File synchronization over WAN

I posted the following (in shorter form) in another thread, but seems to me it deserves its own topic here since some of us do long-distance
collaboration (and many of the rest of us are interested in it for obvious reasons):
Take a look at "Unison" file synchronization software (http://www.cis.upenn.edu/~bcpierce/unison /). It's freeware, developed by the University of Pennsylvania, and looks very interesting. I haven't had a chance to try it out, but it looks like it could fill a niche need for those of us who do remote collaboration often. It appears to be at least somewhat similar to Availl (http://www.availl.com ) which touts itself as being appropriate specifically for multi-site CAD collaboration, but which costs thousands to connect even just two sites. It appears as if this KIND of site mirroring and file synchronization application may have some benefits worth considering.
This file synchronization software is quite different from PDM software. There is no checking out files and checking them back in, but it seems to perform SOME of the important functions that PDM software does. It compares different versions of the same filename, not merely on the basis of the date/time of the last edit on the file, but also by comparing file contents. If a conflict arises that the software cannot resolve by the "rules" you set up for it to follow, then someone has to manually resolve the conflict and decide which file is the "good" one, or reconcile by combining differences manually. At any rate in this manner it doesn't just automatically overwrite files, and it does better than just asking you if you're sure you want to overwrite a file with an older or newer version. I'm pretty sure it can also take into account the difference between time zones in comparing file dates and times, and if computers at both ends of the line have time automatically adjusted via one of the many online methods available then at least comparative times will be accurate. These kinds of software can automatically or semi-automatically maintain sychronization between two different sites and most can apparently do it at specific times in the day, or specific time intervals during the day, or upon demand. This synchronization can be BI-directional, which could mean that Toolbox files, Palatte Part files and Template files (etc) can remain current between both sites. You're PROBABLY able to exclude bi-directionality for specific files or directories that require administrative priviledge to change. One nice thing about such software is that it typically optimizes bandwidth use by using sophisticated algorithms -- sometimes even editing not-currently-in-use-files in real time to transfer only the differences between files -- so that so that you're not always having to wait while huge file transfers are occurring.
I don't know whether Availl or Unison or any of the other similar softwares function as well as touted. Even if they do everything as they say and as easily as they say, they surely don't entirely prevent problems from occurring, but they may do well enough to prevent much time being consumed in the process and may prevent ALMOST all problems from occurring. A little process design and planning might pretty well prevent disastrous errors from occurring at all, but of course there's never any guarantee. For that matter, though, somebody can always do something thoughtless while sitting in a cubicle on-site that could yield results as bad as anything one can do remotely, and even PDM software isn't idiot proof. It's hard to make that argument to a client in another city, however. Most won't buy it, and for probable good reason.
If anyone has had experience with Unison in particular or any of the other file synchronization applications out there in general I hope they'll post something about their experiences.
Mark 'Sporky' Stapleton Watermark Design Charlotte, North Carolina www.h2omarkdesign.com
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Any idea about cost for the Availl product, there is no price on their website. When there is no price I tend to think it's expensive.
John Layne www.solidengineering.co.nz
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Yes I do have an idea -- I got a quote. It would be unfair to repeat it without giving the salesman a chance to do his spiel, but as I alluded in the earlier message, the cost is in the thousands for software to connect two sites, and that's the low end software that they sell.
John Layne wrote:

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Sporkman wrote:

Sorry speed read that bit, I have emailed their sales team.
The first one, Availl, seems interesting especially since it's free. I'll look into it when I get the chance.
John Layne www.solidengineering.co.nz
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John Layne wrote:

Oops meant Unison, that's the free one.
John Layne www.solidengineering.co.nz
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I used a small 60gb portable harddrive with some software I bought called 'allsync' to work remotely while on contract for a big project. There were multiple people working on this project so we had rules in place to ensure we didn't trample on each other (sub-assemblies are very helpfull). I was even able to use it do to remote synchrozation over the remote desktop interface.
Allsync is very sophisticated in terms of options/ rules for synchronization. It shows a thorough preview of what it's going to do before anything happens, and makes backups of any files update or deleted.
It is super cheap, I think it cost me 50 euros or something.
There were a couple times when it's built in backups rescued a few corrupt sw drawings that wouldn't open anymore.
Zander
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John Layne wrote:

Speed WRITING as well, aren't you, John? ;) You meant "Unison" instead of "Availl"
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