Parent article: Design Data Management
Altium's Vault technology provides the foundation for Altium's Design Data Management solution. A distinct design solution in its own right, an Altium Vault works in harmony with Altium Designer to provide an elegant answer to the question of handling design data with secured integrity. An Altium Vault not only provides rock-solid, secure storage of data, but also enables re-release of data as distinctly separate revisions – essentially tracking design changes over time, without overwriting any previously released data. It also caters for the lifecycle of the data to be managed, allowing people that need to use the data to see, at-a-glance, what stage the data has reached in its 'life' and therefore what it can be safely used for.
But an Altium Vault is used to store so much more than just the data generated from a board design. It is also used to manage all other sets of data obtained from the Design Area through the running of specific release processes. This includes the release of component definitions, domain models, schematic sheets of circuitry and design templates. Indeed, you can even create and manage your entire design projects directly within the vault, with the additional benefit of collaboration support, meaning an entire team can work concurrently on the same board design - even annotating the design with comments. You can even control the working environments of your designers - ensuring that company-wide design standards are enforced and adhered to.
By furnishing a set of resuable design 'building blocks' within an Altium Vault, you can embark on fresh projects safe in the knowledge that each model, component, and higher-order design element has been ratified and approved for use, with no having to reinvent the wheel as it were.
The vault becomes both the source and destination of design elements, with each new design utilizing elements realeased to, and managed through, the vault. And by designing only with elements from a vault - vault-driven electronics design as it were - the integrity of those designs is inherently assured.
What can the Altium Vault Offer Me?
Organizations come in all sizes – from the one-man show all the way through to a large multi-national, employing legions of designers and engineers. But rather than catering for this through different products, Altium simply provides a single product - the Altium Vault. And while a single streamlined installation delivers the full spectrum of features and technologies to all, the actual feature set available to you is determined and controlled through the specific licensing purchased.
The Altium Vault itself is far more than simply a vault. Its installation facilitates a platform through which a range of services and technologies are provided - the vault itself being one of these services. Think of it as a vault-centric ensemble of features and services, broken down into the following key areas:
- Component Management - providing the features and functionality to build and manage a wealth of design components. Each component references requisite design domain models, but also reaches into the supply chain through the presence of a dedicated Part Catalog, and defined Part Choices. Management at the component level is simplified and streamlined, through support for file-less editing.
- Document Management - providing the features and functionality to release and manage components, schematic sheets of circuitry, and board design projects, including intergated version control (locally-hosted SVN).
- Team Configuration Management - providing the features and functionality that enable the Altium Vault (and Altium Designer) to be used in a regulated way across the entire organization, including Network Installation Service and Centralized Environment Configuration Management.
- Collaboration -providing the features and functionality to realize the Altium Vault as a powerful collaboration platform, including centralized project management (managed projects, enforced version control, commenting), and concurrent PCB design.
The Altium Vault software itself is available in three distinct license bundles - Component, Workgroup and Enterprise. These license types - each a Server License - determine the features available at the organization level. At the user level, each user connects to the Altium Vault through the seat of an associated Client Access License (CAL). Three types of Client Access License (often referred to as a Connector License) are available, offering the same technology bundling as the server licensing.
The following table summarizes the features and technologies included in the available Server License bundles:
|Features & Services||Component||Workgroup||Enterprise|
Team Configuration Management
The following sections provide overviews for some of the additional features and technologies provided by, and through, your Altium Vault installation. Bear in mind that the features actually available to you depends on the type of license you have purchased, and the available connector license seat being used.
Main article: File-less Editing in an Altium Vault
The Altium Vault provides a rock-solid repository for data released from the design area, be it the humble domain model, all the way through to the design project itself. In the past, the source of this data - symbols, models, component libraries, schematic sheets, and projects themselves - was typically locked safe away under version control. But this requires dedicated management of two distinct systems. Far better, is the handling of both source and released data under the one roof, so-to-speak.
