Teams with Servers

For teams with servers in their local labs, I want to hear from you. I’m particularly interested in those who have installed and managed their own servers. I want to know what purpose you use it for (NAS, Rendering, etc), what it’s running, what hardware it’s on, etc etc, all the details.

I’m also curious about the intricacies of getting in ad out of the school network (remote access).

I’m looking to expand our options beyond the current model of workstations, flash drives, and Dropbox.

Even if you don’t have a server but are experienced in such things, I want to start a healthy discussion on what the ideal setup would be.

EDIT: I’m also interested in hearing from anyone running Autodesk Vault, and what people are using for a subversion server.

We don’t have a server, so I don’t have much to add in that respect. We are, however, looking into provisioning an AWS instance for the coming year to host our website, FTP, Mercurial version control for CAD (it doesn’t work much better than you would expect) and robot code, as well as some internal Django applications.

We use SolidWorks, and I’ve been looking into a PDM server for proper version control of SolidWorks models. However, it seems only to run on Windows, and AWS instances with Windows Server are more expensive. Have other FRC teams used PDM for CAD?

Accessing an onsite server from outside the school network would require port forwarding, so you will want to talk to your network administrator about that.

We use a server wired to the school’s internet. It just sits in a cabinet in our lab most of the time. More details are on our website (it isn’t very well organized at the moment; Mostly information is just thrown onto the resources page). I am not greatly involved in the configuration of the server itself, so I can’t provide anymore than my view of it or my interpretation of the stuff on our website. We use subversion to handle all of our CAD, software, and occasionally a few other files (t-shirt designs, sponsor logos).
As far as I can tell, we didn’t really have to deal with the school much to get the server working. The IT person at the school has offered to let us use their server room, but that would make it harder for us to access the server itself whenever we need to.
Again, for technical details, the website is probably your best bet for getting more information quickly. Also, if you are confused by references to random elements, most of the team computers are named after elements.

We have a server that 1up! (A local web development company that mainly works with cms’ for newspapers) donated to us. It is a quad-core xeon 2.4ghz machine with 4gbs of ram. Currently it’s on a rack in a datacenter about 30 miles from where we are located. We use it for hosting our website, a small git repository (only because I like git better than subversion), an (currently non-functional) irc network and, in the future, some scripts to update social networking sites with data provided from FMS via twitter. Its running debian atm, with apache etc, the full works. Once you get the server doing what you want with it is pretty easy to get it working.

About getting to the server from school; our school has a firewall that blocks inappropriate things and the like, as well as several known “hackerish” ports, such as the one for ssh. This caused issues, obviously, when the database mysteriously crashed and we were unable to fix it for 8+ hours. We solved this by having 1up! configure the internet for the server (a psuedo-router I guess) port forward a few other ports to the ssh port. This basically solved all of our remote access issues because with ssh we gain sftp, so we can pretty much do anything.

The ideal server all depends on what your using it for. Initally, we had decided that we were going to build 3 brand new computers. 2 with the graphics cards donated by nVidia last year and one with only the intergrated graphics (the server). We had setup a budget for each with the hope of collocating the server in 1up! or perhaps another sponser’s datacenter. I can go through thousands of intracacies with building specialized servers for rendering or NAS (rendering should have massive ammounts of HDD space as well as a good chunk of RAM, combined with some comercial grade graphics cards such as the nVidia quattro which are made for more specialized tasks than the consumer cards. The NAS basically can have whatever processor you want, with as much ram as you want, with as big as harddrives as you can afford. There is no big requirements like with rendering.), or I could ask what you think you’d like, as you seem reasonably knowledgable.

We don’t have a server, but we’re also trying to figure out version control for CAD and are interested in Vault. The problem is that Vault doesn’t seem to be provided free to teams like the other software. I’d really like to hear from someone that managed to get Vault up and running.

Well, I’ve looked into this a lot more and have decided to run FreeNAS in ZFS2 across 4 drives. I got a slightly older dual-processor 2U server with 8 gigs of RAM and 4 SATA bays. Unfortunately, the server was “drop shipped”, so I’m waiting on a replacement.

I’m still interested in hearing from anyone running Vault or anything else for that matter.

I think ultimately I’d run several servers. A FreeNAS server, a Windows Server (for Vault), and a linux server for SVN and such things. The last two could be virtualized perhaps.

I caution against this, AWS looks cheap until you realize you need to keep it running all year, paying $.07 an hour for an entire year is $613. I suggest looking into Linode or similar hosting solutions.

294’s lab server is a dual Athlon 64 with 2 GB of RAM, running FreeBSD. It has 2x1 TB SATA drives mirrored for bulk storage, and 2x36 GB SCSI drives (also mirrored) for boot and faster storage of CAD files during build season. The server is showing its age (it feels a little sluggish at times) but was donated (by me) so was free for the team.

It’s pretty much just used as a Samba server; we have 3 shared drives that are mapped on our windows machines:
Z: -> “294 Technical”: Primary technical work area. Various top level folders including “FRC” and “Vex”, next level is season (e.g. “2012 Rebound Rumble”), and then beneath that we have Analysis/CAD/Code/etc.
Y: -> “294 Business”: business, marketing, outreach, etc. Photo and video archive is here, like the technical drive it’s organized by competition/season. Also has things like pamphlets, signup forms, student handbook, etc.
X: -> “FLL”: Shared drive for our FLL teams. Less organization here, but it’s separately mapped from the Z: drive to give them freer reign of the space.

We have our own network independent of the school’s network (we had issues with the school network going down on weekends, and people printing to our lab printer). We use a standard home internet router/firewall to bridge from our LAN to the school network solely for the purpose of internet access. Now when the school network goes down, we only lose internet, not access to our shared drives.

