Fundamentally a firm with more than one office is at the mercy of their internet connection between offices when attempting to collaborate on a single project file. The existing methodology for Central and Local files passes too much data back and forth to be practical. As a result many firms have invested in server computer and hardware based WAN acceleration like offered by Riverbed. This technology does improve the situation and in many cases turning an unacceptable situation into a viable one. Revit Server is both a server computer based application and optimization within Revit itself to improve the project file relationship further.
Do you need Riverbed? Maybe. If you already have it you are primed for further improvement. If you don't you could evaluate it (Revit Server) and then decide whether investing in Riverbed is warranted, it may still be beneficial. The bandwidth available between offices is the critical variable.
- The first hurdle, if your firm doesn't have a server this solution won't help you. Hopefully a firm with more than one office isn't in this situation?
- The second hurdle, the imminent release is limited to your intranet/domain which rules out collaboration with external project teams that can't be permitted access to your domain. EyeTee talk for allowing other people in other firms to access your project folder(s) from outside your computer network. This rules out multi-firm collaboration unless you can work with EyeTee to provide a common domain for the whole team. Remember this is the first release and they clearly understand the desire to accomplish the broader collaboration between external firms
On the management side the firm must choose a dedicated server (choose an office location) for Central Files and the Revit Server software is installed on this server. The Revit Server Administrator application provides access to the Central files for each project as well as other maintenance items. If you browse the network using Windows Explorer it won't see the Central Files on Revit Server. They will only be accessible via the Revit Server Administrator application.
I wrote earlier about Globalscape's WAFS application and to me they seem quite similar. The most notable difference is that a company with active Autodesk subscription for Revit gets Revit Server for the subscription fee (or if you prefer to think of it as "free"...no additional money). Globalscape's solution will cost about 3K for each agent software initially with a yearly subscription fee thereafter. You'd need two agents to accomplish sharing between two offices, more agents for more offices naturally.
Robert Manna and David Light both shared network charts that explain the relationship between computers. They both have had the benefit of using the technology during early testing. I mentioned earlier that Robert is conducting an AU Virtual session about their implementation on an ongoing project.
Part of the technology includes a reworking of the user permissions that used to be collected into individual files (eperms). A new database is now used to manage user borrowing to provide a more robust monitoring and control system.
Back to workflow, all changes made to your local file are saved to a central file that is on a server located in the same office as your local. The changes to this central file are passed to the central file that exists on Revit Server. Changes made by others are also passed to Revit Server and these changes are passed to each other's local files via the Central files that are on their own office's servers. During the presentation yesterday it was stated that 100 milliseconds seems to be the threshold at which synchronization delays are perceived by a user so that is the threshold they are seeking to avoid, faster not slower than 100ms.
- Language is going to be a difficult transition, the word server, central and local all get used in an overlapping manner. For example, I'm saving my local file, it synchronizes with the "local" server which synchronizes with changes at the Revit Server installed on the master project server.
- If your firm has servers but doesn't have dedicated EyeTee staff this may seem "hard".
- The minimum requirements (see previous post) may deter your EyeTee staff if they are not ready to deal with the implications of deploying a server operating system that is newer than your current domain is using.
- It has always been a good idea to use a dedicated Revit server but getting that budget approved if it isn't already set up this way may be another hurdle.
- Spontaneously deciding to put a project at a specific office because the majority of the staff is in that office might contradict the single Revit Server location chosen. For example a project using teams in Phoenix and Tuscon might not enjoy the best results if the Revit Server is located in the Dallas office. It is technically possible to provide a Revit Server in multiple locations but each is blind to the other and teams can only access one at a time. The simplest implementation at this time is to focus on a single location to use Revit Server and this location provides access for all other offices.
- Worksharing monitor will be replaced with a Autodesk Bluestreak based solution that requires users to join this additional Autodesk technology and that might be a deterrent.
I encourage you to read both David's post and Robert's post as they have been using this tool for awhile now. They both offer worthy insight that should help you decide how well it will meet your needs. Keep in mind that this, like many other developments, are a stepping stone toward further developments in worksharing.
Added: Lachmi Khemlani's AECBytes has a new article based on an interview with Autodesk and Robert Manna. You can read it HERE. The article also discusses the new Conceptual Energy Analysis tool.
[Added March 30, 2011] Jame Wong has a couple videos on his blog to guide you along with installing and setting up Revit Server.