutoCAD attaches it as an xref.
As they continue to work on their drawing I check out the drawing and make changes. When they refresh, notice how the drawing shows checked out to me, just as when I’m working in the office off the local server.
Again, thanks Oleg for the comment, as it was great to work through this. This proves that Product Data Management (PDM) is possible “in the cloud,” at least within Frame. I was expecting much more effort to make this work, but there wasn’t, it was not different than setting it up in the office. Other than enabling the Utility Server and capturing my desired App Persistence, I did not require Frame Support… all the hooks were already in place. This is a real testament to the robustness of their offering.