For projects, centralized management of the source through the Altium Vault is handled through support for server-side version control, and the concept of Managed Projects. For other data, including models, components and managed sheets of design circuitry, this is handled through the notion of File-less Editing.
File-less editing is supported for the following types of vault Items:
- Schematic symbols
- PCB component footprints
- Circuit simulation models
- Output job files
- Schematic templates
- Managed sheets
File-less editing frees you of the shackles of separate version-controlled source data. You can simply edit a supported Item type using a temporary editor loaded with the latest source direct from the vault itself. And once editing is complete, the entity is re-released into a subsequent planned revision of its parent Item, and the temporary editor closed. There are no files on your hard drive, no questioning whether you are working with the correct or latest source, and no having to maintain separate version control software. The Altium Vault handles it all, with the same great integrity you've come to expect, and in a manner that greatly expedites changes to your data.
Version Control (SVN)
Main article: Local Version Control Service
The Altium Vault installation includes an SVN server (version 1.8). It provides version control possibilities right there where you need them, locally, without searching or paying for external SVN management software.
There are two key advantages over the standard SVN built in to Altium Designer (or sourced externally):
- You have common users and rights management for both the Altium Vault and SVN. When you sign in to the Altium Vault, the SVN version control service works with your session/credentials.
- Repositories defined through the Altium Vault (through the VCS page of the vault's browser-based interface) are populated to the client automatically during login, so users do not have to worry about urls, protocols, password etc. It is simply configured once, on the server, and shared with the intended users as required.
Repositories can be created through the local SVN server, or external repositories can be connected to. Together, all repositories are centrally managed through the vault's browser-based interface, in terms of:
- Their displayed name and description.
- Their configured accessibility - which specific users can access them (or roles in the case of repositories defined through the local SVN server).
- Their availability - add or remove them centrally, rather than individual designers having to create and connect to repositories independently.
Centralized Project Management
Main article: Managed Projects
The Altium Vault, in conjunction with Altium Designer, brings support for Managed Projects. In the past, the traditional use of an Altium Vault was to handle the release management stage of projects, with high integrity and security. Managed Projects target the development stage of the project lifecycle, simplifying the creation and ongoing workflow for version controlled projects. Centralized storage under the control of the Altium Vault also enables this feature to be a foundation for other collaborative services.
Some key benefits to using Managed Projects are:
- Simplified storage. No need to make decisions about storage locations. Backup and other basic services are taken care of.
- Foundation for collaborative features.
- Enforced version control.
- Beneficiary of a dedicated commenting system.
- Notifications and status. Document status including local modifications is visible to entire design teams.
- Concurrent PCB design works without any complex setup.
Management is performed through the Projects page of the vault's browser-based interface. New Managed Projects can be created through this interface, or through the New Project dialog in Altium Designer. Alternatively, an existing, non-managed project, can be quickly converted to a Managed Project.
Main article: Supply Chain Management
Each Altium Vault instance has its own dedicated Part Catalog. This is a managed local part catalog database, dedicated to the management and tracking of manufacturer parts and their associated supplier parts. The catalog is installed as a service (Part Catalog Service), provided through the Altium Vault platform, and works only with the Altium Vault.
The part catalog stores items representative of actual Manufacturer Parts, along with one or more items representative of Supplier Parts – the incarnations of those Manufacturer Parts, as sold by the Suppliers/Vendors. Each Supplier Part is a reference to an item in a Supplier database.
The actual supply chain intelligence – comprising Manufacturer (and part number), Supplier (and part number), Description, Pricing and Availability – is sourced from the part catalog and the relevant Supplier Database. The latter can be an external database (Supplier web-based service), or an internal company parts database (ODBC-based). It is this link to the Supplier database that yields real-time pricing and availability data.
Which Supplier Databases are actually used – a list of Approved Suppliers – is managed by the Altium Vault. This facilitates centralized supply chain management, with designers across the entire organization using the same approved list of Vendors.
