Environment Configuration Management

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Parent article: Altium Vault

Give the same design project to a variety of designers, and their resulting efforts will undoubtedly differ in various ways, shapes and forms. After all, each designer brings to the table their own set of design traits, level of experience and working preferences. But while the extent of these different approaches may sit fine when all are placed in offices and labs across different companies and product disciplines, the visibility of such differences becomes more than a blip on the radar when they are working for the same design team within the same organization.

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.

Team Configuration Center

The role of the Team Configuration Center is simplicity itself – 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.

The following image provides a graphical overview of the concept of Centralized Environment Configuration Management.

The concept of Centralized Environment Configuration Management. When a user signs in to the Altium Vault, the Team Configuration Center determines, through assigned roles, which configurations (and therefore vault-based configuration data) are available to that user. Altium Designer then uses the configuration data items in the relevant places.

The Team Configuration Center is a service (Team Configuration Service) provided through the Altium Vault platform.

Configuration Data Items

Main article: Configuration Data Items

Before you can delve into creation and definition of environment configurations, you need to first define the required configuration data items – the constituent elements of the configurations. These are the design elements that the user – whose assigned role(s) determine the configuration(s) available – is permitted to use. In other words, a configuration defines and enforces the set of configuration data items available to the user. Currently, the following types of item can be used with environment configurations:

  • Schematic Templates
  • Output Job Configuration Files
  • Altium Designer Preferences
Each environment configuration can use as many configuration data items as required, and the same data item can be used across multiple environment configurations.

For detailed information on creating each of these vault-based data items, refer to the pages Releasing a Schematic Template to an Altium Vault, Releasing an Output Job File to an Altium Vault, and Releasing Altium Designer Preferences to an Altium Vault, respectively.

Environment Configurations

Main article: Managing Environment Configurations

With configuration data items defined and released into an Altium Vault, you now have the fundamental blocks with which to define the environment configurations themselves. Environment configurations are defined from within the Team Configuration Center, through its browser-based interface.

The browser-based interface is only accessible when the user is signed in to the Altium Vault with administrative rights.

The interface allows for an administrator to craft one or more environment configurations, depending on the needs of the organization. Each configuration requires the definition of:

  • Configuration Data – the elemental constraints of the configuration. The Schematic Templates, Output Job files and Altium Designer Preferences that can be validly used by a user targeted by the configuration.
  • Target Roles – specification of whom the environment configuration applies to. Roles themselves are simply groupings of users, defined and stored as part of the Vault's Identity Service. These are the same roles that are defined and used by the Vault to control access permissions.

The interface can be accessed through an external Web Browser, or directly from within Altium Designer.

  • External Web Browser – access the Altium Vault's browser-based interface, sign-in and navigate to the Configurations page.
  • Altium Designer – simply use the Configurations sub-view, available under the main Vault view of the Home page (View » Home).

Example access of the Team Configuration Center's browser-based user interface - through a preferred external Web Browser.

Configuration data is stored in the Altium Vault's database.

Connecting to the Altium Vault

Related article: Accessing an Altium Vault from Altium Designer

In order to facilitate environment configuration management, and to enforce environment configurations applicable to each and every user in an organization, based on their assigned role(s), each user needs to be signed in to the Altium Vault. This is required to:

  • Provide access to the Team Configuration Service.
  • Provide access to the Altium Vault.
  • Enable the Identity Service to recognize who you are and what role(s) you have been assigned to. The correct environment configuration(s) can then be applied. This becomes especially important in working environments where shared computers are the norm.

In addition, use of the configuration management feature requires the following licensing:

  • Enterprise-level Server License for the Altium Vault, making the Team Configuration Service available to the organization.
  • Enterprise-level Client Access License, making the Team Configuration Service available to a user within that organization, when they connect to the Altium Vault.

For more detail on licensing, including client access management, see Altium Vault Licensing.

Application of Environment Configurations in Altium Designer

Once a user is signed into the Altium Vault, the application of any environment configuration relevant for the role to which that user is assigned, depends on whether the Team Configuration Center feature is available (through appropriate Enterprise-level server and client access licensing):

  • Team Configuration Center available – the configuration service determines the environment configuration to be used for that user, and changes the relevant areas of the Altium Designer environment to enforce the permitted data elements of that configuration. If the user is assigned to several roles, and multiple environment configurations can apply, the user will be given the choice of which environment configuration to be applied when they sign-in.
  • Team Configuration Center not available – no configuration management is enforced and the Altium Designer working environment can be defined in a totally manual fashion.
If multiple environment configurations apply to a user, but they cancel out of choosing one, they will be effectively signed out of the Altium Vault. They will therefore be prevented from accessing design Items in that vault, and any of the services (applicable to current licensing) provided through its installation. If no configuration is available for a user, they will not be able to sign in to the Altium Vault. An Administrator must assign the user to the relevant role(s) to which the required configuration(s) have been assigned.

If the Team Configuration Center feature is available, but an environment configuration applicable to the user has not been fully defined – i.e. not all data configuration items have been specified/added – those undefined elements of the environment will remain manually definable by the user.

Altium Designer uses the configuration data items specified in the applied environment configuration to configure the relevant areas of the application environment. For information on how a configuration data item is used within Altium Designer as part of environment configuration, follow the applicable link below:

If multiple configuration data items have been defined for a particular design element within an environment configuration, Altium Designer will be configured to provide the user with a choice from those items.

Ensuring Environment Configuration Compliance

When it comes time to release a board design project, the process involved ensures the highest integrity for the design data and, more importantly, the generated manufacturing data which the Supply Chain will ultimately use to turn your design labor into physical reality. As part of the release process validation checks can be inserted to ensure, for example, that electrical and design rules are checked and are being adhered to. After all, stringent validation can pickup any missed issues that can lead to costly re-spins.

As part of this validation stage in the release process, you can also include an Environment Configuration Compliance Check. This provides a means to conclusively test and enforce the use of company-authorized data elements in a design – simply put, if you are not using data items permitted through the environment configuration available for use by your assigned role, the release will fail. This prevents a 'loose cannon' approach to design, and ensures adherence to, and compliance with, the working design environments determined centrally at the enterprise level.

Add an output generator of this type from the Validation Outputs section of the OutJob file. Configuration of the conditions of the check is performed in the Environment configuration compliance setup dialog. These conditions determine:

  • Which managed Schematic Template Items can be used by source schematic documents in the design. One or more Schematic Template Items may be added to the list.
  • Which managed Output Job Items can be used for generation of outputs from the design. One or more Output Job Items may be added to the list.
  • Which managed Altium Designer Preferences Item must be used at release time. A single Altium Designer Preferences Item may be specified.
  • Whether or not all parts used in the design must be sourced from an Altium Vault.

Click Add (or the ... button for preferences) to access a dialog with which to choose the required Item-Revision from the required Altium Vault.

Ensure the Environment configuration compliance check is added to the source Output Job file and configured BEFORE releasing it to the target vault. Once managed, the OutJob file – specifically the configuration of an output generator – can not be changed. You would need to make changes to the source file and re-release into the next planned revision of the target Item.

Add and configure an Environment configuration compliance check as part of your overall validation regime during board design release.

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