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DesignstorSync – The unsung hero

By January 29, 2020 February 1st, 2020 No Comments

DesignstorSync is, in many ways, an unsung hero of the office. It is an understated piece of software that whirrs away quietly in the background, improving everyone’s lives. If you asked anyone at Designstor, they would not even know it exists, but if it disappeared, things that seemingly magically always worked would start breaking.

What does it do?

DesignstorSync is an internal piece of software that operates as a background Windows Service.

It actually has a really simple function of copying files from our network to appropriate places on local machines. Every 30 minutes it will check for changes in a centralised (YAML ish) config file.

This data file contains everything from: plugins, software, settings, LUT’s, Macros and more! It is especially useful for distributing in-house Fusion and 3DS Max plugins to everyone’s machines. When an artist needs a tool, it is just kind of ‘there’.

The geeky stuff

There are some really meaty bits to DesignstorSync. It supports copying to individual user directories, copy modes, delete modes, dependency directories and so much more. It was the first time we deployed a Windows Service using a MSI.  Not to mention, it can traverse the minefield that is Windows directory permissions.

 

Why bother?

Whenever we are deciding to write a piece of software or a tool, one of the biggest questions we ask is: “Is it worth the time?” This tool initially seems like it is not worth writing. Who cares about taking 30 seconds to copy a file? There is more to it than that though.

 

Before DesignstorSync existed, copying would be done through scripts using our render farm manager, Deadline. Other times, instructions would be sent as an email to individual artists. This would inevitably lead to errors. Time would be wasted correcting problems on the farm or having artists missing plugins that they needed. When updates needed to happen, this would all start again. When considering the number of files throughout a year that need copying or updating and the compound inconvenience caused to individuals, it becomes apparent it is in fact worth doing.

 

The unsung hero

The funny thing about deploying DesignstorSync is that nobody really noticed. It’s surprising because there were noticeable benefits: people did not need to be bothered as much, errors went down and plugins and tools were there as needed. So why wouldn’t people be singing its praises? It is because the software was working so well that it was not noticed. It is like the squeaky wheel that finally got greased: unless the wheel starts making an annoying noise again, how would we know there is a problem that even needs fixing?

 

In many ways this is a big victory. Tools that perform a very encapsulated function tend to work best and stand the test of time. I am hoping that we make many other pieces of software like DesignstorSync and we don’t forget about all the other little parts of our pipeline quietly doing a task in the background that make our lives better.