Main article: Environment Configuration Management
Facilitating enterprise-level enforcement of a designer's work environment – to ensure that they are following the required standards expected by that organization for design, documentation and production – the Altium Vault installation provides the Team Configuration Center.
The role of the Team Configuration Center is to give the organization centralized control over the environment its designers operate in. It achieves this through the definition and management of Environment Configurations. These are used to constrain each designer's Altium Designer working environment to only use company-ratified design elements, including schematic templates, output job configuration files, and workspace preferences. In other words, it facilitates Centralized Environment Configuration Management.
Any number of environment configurations may be defined through the Center's dedicated browser-based interface. The data used and enforced by each configuration – referred to as Configuration Data Items – are sourced from the Altium Vault. And by associating each environment configuration with a specific user role, and in turn assigning users to those roles, the correct working environment is loaded into Altium Designer as soon as the user signs in to the Altium Vault. Using this role-based approach ensures that a designer always gets the setup they are entitled to, no matter whether they have their own PC, or are sharing a single PC with fellow designers.
Main article: Vault Data Acquisition
Altium facilitates the ability for an organization to copy the content they need, between nominated source and target vaults - a process referred to simply as Vault Data Acquisition. By acquiring design content, ownership is placed firmly in the hands of the receiving organization, who are free to make local modifications and maintain the content as they desire moving forward. And by keeping a link between the acquired data and its original source, intelligent handling of the data can be performed, including notification when the source of any copied content is updated (not to mention a rock-steady foundation is layed for future possible services). And no matter if additional releases have been made to an item locally, there is always the possibility to revert to a previous revision from the original source vault – all by keeping a link back to the item's original source – or Origin.
Moving forward, this ability to acquire content – or efficiently transfer content between two nominated vaults in a controlled way – opens up the possibility for third parties (suppliers, manufacturers, etc..) to create their own content vaults, potentially forming an expanded network of 'eData sources', into which designers the world over can come to source the design content they need.
Acquisition is performed using the Content Cart dialog. Access to this dialog is made from within the Vaults panel. While browsing the source vault from which you wish to obtain data, simply right-click on an Item Revision that you wish to acquire, and choose the Add to Content Cart command from the context menu.
Network Installation Service
Main article: Network Installation Service
The Altium Vault platform provides a dedicated Network Installation Service. This service, allows an organization to perform installations or updates to Altium Designer over their local network. The main goals of the Network Installation Service are:
- To improve speed of updates - people will download data inside of the local network.
- To remove dependency on Internet access for update functionality - it could work in isolated networks, without access to global internet.
- To provide the ability to control versions and updates in a centralized way.
- To support performing push installations, using Microsoft's Active Directory Group Policy.
The service is accessed through the Installations page of the vault's browser-based interface. Typically you would acquire the products and extensions that you need from Altium's Cloud Vault into your local Vault, then craft a deployment package for installation across your network. Subsequent updates can be configured automatically, or handcrafted manually for ultimate control over what gets installed on your designer's machines.
Backup and Recovery
Main article: Backing up and Restoring Your Altium Vault Installation
Over time, your Altium Vault will accommodate a growing, and impressive amount of data. The value of this data cannot be overstated, for it is a mixture of source data that can be re-used in future design projects, as well as data from which past, current, and future products are fabricated and assembled. It is data that has been released and ratified under the highest scrutiny, and stored securely with the upmost integrity. And as with all valuable data, longevity of its integrity is ensured by being able to perform a backup.
The Altium Vault installation caters for the archival of your vault data through the provision of a command-line-driven Backup & Restore tool. The tool's executable - avbackup.exe - is located in the \Program Files (x86)\Altium\Altium Vault\BackupTool folder, for a default installation of the Altium Vault.
The following items are backed up using this tool:
- Revisions (of all Items in your vault, including those related to installation and deployment packages).
- Search Index.
- Repositories (defined through the vault installation's local version control service).
- User Settings.
- Database (DXPServer.dat).