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How to overhaul your IT systems

Use the economic downturn to reassess your IT capabilities, says Sophia Boulton, CAD Manager at IT solutions provider Jigsaw

Hardware

Hardware is the physical computer itself, composed of screen/display, processor unit/workstation and peripherals, such as printer and external hard drive.

A good choice of hardware can make all the difference to the contribution your software makes to your practice. Just as important is the network.

The computer world is divided between those who run the Windows operating system and those who favour the Apple operating system (although there is now a growing interest in a third system, Linux, which is closer in its way of working to Apple than Windows). Software applications are usually designed to run under one or the other.

However, recognising that designers in particular want great flexibility, many Windows applications (such as CAD and AEC) can be run under Boot Camp, which essentially allows a Mac to mimic a PC and enables both Windows and Apple OS X to run on the same Apple Mac.

Underneath these products is the chip, the PC ‘brain,’ which is either the Intel or AMD family and interestingly, even the Mac these days has started encompassing the Intel chip, interestingly.

  • Workstations
    A workstation offers superior performance in terms of speed, memory capacity, local storage, graphics cards and multitasking than a standard PC. Workstations are optimised for the visualisation and manipulation of different types of complex data involved in 3D design, animation and rendering of images.
  • Printers
    Today, even entry-level printers offer a wide range of functions and choices of output. Modern inkjets have advantages in terms of speed as well as being ‘instant dry’ and smudge-free. For CAD
 applications, look at Canon’s iPF range of large-format printers;
for business applications, consider the HP Designjet series.
  • Scanners
    Flatbed scanners have a great range of applications beyond obvious uses: they can, for example, scan fabrics or specific textures that may form part of a bespoke design. At the top end, large plans and drawings can be scanned with Contex’s HD4230 42in-high resolution
  • Drawing tools
    Drawing tools are basically devices that aid image manipulation and productivity, and include tablets, digital sketch pads and pens. They allow the operator to emulate drawing techniques on a screen by hand (rather than having to use a mouse) by converting brush stroke or pen lines into a form the computer can understand.

Software

Software is the name given to all the applications and services we use, from word processing, email and accounting systems to ‘vertical’ applications that a specific industry such as architecture requires to increase productivity and collaborate with clients and partners.

In general, it is best to choose the most widely available and standard software systems as this will make it easier to find employees with the relevant skills and support.

Windows, Mac or Linux operating systems all have their attendant proprietary office components (word processing, database, presentation) or open-source equivalents. These will probably come supplied with the computers themselves.

On top of all the business packages available, a practice can use specific applications to enhance productivity or workflow. Pre-visualisation tools such as Google SketchUp Pro 7 and Artlantis Render are easier to use than full-featured CAD packages and can allow you to communicate your initial design quickly and easily.

Visualisation packages such as Adobe After Effects CS4, Autodesk Combustion, Autodesk 3ds Max design, RenderZone Plus, Vue 7, V-Ray and Mental Ray enable you to create photo-realistic still and animated rendering.

Most practices have at least one CAD/BIM tool, such as AutoCAD, AutoCAD Architecture, Revit Architecture, Vectorworks’ Architect 2009 and Designer 2009. Packages such as AutoCAD are traditionally 2D and, although they technically offer 3D support, they are best used mainly as drafting/drawing documentation packages for technical drawings.

Security and storage

Storage refers to the collection, filing and movement of information coded in electronic form. In practice, this means the support software and hardware to safely and comprehensively capture and protect the data used in the business day, between staff members, clients, partners, etc.

There are many acronyms to contend with but the main ones are SAN (storage area network), NAS (network attached storage) and SCSI (small computer system interface).

Products to consider might be the HP StorageWorks range for combined NAS and SAN storage
and RAID enclosures. For desktop storage
there’s the Fusion D400Q, G-Tech’s G-RAID2 and LaCie’s 5big Quadra.

For back-up and archiving, a long-term storage method is required and tape libraries are well suited to this – for example, Sony’s StorStation series.

‘Security’, in an IT context, means the protection of vital information against abuse or unauthorised access. It also means protecting that information from theft and loss, and preserving its availability.

Basic security includes a firewall, an invisible barrier between your company and the internet, which can be software or a hardware device that sits on the network. Examples include SonicWall TZ 180 Series, Cisco ASA 5505 security appliance and the Kerio WinRoute Firewall 6. Anti-virus software is another easy move and prevents junk clogging the email system and invading the network. Norton AntiVirus 11 for Mac, Norton 360 all-in-one for PC, and VirusBarrier X5 Dual Protection are all good products.

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