For backup, the team server is rsync’ed nightly to my home server (it ssh’s out through the school connection). My home server is much more of a beast (quad core Q6600 with 8 GB RAM and ~10TB of drive space on ZFS, also running FreeBSD), so that’s also where I save nightly and weekly snapshots in case we ever need to perform data recovery. Someday I’ll upgrade at home and the team will get a nice upgrade.

Our team website is completely independent from this on a managed host in a standard datacenter.

The main downside with this approach that we’ve not been able to overcome yet is external access from the web. We’ve worked around it in a few ways (scouting and roster applications hosted on a dedicated server I own, and by using stunnel), but in general the team server is only accessible in the lab.

Second this. Both Inventor and Solidworks seem to be seriously lacking in support for version control software. What are teams using in terms of version control with either program?

At champs, I only talked to one team (it was either Bomb Squad or Daisy) that managed to use Vault, and I believe they obtained it through their sponsors. Any teams with Vault care to share how they got it? I’ve contacted some people at Autodesk with little success, in the hopes of getting Vault Server.

We’ve got a NAS. It’s a simple dual - 1.5 terabyte NAS that is Raid 1 (mirroring).

The drive is mapped to all the computers in the room, and we have a script that anyone on-site can use to map to it by double clicking.

The NAS is a linksys NAS200. It’s a little long in the tooth now, the 100 mbit rather than gigabit connection slows it down pretty badly, and the transfer speed is actually quite a bit below the 100 mbit max.

It has saved us though when someone nuked one of the hard drives. Raid 1 is worth it!

We keep it organized by year and functional group, but that’s it.

We don’t allow off-site access. It’s never really hurt us.

AWS does offer a free tier for 12 months assuming that you don’t go over their generous limits. Gives you root access to a server (linux or windows) that (probably) will stay up and you don’t have to deal with your school’s firewall. Great temporary solution, but as Andrew said it will become expensive once the free period is up.

We used Vault this year running on a custom built server. It is running Windows Server 2008 with an i7 quad core and a 1 TB HDD.

You have to download the Vault Server because the installation of Inventor only gives you the Vault Client.

It’s fairly easy to set up but some things get complicated. Vault uses IIS to communicate through the network. We forwarded port 80 on our router to open Vault up to people outside of our warehouse. Because it’s an IP address with no website associated with it, I was able to connect to vault from anywhere: my house, school, library, anywhere with Internet.

Vault was extremely useful for keeping track of who’s working on a part by checking in/ checking out parts or assemblies. It saves old versions and each time you make a change, it shows up in a log in its properties. It is slightly frustrating sometimes because if you drop connection while working it would frequently crash. But assuming you were hard wired or simply had a solid connection, it’s great to have, especially when working in a team.

Thank you very, very much for posting this link. I’ve been trying to get my hands on a copy of Vault Server for a very long time. Is there any chance that you have a link for the 2013 version? Also, is there an activation code that will be needed?

I run that setup at home and have been happy with it.

You’re very welcome. I’m still looking for the 2013 version myself but as soon as I find it I will post it here.

Also, you do not need an activation code or serial number for Vault Server.

Our sponsor is a major Internet Infrastruction-as-a-Service company, so they provide us with servers for our website and other purposes. They aren’t inside the school’s network, so they aren’t limited by restricted access.

I personally use Linode at $20/month, and it serves all my web, dns, email and other needs.

When I was previously on 968, I had setup a local machine that had a samba share that was replicated onto another machine in my datacenter via a SSTP VPN session.

We had CAD workstations that were connected to this network that shared drawings and miscellaneous documents to additional machines that were connected wirelessly to the same subnet. These computers were placed next to commonly used tools such as their mill and lathe. This allowed our students to machine parts without printing a single piece of paper.

CAD models were saved onto another server that I had in my datacenter that was also accessible via the existing VPN using Solidworks PDM workgroup server. This allowed people that were not on site to work on CAD models without much conflict.

In addition to our high school network setup, I also provided a method of connecting our practice field, which was 1.5 miles away from the HS, to the same network via 4G cellular services. Every device was easily accessible from either location. We were even able to access the cRIO on the practice field from the high school.

Let me know if you need any help from Vivid-Hosting :wink:

In years past Server was a separate file/install, but this year it was included in our Inventor Ultimate suite executable. One of the first options gives you a choice to either Install or goto Options/Setup (dont remember the exact word) if you click Options it’ll let you install Vault Server.

Not sure what the student version is like, but that was my experience with the paid version. Can’t recommend Vault Server enough. It’s irreplaceable for collaboration on CAD designs.

Can I use Vault server to save files to a location that is a mounted network share. The idea is that the files would exist on a separate NAS, but be managed by Vault. Would this work?

Well, I got the server done and installed. It’s a 2U half-depth Rackable Systems C2004 with twin Xeon 5150 Dual Core processors at 2.66GHz and 8GB of DDR2 RAM. I have four 1TB SATA drives in it on a ZFS filesystem in RAIDZ configuration under FreeNAS as the OS. FreeNAS is not quite as fully-featured and refined as I’d like it to be, but it’s a good simple easy to use system that should be fairly reliable. It’s working rather well. FreeNAS does has several nice features as opposed to other options. I have under $400 into the whole thing including tax and shipping, and that does include new drives (on sale/coupon). The CPUs are a bit overkill for just NAS, but I got the system at a good price. I’m pretty happy.

The next thing I want to look at is getting ahold of Vault server 2013 and experimenting with that.