Thursday, 9 January 2014

Small Practice Computers & Networks

Configuring Your Computers for Efficiency & Security

Small Architectural/ Engineering practices typically do not have full time Computer Systems specialist or CAD/ BIM Managers ailable. Office computers and Networks are set up and configured by an external specialist. This person knows a lot about computer networking but has little knowledge about special needs of an Architecture/ Engineering practice.

Objective of this article is is to act as a self help guide for a non-specialist or for an external specialist setting up a small A/E office Computers & Networks. This guide will help you set up your computers and network to minimize loss of Data and the risk of breakdowns due to hardware, software failures or virus attacks.

This guide covers the following:

  • Configuring your Studio Computer or Workstation
  • Folder & File Configuration
  • Networks & Internet Security

Computer/ Workstation Configuration

A computer is the most critical component of your entire network and also the most vulnerable to crashes and virus attacks. When you buy a computer, it typically comes only with a “C” Drive. This is where the operating system is installed. All your applications such as AutoCAD or Revit are also installed. In addition you will also have your Data – which is your work such as AutoCAD/ Revit files, word documents, project photos etc. - stored in it. 

“C” drive on a computer is the most vulnerable. Most viruses attack this drive. Programs and documents on this drive can easily get corrupted. Your computer can become very slow or may not even start.


  • Partition your hard drive to create at least two partitions. One for the Operating System and the other for your Data and Programs that you install. Keep the “C” small about 150 - 200 GB and keep the rest for “D” or Data Drive. Optionally you may also create a third Drive "E" say for media such as photographs or videos. This process protects you from Operating System failures as well as reduced virus threats.
  • The process of creating partitions is easier on a new computer as you would have no data and you have a lot of free space. However, if you have lots of Data (drawings, documents and email), application programs such as your CAD software and the operating system and also have very little Free Space on your hard drive, this process a little more complex and tedious as you will need to create more free space to accommodate the second drive. You have two options:
    • Move your Data from your "C" Drive to an external Drive to create free space on your hard drive. Create the second partition and move back the Data from external drive to the newly created D drive.
    • The second option is to Create the second partition and move the data in batches such that it leaves at least 20% free space in the second partition. Then re-size the partitions again and repeat the process till all your data is transferred.

Tools you may need

Creating a Folder Structure

How often does it happen that you have multiple copies of project files spread across your office computers? Or have files with different names but identical content? It often becomes a major task to locate files with correct version. Having a logical and identical folder structure across all computers in your studio can save you a lot of time in locating files as well as a lot of headache.
  • As discussed earlier, have all your Data on "D" Drive. Create a folder that contains all your date. No data should be outside this folder.
  • You should sub-divide Data folder as per your needs, but should have one folder called Projects that should contain all drawings, documents etc. Each project is a sub-folder of Projects folder with its own set of sub-folders. Depending on how you want to organize, Project Sub-folders have a folder for each stage of a project and each stage may have a folder for:
    • Drawings
    • Minutes of Meetings
    • Communications
    • Contracts
    • ...

Network Configuration & Threat Protection

All  inter connected computers in your office need to have access control. This access control broadly defines user rights. What files and folders can be accessed and by whom. What resources are available and to whom.

If you have a server, such configurations can be controlled by the server. To  configure the server you will require external help from a networking specialist. Be sure to define yourself what user groups such as Architects, Admin Staff, Drafting Staff etc. and what files or folders should be accessible to which individual or group. Which group needs to have "Read/ Write" access and Read Only access. This document will help the external specialist configure the Network and Server in the manner you want.

Threat Protection

Threats and Virus attacks can come from various sources, through Internet Browsing, software downloads, emails etc. Threats can also come through infected USB memory stick.
Most viruses attack your C drive - Operating System and My Documents. A computer administrator or a user with administration rights has full control and access to a computer. With Administrator login, your computer is most vulnerable. Make sure the person with administrator rights is familiar with computer configuration.

For normal day to day work, login as a restricted user, This reduces the threat of attack on Operating System.
  • Update your Operating System regularly. These updates often have security updates. Many Anti-Virus software rely on updated operating system.
  • DO NOT compromise on Anti Virus software. Select the one that runs in the background and does not slow down your computer.

File Naming

Logical and consistent file naming  across all computers can save you a lot of time searching for the right one as well as help in reducing storage space requirements.
Create a version control system. Every file must have a version number. You can suffix this version number in each file. For example a new file can have version 1.0. Minor changes to that file, you save the new one as version 1.1. Any major changes and you name it as 2.0 and so on.
Of course, this will result in a large number of files, but allows you to go back to a previous version if the need arises.

Create a folder called Obsolete or Superseded. Put all files but the current ones in this folder. So, you’ll always know which the current files are, without arduously searching through all the versions or redundant folders.