Become the Expert
Computer Basics - Lesson 3
Networks and Backups

Installing the Theatre Inventory Database (or any of the other Inventory Databases) on a network or shared drive (where multiple users share the same drive/directory) allows multiple users to use the database at the same time.  Having multiple people use the database at the same time is a huge time saver and is very advantageous for the organization.  This lesson will go over what kind of networks are out there so you can help make good decisions on what is best for your organization.

Sharing a database is rather complex.  It cannot be shared in Dropbox or other on-line file services.  It cannot be setup as a web application without a lot of additional software and costs.  

Customers often ask if they can put a copy of the database on 2 separate computers.  While this is possible it means that there are 2 separate data sets.  If a user on Computer 1 adds a new record it will be only on Computer 1.  Users of Computer 2 will not see it.  Anything that is done on Computer 2 (adding, editing or deleting a record) will not be seen on Computer 1.  It is better to have a single copy of the database on a shared drive so everyone is using the one and only copy of the database.

Here are 3 ways to share a database:

  • Local Area Network (LAN) - a Server with workstations

  • NAS ( Network Accessible Storage) External Hard Drive connected to the Wireless Network in office (See Resource Guide on NAS Drives

  • Windows HomeGroup - a way for computers on the wireless network in the office  to access files on each other's computers.

Here is a brief list of Pros and Cons to each type of shared drive.

Local Area Networks (LAN)

A Local Area Network has at its core a Server.  A server is similar to a PC in that it has a CPU, memory and one or more hardisks.   It has a different operating system designed for networks and a much more powerful CPU and much larger capacity hard disks.  It is designed to manage millions of files, many types of programs for all the users in the organization.  It is much more complex to set up and maintain and requires trained IT Staff to manage it.   

Many costume shops in schools, universities and theatres have a network already set up.  It may be managed by a team of IT professionals on staff or from an outside company that is on contract to do the setup and maintenance.   

The server is the central hub of the system where all user information and shared files are stored.  The workstations connecto the server through a wired or wireless network.  Shared resources like printers can be on the network as well so everyone can use one printer.

The advantages of having the Theatre Inventory Database installed on a server are:

  1. Multiple people at multiple workstations can access the database at the same time to add/edit/delete records, print reports, do searches, etc.

  2. A workstation can be set up to be used to allow access to the database from a remote location.  

  3. All photos taken by many different people can be stored in a central place so all users can see  / print them.

  4. The database and photos can be backed up automatically by the network.  If the database is lost or damaged one day it can be restored fairly easily from the network backup from the day before.

The disadvantages of having the Theatre Inventory Database installed on a server are:

  1. Networks must be maintained by trained IT Staff - not the users.  If you request to have a drive set up for the database you will have to wait for the IT Staff to approve the set-up and software installation request and then wait for the assigned technician to do it.

  2. A specific drive should be set up to hold the database and photos.  Everyone who needs to use the database will need to be granted permission to access the drive.  These permissions are set up by the IT Staff.  Once the permissions are granted the users can share the drive.

  3. If your school/theatre doesn't have a network already it is very expensive to set one up.  There are hardware, software and staff costs.

NAS External Hard Drive on Wireless network

Another way to create a shared drive is to purchase an NAS (Network Accessible Storage) External Hard Disk with an Ethernet connection.  An Ethernet connection is a special jack on the back of the hard drive that connects the drive to an empty port on the back of your wireless router.  It does not connect directly to any of the workstations.  Take a look at the Resource Guide for NAS drives.

NAS Drives

Once plugged in you will see it (in Windows Explorer) on all your computers that are part of the wireless network.  You can set up a Public folder and grant all users on the network access to the drive.

Once the network drive is installed and the setting finished you can load the database and photos to the shared drive.  All users can create a shortcut on their desktop to the database on the new drive.

There are many external drives available to purchase.  Look for the "WD My Cloud Personal Network Attached Storage".  It is available in 3 TB, 4 TB and other sizes.

Here is video review on setting up a drive like this:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=078xdmH1DiM&index=4&list=PLCZHp4d1HnIux8V0yIZTUNT8nW8htpOVF . This video does show it connected to a Mac but it works the same for a PC.

The External Hard Disk has a USB port that can be connected to another hard disk or USB stick as a backup.  Remember this is just a hard disk and over time can fail so a backup is essential.

One thing to note is that the first time the database is opened in a day - it might be a bit slow.  That is because the hards disk has to power up to the normal spin speed.  Once it is up to speed you will not notice any delays.

If your PC is a long way away from the wireless network hub you might consider adding a WiFi repeater or extender.  See this link to get more info:  https://www.repeaterstore.com/pages/wifi-booster-repeater-extender-differences  .  There are many devices out there but this article may help give you an idea of what to look for.  Another thing to consider is to place the Theatre Inventory Database 99.9.accdr (the database front end) on each workstation and the DATAONLY file (Theatre Inventory Database DATAONLY.accdb) on the network drive.  This may speed up the performance of the database considerably.

The advantages of having the Theatre Inventory Database installed on an external network drive are:

  1. Inexpensive (< $200) way to share your database with multiple users

  2. Fast response time when using the database

  3. Easy to set up by a staff person - the IT Dept does not have to do the setup

The disadvantages of having the Theatre Inventory Database installed on an external network drive are:

  1. You will need to purchase the drive.  If you don't have a wireless network set up - you would need to purchase and install that as well.

