A Lean-Server Approach to Enabling Collaboration Using Advanced Design Methods

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Hale, Mark A.
Craig, James I.
Mavris, Dimitri N.
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The design framework research community utilizes the internet as a facilitator for collaborative activities. The internet provides a platform independent interface and geographic distribution. Information can be easily represented to the end-user using the HyperText Markup Language and can be coded in a reasonable timeframe. A shortcoming of exploiting this technology further is the reliance on existing Web servers to interface with analysis tools and design services. In this case, interactive components require auxiliary processes (called CGI scripts) to be started by the server that are used in an inefficient manner. This model does not provide the user-oriented capability required by standalone applications. Java offers improvements in client-side processing but a server bottleneck still exists. A novel approach using lean-servers is introduced as an alternative method for providing an efficient server-side computing model. In this case, internet requests are brokered directly by the design application by providing a gateway to the application? programming interface using a HyperText Transfer Protocol compliant layer. This allows requests to be managed directly by the application rather than requiring auxiliary services. Step-by-step directions for implementing this approach using a case study of an existing design framework are given in this paper. A prototype system, called the Systems Programming Architecture for Collaborative Engineering, is described as one scenario for implementing the lean-server technology. Usability of the approach is demonstrated through a Design of Experiments example that is representative of modern design methods. This example also demonstrates collaboration because it executes asynchronously with multi-user intervention at any time during the process. In hindsight, the lean-server approach is an enabling technology for collaborative design and focuses future research direction on the establishment of collaborative design practices.
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