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LinkLine: Summer 2008

BSD SpecLink-E Enters Beta Testing

SpecLink-E (SLE) entered its first Beta Test on April 3rd. Approximately 30 firms signed up to participate in this test and subsequently received an installation CD and/or downloaded the software and installation instructions from BSD’s web site. This test is expected to continue for a couple of months; the Beta Test software is usable until September 1, 2008. We are currently looking for additional Beta program participants.

Previous LinkLine articles (see the Link-Line archives) describe our goals in developing SLE and the many new features of this significant new product from BSD. We thought it would be useful in this article—particularly for anybody interested in joining the Beta program—to describe the SLE architecture, physical configuration, and the required installation process to get up and running.

SpecLink-E Architecture and Configuration

Borrowing some terminology from Microsoft, BSD SpecLink-E (SLE) is described as a Smart Client/Server System that uses Microsoft’s SQL Server database management system (DBMS). Client/Server identifies the system as having multiple components including the SLE Client software, the BSD Data Server software, and MS SQL Server.

The Client software is a separate application that runs on each individual user’s computer. The BSD Data Server software is a separate application that together with SQL Server runs on a separate computer somewhere on the local or wide area network that is accessible to each of the individual Client computers. As an alternative arrangement, all components can easily be installed on the same computer to create a standalone system that is entirely self-contained. This would be a typical installation for a single-user environment.

“Smart Client” alludes to the standalone nature of the Client application. The Client runs separately from the Server and allows you to edit and print documents while disconnected from the server and its hosting network. This means you can take a laptop with the Client software home or on the road and continue to work on those documents that you checked out before you left the office.

SLE uses a SQL Server-based SpecLink Master Database together with a single Projects Database storing all projects for a given site. While SQL Server plays a very important role in SpecLink-E, it is basically “transparent.” It is automatically installed as part of the BSD Data Server installation, does not require a separate license from either Microsoft or BSD, is managed by BSD Data Server, and does not require administrative attention beyond periodic backups of the Projects database.

Getting Up and Running with SpecLink-E

There are three steps to an initial installation of SpecLink-E:

  1. Install BSD Data Server, SQL Server and the Databases;
  2. Install the SpecLink-E Client Setup Package;
  3. Install the Client software to each user’s computer.
We envision two general types of installations: one for a single user using a single computer and the second for multiple users working collaboratively on a local or wide-area network. Steps 1 and 2 can be performed in combination for either type of installation using the setup option for a Complete and Standalone Installation. This creates either the complete network setup for SpecLink-E or a standalone installation on a single computer. Once these steps have been completed, each user can run the client setup package—whether it’s installed on the network or the standalone workstation—to create and use the Client software on his or her own computer.

Performing the Complete and Standalone Installation

The server installation that includes BSD Data Server, Microsoft SQL Server, and the SpecLink-E databases (master and projects database) needs to be performed on a computer that is accessible to all computers and users that will run the SpecLink-E software on the network. The installer must be logged on to this computer in order to perform the installation. For a single-user installation, this could be a standalone computer that will act as both client and server. The server or standalone computer needs to have a minimum of 1GB of disk space available to perform the installation. BSD recommends that 4GB of disk space be allocated for the SLE Projects database on an ongoing basis. The SLE Master database requires at least 250MB and will grow over time.

There are three setup options, but as previously noted you will typically accept the default Complete and Standalone Installation. The other two options allow you to do each of the first two steps independently. This will be useful if you need to update either the server or client setup independent of the other.

You can select a drive on the current computer as a location for the databases. The SpecLink-E databases will be installed in the \Program Files\Microsoft SQL Server\Building Systems Design\Data directory on the drive you choose. You can also choose where to place the SpecLink-E Client Setup Package that each user runs during the initial installation to set up the client software on his or her computer. On subsequent installations this is the location that each client application will check and update itself from automatically when an update becomes available. The Client Setup Package requires 30 MB of disk space and must be accessible (readable) from any computer that will be running the SpecLink-E Client software.

You will need to know and enter the computer name of the computer you are installing the BSD Data Server software on (the current computer). This tells the Client software where to look when communicating with the Server software. If this is a standalone installation, you can simply accept the default “localhost” that refers to the local computer.

Lastly, you can also specify the port number that the computers will use for communication. This port is used for .Net Remoting TCP communications between computers on an internal network and is not intended for use through firewalls. At present, specifying anything other than the default (9047) will require a call to BSD Support to manually modify the BSD Data Server installation.

Once you have made these decisions, (or accepted the defaults) the installation will run straight through. This process includes installing the Microsoft .Net Framework 2.0, if not already installed, and the Microsoft SQL Server Express Edition.

These Microsoft components are somewhat slow to install but the entire process should not take more than 15 to 20 minutes. They are one time installations that will not be repeated when you install future updates to the BSD software.

The third step, installing the client software on each user’s computer, is simpler. For the initial installation, the installer will need to open Windows Explorer, find the SpecLink-E Client Setup Package at the network location to which it was installed in step 2, and double-click the setup.exe file at that location. If this is a standalone computer installation, the location will be on the same computer.

This will install the Client software on the user’s computer without any further interaction and place an entry for SpecLink-E under Building Systems Design, Inc. in the Windows Start Menu. It will then start the SpecLink-E software for the first time. On subsequent updates of the Client Setup package on the network, the Client software—which checks this location at each startup—will update itself before opening.

Note that there is nothing to decide or specify during this client installation. The client software is installed in a subdirectory under the user’s Documents and Settings directory on Windows XP or under the equivalent Users directory on Windows Vista. A green "ON" sign in the bottom right border of the main window indicates you are up and running and you are connected to the data server. You should be looking at the Specifier’s Library page from BSD’s web site as your “Start Page” when the software fi rst starts up. The Start Page is in a tabbed window that lets you browse BSD’s web site (and other locations) from within the SpecLink-E application.

While work that you do in testing this Beta release cannot be carried forward, BSD is planning a second “production-ready” Beta release during our Fall Quarter that will let you carry on into the initial release. If you would like to participate in either Beta test and you are a current SpecLink subscriber, call our Technical Support group at 800-266-7732 or e-mail via clicking here. This is a great product and while it has taken us longer than we had projected to get to this stage, the wait will be worth it. We’re looking forward to delivering the initial release in our Winter Quarter following the second Beta test.