This is a guide for beginners on how to use 'synchronisation' on Managed Windows XP PCs and other PCs.
- Managed XP PC - a Windows XP PC managed by ISS. ISS has modified Windows XP to make a more secure and convenient working environment in Lancaster University.
- Synchronise - a 'smart' copy. Two folders are compared and made identical by copying the newer files from each folder to the other folder.
- H: Drive - folder on 'central-files' containing a user's personal data.
- Data files - any file created by a program e.g. Word documents, Excel spreadsheets.
When a user saves a document on a Managed Windows XP PC, it written simultaneously on to 'H: Drive' (which is a network drive) and on to a 'shadow' area on the local PC's C: drive.
The 'shadow' area is only used when the network fails and 'H: Drive' is unavailable. The users documents on 'H: Drive' are backed-up to tape nightly to ensure that the documents are secure.
Keeping data files on H: Drive means that when a Managed XP PC has a 'disk crash' or other serious failure, it can be replaced quickly without worrying about possible loss of data, because the is kept on the H: Drive.
Most of the time users' documents will be saved on to both the H: drive and the 'shadow' area automatically and the documents will be identical. But when the network fails this happens:
- user working on word file called fire-regs.doc.
- the network fails.
- user saves file - because the network has failed, fire-regs.doc is only saved on the 'shadow. area on C: Drive.
- the network returns.
- the fire-regs.doc is on C: drive shadow, but not on the H: drive. If is nothing is done - fire-regs.doc will not be backed-up over night.
- the user either clicks on the bubble prompt, or logs-off - the 'synchronisation' process starts and copies fire-regs.doc from C: Drive shadow area to H: drive (and also copies any other file changed while the network was down).
- the fire-regs.doc is backed up from H: drive to tape overnight.
Who Uses Synchronisation
Synchronisation is used by the following groups:
- 'Managed XP PC' synchronise their 'My Documents', 'Desktop' and 'IE Favourites' to their H: Drive.
- various people will have synchronised various folders to various places as they see fit.
ISS 'PC Lab', 'lecture theatres' and 'seminar room' PCs do not synchronise.
More About Synchronisation
When you log-on and log-off, XP checks that files in 'My Documents' on H: Drive and the shadow area on C: Drive are identical. If they are not identical, changed files are copied over to make the areas identical.
Your 'Desktop' (your icons & wallpaper) and your Internet Explorer 'Favourites' are also kept on H: Drive and synchronised.
The Implications of Synchronisation
Having your files synchronised has benefits in various situations. Four scenarios are described in which synchronisation helps are described below:
Scenario 1 - H: Drive Not Available
If the H: Drive fails, or the network fails, or your PC is unplugged from the network, you will be unable to access the H: Drive directly and you will see a bubble message (see right). Normally you would expect not to be able to access anything on H: drive, but because your files are synchronised you will be able to:
- carry on working on your files as though nothing had happened. Your files will appear to be on H: Drive, but you will actually be working on the 'shadow' area on C: Drive.
When access the H: Drive returns:
- new files on the 'shadow' area on C: drive will be copied to your H: Drive.
Scenario 2 - User Working in More than One Place
Some people work in more than one place, for example:
- some people work for more than one department and have two offices.
- you may log-on on a colleagues PC while your own PC is unavailable.
- you use a lecture theatre or seminar room PC.
In these cases:
when you log on to the 'second PC', your H: Drive will be copied down to a new 'shadow area' in your profile area on your colleague's (or 'Teaching Space') Managed XP PC C: Drive.
- you will be able continue using your desktop and H: Drive files just as though you are on your own PC.
- when you log-off from the second PC the files in the 'shadow' area on the C: Drive will remain except:
- on Teaching Space PCs (Lecture Theatres and Seminar Rooms) the 'shadow are will be deleted when you log-off.
- when you go back to your own PC the changed files will be copied to your 'own shadow' area own C: Drive when you log-on.
Scenario 3 - User Roams With a Laptop
Mobile laptop users will be able to:
- unplug the laptop from the network.
- take their laptop away e.g. to home.
- work on H: Drive files which will be cached in the shadow area.
- the changed files in the 'shadow' area will be 'synchronised' onto the H: Drive.
When the laptop is plugged back into the network again by the user:
Special Cases of Scenario 3
Users can access their H: Drive from several places, potentially this could cause problems, but the system can cope with these special situations. What follows are two case studies.
A 'roaming laptop' user:
- works on their laptop H: Drive files in shadow area while unplugged from the network...
- and then works from somewhere else e.g. a colleagues PC on their H: Drive.
- when the laptop is plugged back into the network...
- the changed files on the shadow area will be copied up to H: Drive.
