BIM Server Scare

It was like we’d just saved the world from a nuclear holocaust. But we couldn’t tell anyone because it wasn’t rogue KGB operatives still disgruntled from the end of the Cold War or Kim Jong Un and his lackeys with their fingers on the button. It was aliens from another dimension. And if we tried to explain that everything was alright, the citizens of the world would just freak out about the aliens. But we’re safe we’d say. Ah!!! Aliens. Forget the aliens. Okay. Nuclear Holocaust?!?! AHAHAHAHA!!!! Sssh. It’s okay. Disaster was averted. Oh never mind. Next time we won’t tell you how the world is a happy place because there are people fixing problems while you sleep. Like an elf making shoes after bedtime…

We’ll just stay silent. It’s not worth the stress.

We’d been using Teamwork 2 and the BIM Server on ArchiCAD 14 for a few months. It was awesome and flawless. There was none of the pain and agony of the original Teamwork, or the annoyance of trying to merge files via hotlinks. The experiment was going so well that we wanted to expand. I was working on a project in ArchiCAD 15 with a tight deadline. It seemed like a good idea to turn it into a Teamwork 2 project and speed along happily. There were a few snags in the process. First my coworker needed a new machine. It was in the office, but in use by someone else. That was an easy fix. Then the machine running the ArchiCAD 14 BIM Server needed to be upgraded from OS X 10.5 to OS X 10.6 so that it could also run the ArchiCAD 15 BIM Server module. This is where the trouble began. What should have been a routine upgrade was fraught with disaster. First the portable hard drive that we use to backup machines before upgrades began acting up. Then after the upgrade the BIM Server started acting funny. And by funny, I mean not working. This sucked. At this point it was 4:45 pm and I needed to leave in 15 minutes to pick up my daughters from daycare. We were going to have to solve this issue after hours, from home.

I had broken one of my own cardinal rules. NEVER trust the automatic backup to save your ass. NEVER. The computer doesn’t feel guilt or shame. It doesn’t care if it shits on you. There were a few backups of the Teamwork 2 project that were .pln files. But they were two weeks old and sitting on a laptop in Nebraska. If we couldn’t get the BIM Server working again there was going to be trouble.

We copied the BIM Server files from one machine to another, hoping we could open the project on another BIM Server. That just caused the 2nd BIM Server to corrupt and stop working. Fortunately the ArchiCAD install disk is also the ArchiCAD repair disk. Did you know that? I didn’t. Fortunately Ryan—our IT guy at SALA Architects and the other half of the ‘we’ in this story—did. He’s great. So we ran the repair on the BIM Server. The BIM Server would now start. It wouldn’t stay running, but at least it would start. The data, which was always there but not always accessible, was that much closer. I started the BIM Server and on the same machine tried to open the Teamwork 2 project from ArchiCAD 14. It got hung up and took what felt like hours (it was probably 2 minutes), but the project opened. I saved the file out as a .pln, called Ryan (who was at a concert by this time since it was 9:00 or 10:00 pm) to share the news, and relaxed for the first time in 5 hours.

We will not make that mistake again.

The BIM Server is a great tool, but it is very insular. If the machine it’s on fails, the backups are hard or impossible to access. You NEED to save a .pln backup just like any other project. Every day. Yes. Every day. Fortunately the BIM Server can do this automatically for you. Also if your team members don’t sign out of the project every night, there’ll be local copies on various computers. If you don’t save backups regularly and everyone is signing out, you run the risk of having to tell the team doing the project—and your boss(es)—that your ultra safe fancy computer program just shit the farm. And what will they say? When we did everything by hand, we NEVER lost a project to a computer glitch.

Fortunately our story had a happen ending. Our coworkers never knew how close we came to losing weeks worth of work. That would have sucked. Fortunately the BIM Server is better and more stable in recovery than I gave it credit for. And Ryan and I are two crafty, hardworking computer geniuses. I just much prefer when we use our skills to fix problems that we didn’t cause.

 

Note: I started writing this post back on August 30th, 2011. The BIM Server has changed and improved a lot since then. Most (ALL?) of our problems could and should be avoided. Hopefully someone will leave some comments about the improved backup features of the BIM Server (as I know there are some big improvements). I know it’s a lot safer than it was a few years ago. And I know many (MOST…) of our problems were caused by our own ignorance, by folly in our initial set up and best practices, and because we were rushing on the day of the upgrade. Our fortune was because we were good fixers. So before you find yourself in a similar situation, read up on the best practices of the BIM Server and go slow. The BIM Server and Teamwork 2 are incredible; don’t let yourself be the weak link that ruins it.

 

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