Drupa preview: Cloud computing & SAAS
By Simon Nias Friday, 13 April 2012
Three weeks to go and still we're guessing what sort of Drupa it will be. Will it be another Inkjet Drupa or the B2 Digital Drupa? How about the Nano Drupa? Allow me to throw yet another possibility into the mix: Cloud Drupa.
Over the past 18 months, ‘cloud’ and SAAS (software as a service) have become popular additions to the print lexicon, although they are sometimes used incorrectly. SAAS is a software application that is only paid for as you use it – effectively a service charge – and while any software that is hosted in the cloud is almost invariably available as SAAS, the reverse is not equally true, as SAAS applications could just as well be installed on your company server as accessed via the cloud.
Semantics aside, there are many advantages to SAAS and cloud-based systems for both pre-media software developers and their clients – the printers. First and foremost, from a client perspective, is the access to high-end products on pay-as-you-go models and the ability to minimise costs outside peak demand periods. "Virtualisation makes its easier to manage the peaks and troughs and to extend performance as your needs and demands grow," says Alan Dixon, managing director of pre-media software distributor and integrator Workflowz.
"The shift toward the cloud is a natural progression for pre-media, workflow and approval cycles, or any part of the print chain that is already digital," adds Smithers Pira consultant Sean Smyth. "That may be bad news for the physical proof, but it will help to take direct cost and time out of the design and approval stages."
Cloud-based applications are already gaining momentum in the print industry in areas such as web-to-print (W2P), where a host of companies will be showing cloud-based tools at Drupa, and document creation, where Chili Publish is gaining significant traction with its ‘InDesign-in-the-cloud-esque’ document editing tool. In addition to the end-user benefits, vendors get access to all customer data, allowing them to expedite design and regression testing, and analytics such as user behaviour within the application, which makes it easier to identify areas worthy of improvement.
"I think we’ll see quite a trend towards cloud-based applications at Drupa, because it makes the technology available at a low cost," says Andy Cook, managing director of FFEI, which will launch its first cloud-based SAAS application at the trade show. "Paying for usage is much more cost-effective and customers have begun to accept cloud-based tools as a means of outsourcing their data management."
FFEI’s upcoming product launch, RealPro Colour Cloud, will be one of several cloud-based colour management tools on show at Drupa, together with the likes of Pantone-Live, which is aimed specifically at packaging production. RealPro Colour Cloud provides profiling tools for workflow users wishing to control colour centrally across a wide range of devices. According to Nick Gilmore, software business manager at FFEI, SAAS tools are ideally suited to the increasingly important field of colour management. "The nature of colour and printing is complex and requires professional services, but end-users can benefit and reduce costs by taking on day-to-day tasks without having to make a huge investment," he says. "SAAS fits for infrequently used products such as device link profiling, where paying per use makes a lot of sense. SAAS allows you to pay for your software while it’s earning you income."
However, while cloud-hosted, pay-as-you-go software is perfect for some applications, it is not a cure-all for the print industry. "The mere fact that a product, service or technology is available via the cloud doesn’t necessarily mean it is a perfect solution," says Workflowz’ Dixon. "The requirements of the solution have to be addressed and evaluated. Distributive processing has huge advantages when working with high volumes of data, but you have to remember that the data is in a shared environment often as part of a multi-tenant solution. So you need to consider how this will affect your data compliance and conformity to current legislation.
"What happens if your internet connection goes down? Connections are becoming more reliable and just like any other business critical process you should consider redundancy and have a backup provider. It’s ultimately about functionality, reliability and performance, not just about having a cloud solution per se."
Paul Sherfield of the Missing Horse Consultancy is also unconvinced by the cloud for certain applications. "Many of my clients are wary of over-dependence on the internet for business-critical operational software and workflows," he says. "There are also the security issues, which IT departments in larger organisations will be very careful about."
Print Research International managing director John Charnock agrees: "For content management, CRM and campaign management it all makes sense to have a cloud-based service so that it is accessible from anywhere and customers are not dependent on the resources in the plant for continuity of service. But it gets a bit more difficult when you are applying cloud to MIS and workflow. These ‘mission critical’ services are more challenging to justify."
Cloud-based and SAAS products are likely to attract significant attention at Drupa. In pre-media terms, the tools that are likely to gain the most traction will be those that provide collaborative functionality, are required to migrate across employees or store centralised data – such as design, web-to-print, proofing and artwork submission.
"Printers use Drupa for ideas and so any service that is cheap to deploy and easy to implement will be of great interest at the show," says Charnock. "The challenge for the show is that there will be so many solutions out there. RealPro Colour Cloud from FFEI looks like it will be very useful to anyone interested in colour and I will be looking at how EFI and Hiflex are using the cloud for MIS, especially for data collection."
However, while there is certainly a buzz about SAAS and the cloud in pre-media circles, only time will tell whether that translates into a buzz among the printers packing the halls at Drupa next month.
"I don’t think it will be a Cloud Drupa in the same way that it was an Inkjet Drupa because not many printers really understand what the cloud means for them," says industry analyst Andy Tribute. "I think Drupa will be the time when potential customers see the rationale for going into the cloud, but not many will make the trip yet."
Those that do make the trip will no doubt have been swayed by the cost and other benefits associated with a web-hosted, pay-as-you-go solution and with the growing number of these applications in the pre-media realm, it’s a safe bet that some will find success in Düsseldorf. However, while things like a simple pay-per-play route to ISO 12647-2 conformance may sound like a dream come true, Smyth has a parting warning on the potential downside of cloud-based automation. "The benefit for printers is they don’t have to buy and maintain any hardware, and the updates should be easier to manage, while only paying for what they use should also help," says Smyth. "But an unintended consequence of standardising digital pre-press and colour quality is that there may be more commoditisation of many print products as more of the work is automated through the cloud."
Take a look at PrintWeek's pre-media, MIS, workflow and W2P stand-by-stand here
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