  2. Need to set up the backup functions (they aren't automatic).  You may need to purchase a high quality USB stick or standard external drive to do the backups.

  3. The Hard disk can fail or be stolen so it is good to have a backup in place.

HomeGroup on Windows 10

If you have a wireless (or wired) network in place that connects all your PC's you can set up a HomeGroup that will allow you to share files.  It is not an ideal setup to share a database.  Here is a webpage that can explain it better than I can:

http://www.windowscentral.com/how-setup-and-manage-windows-10-homegroup-local-network

The advantages of having the Theatre Inventory Database installed on a HomeGroup are:

  1. No additional costs (if you have wireless network already installed)

The disadvantages of having the Theatre Inventory Database installed on a HomeGroup are:

  1. Requires a lot of setup for each PC

  2. Slow response time while using the database

  3. No automatic backup.  Will need to purchase an external hard drive to act as a backup.

  4. All PC's must be running the same version of Windows.

Network Installation Notes:

Once you decide on a network - there are several other steps to get your database installed and ready.   Check out this  Resource Guide to help you will other advanced installation / network issues.  If you are planning to put the Theatre Inventory Database on a Local Area Network be sure to contact the IT Staff in plenty of time before you need it installed.  They are in charge of the network and do all the setup and licensing that is needed to make it all work.

1)  On the network you need a 'Shared' drive to hold the databases, photos, icons, etc.  When a drive is set up on a network there are many settings to make it 'shared'.  The 'sharing' allows multiple people to work in that folder.  See you IT Staff about setting up a "Shared drive".

2)  Each workstation must have MS Access installed on it.  It can be the full version of MS Access or the Runtime version.  Each workstation must have the same version of MS Access.  You can't have Access 2010 and 2016 sharing the same database.

3)  Once MS Access is installed on each workstation you need to install the dbPIX30.exe file.  This file takes care of the images in the forms and reports.  It came with the Theatre Inventory Database.  Just copy the file to each workstation and 'run' it by double-clicking the file name.  Be sure to install dbPix after you install MS Access.

4)  The Theatre Inventory Database forms and reports are designed to link to the DATAONLY file on the C: drive.  When  you install the database on a shared drive rather than the default (C:\Costume Inventory Resources\Theatre Inventory Database) you will need to re-link the database application (Theatre Inventory Database 99-99.accdr) to the data tables (Theatre Inventory Database DATAONLY.accdb).  Download this Resource Guide to help you do that.  It is very easy to do.

5)  Be sure to set up folders for the photos in the shared drive.  Copy all photos to these folders.  Within the Theatre Inventory Database - go to the Utilities Menu and select "Set up Folders for Photos".  Enter the drive/folder names for the photos.

Networks & Advanced Installation 

Re-Link Database Tables

Making Backups

Computers are not perfect and not built to last 100 years.  One part or another will eventually fail.  If the Hard Disk fails you could lose all your data and photos.  Computers are still stolen from offices, homes, and cars.   This could be a huge loss as you will have probably spent hundreds of hours and entered thousands of records.  The only way to prevent the loss of all your work is to make backup copies of the data and the photos.  Once a loss is discovered the data can be restored to your computer (or a new one) in only a few minutes.

When you make a backup of your database files and photos you need to think about where that backup is stored.  If the backup is on the same computer as your database - then losing computer also loses your backup.  If the database is backed on a USB Stick or an external drive - then you might be OK as long as the USB Stick isn't in the computer or the External drive is not attached to the computer when it is lost.  Backing up your data to a Cloud service makes a copy of the files can keeps them out of harms way.

Every year several parts of the USA have experienced severe weather conditions with massive rains, floods, tornadoes and fires.  Many people have no time to make backups and move their equipment to a safe place.  If your data is backed up to a cloud service - there would be no reason to worry about your data - only the rest of your theatre/school/home.

There are several types of backups for your data and photos. 

In the 'Theatre Inventory Database' Utilities Menu  there is a function for making a backup of the 'Theatre Inventory Database DATAONLY.accdb' file.  The DATAONLY file holds the data tables.  (The 'Theatre Inventory Database 9.99 (version #).accdb' file holds the forms, reports and program code.  That file doesn't need regular backups as you can always get a copy from Costume Inventory Resources for free.)

The Backup feature is a manual backup - so you have to go to the Menu, select it and tell the program to make the backup.  There are not automatic features built in.  The program will backup the DATAONLY file to the Backup folder on the PC, a USB Stick or an External Drive - you just give it the 'address' for the destination.

The Theatre Inventory Database does not make a backup of the photos.  This you must do yourself or sign up for a backup services to do it for you.

How often should you backup your data???

You should backup the data every day or a minimum of once per week.  If you use the database every day to add / edit costumes/props/patterns/wigs - or - you do checkout /check-in for costumes, etc - then your backup should be done every day.  Just think about how much you would lose if you didn't do a backup for a month or two and then your laptop was stolen or damaged.  A daily backup takes only a few minutes of your time - but restoring your database from a current backup file can save you hundreds of hours of work.

What have you added to your binder?

  • Resource Guide - Relink Tables

  • Resource Guide - Network and Advanced Installation Notes

  • Resource Guide - NAS Drives

What’s next ?

    Computer Basics - Lesson 4 : Photos - taking, resizing and storing  

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