- and the changed files on H: Drive will be copied down onto the shadow area on the laptop.
A 'roaming laptop' user:
- works on a given file, for example 'fire-regs.htm' on the laptop while unplugged.
- and then (without synchronising) they work on the same file e.g. 'fire-regs.doc', from another managed PC.
- When the laptop is plugged in and the user logs-on:
- the synchronisation process will start and detect the two versions of 'fire-regs.doc'.
- the system will warn you that 'fire-regs.doc' has been altered twice and it will offer you the chance to keep both copies.
- you should then open both copies and make one file out of the two.
At this point there will be two versions of 'fire-regs.doc' with different updates, one on the laptop's C: Drive shadow area and one on the H: Drive.
As well as the above example, the file conflict problem can happen when you save a file while the network is actually failing. In this case the copy of the file saved to the hard drive will be unaffected.
In the following illustration the file that has conflict problems is called 'webmail.htm' and 'cpadmb' is added to its name because 'cpadmb' is my username.
Comparing Two Versions of the Same Document
When you get a file conflict you should examine both files to see which is the most complete (using the program that you used to create the file).
Word allows you to compare two versions of the same document and highlights differences. This is what you do:
- start Word and open one of the two versions of the document e.g. Fire-regs.doc.
- click 'Tools' menu then 'Compare and Merge Documents' option - see dialog.
- locate and click on the other version of the document e.g. Fire-regs (username v1).doc.
- click on the 'Compare' button - see document open with 'marks' showing the differences.
- use the buttons on the 'Reviewing' toolbar to accept or reject changes.
- save the resulting 'unified document' and delete the second version.
Note - other programs e.g. Excel, do not have file compare and merge facilities and so you will have to visually compare and think carefully.
Scenario 4 - XP Managed PC User Accesses H: Drive From a Non Synchronised PC
A Managed XP PC user accesses their H: Drive from a non-managed (non-synchronised) PC - what will happen? The following happen:
- 'Jo' has to access their H: drive from a colleague's PC, he changes a file.
- Jo logs off his colleague's PC and logs back on to his own (managed) PC.
- a synchronisation check takes place and the changed file is copied to the shadow area on his C: drive.
Everything is then as 'normal' - the changed file is on H: drive and the C: drive shadow and nothing remains on the colleague's PC except perhaps a temporary file which will disappear eventually.
Microsoft Access databases (.MDB) and Microsoft Outlook Personal & Archive (.PST) files cannot be stored on H: Drive. If they are stored on H: Drives, errors will occur during the synchronisation process. In some circumstances, the errors caused by the presence of Access databases or Outlook Personal & Archive will stop the synchronisation process.
Tips For Users That Use More Than One PC
Users who work on several PCs may notice that the synchronisation process takes a long time at log-on and at log-out. Users who change machine or rarely log-out should set-up 'Synchronise on Idle'. In periods of inactivity, your PC will start 'synchronising' your changed files on H: drive back to the local C: drive.
To configure your PC to synchronise on 'idle' do the following:
- click 'Start' then 'All Programs' then 'Accessories' then 'Synchronize' option.
- click on the 'Setup' button - wait for a minute - see dialog.
- click on the 'On Idle' tab ...
- select all the options including the 'Synchronize the selected items while my computer is idle' option.
- click on the 'Advanced' button - see Idle settings dialog.
- under 'Automatically synchronize the specified items after my computer has been idle for:' the delay time is set to 15mins.
- if you need to - change the number of minutes to a time that suits you - WARNING do NOT set this to a very short time.
- click OK, then OK, then click on the 'Close' button.
Synchronising on idle increases your security and reduces the time it takes to close your PC down.
ISS Advice To Users of Synchronised Folders
Synchronising your folders increases your data but ISS recommends that you do the following to optimise the synchronisation process:
- configure your system to 'synchronise on idle' - synchronising on idle will increase the security of your data and speed-up your log-on and log-off processes.
- log-off and log-on at least once a day - logging off and on increases your data security (even if you are synchronising on idle).
Anybody can synchronise any network folder onto their own PC by:
- right click on a network folder.
- click on 'Make available offline' option.
Storing Data On H:\(username's) Documents
Data on H:\(username's) Documents - to ensure that synchronisation occurs and that you can remain working during network outages, importantant to keep your files and documents under H:\(username's) Documents.
Backing Up Data
It is important to keep copies of data because sometimes hard disks fail. ISS backs up files on the 'H: Drive' and on the 'Depts' network folders. It is therefore a good idea to store your data on the H: drive and Depts network folders because storing your data on those network folders ensures your data will be backed-up. The synchronisation process ensures that, in the event of a network failure, you still have access to your network drives.