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Commentary & Analysis

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

By Pat Taylor,

By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: June 14, 2004

By Pat Taylor, Proactive Technologies June 14, 2004 -- As a young man, I spent many years overseas and developed an interest in Formula 1 racing (it was easier for an American to enjoy than English football or cricket). Fast cars have obvious appeal, but only an engineer can truly appreciate the more subtle, exotic aspects of the sport; vacuum-like down force, traction control systems, and dynamic suspensions (which continually adjust the relative attitude of the vehicle during high-speed turns to maintain the aerodynamic integrity of the chassis). The cars 'speak' to the engineers in the pit lane via real-time telemetry systems that deliver meaningful metrics in microseconds and execute changes just as fast. These cars accelerate from 160 to 220 mph with the same torque that a Ferrari F-40 generates from zero to sixty. But none of this matters if the wrong tires are used for the race. Nothing drives worse than a Ferrari on wooden wheels. I smiled at the thought and laughed as I considered how relevant this metaphor is to printers and publishers; so much money is spent on the chassis (the press) and the engine (workflow and output devices that drive the press) that we often overlook the parts we can't see from the cockpit, as if we've forgotten the fact that good tires are critical to our performance in the race. If we fail to spend 'where the rubber meets the road', the rest of our investments are left sitting in the pit lane. Maximize your ROI in the Pressroom If the tires go flat, then the chassis stops and the engine sits idle. Likewise, if your server 'goes flat' and ceases to serve files from the storage system to the users, the platesetters stop making plates and the presses sit idle. If the network fails, the all-important JDF data in the files on the server is stranded, and the compliant automation devices sit - quietly waiting until the necessary information is delivered. As Grandpa used to say, "We got dollars waitin' on a dime…" In the grand scheme of things, money spent on infrastructure is a fraction of what we invest in our businesses. Traditionally, we invest in our businesses from the pressroom forward. Major money is invested in a press, and substantial sums are spent on a workflow and output devices to feed the press. Then (and only then), if there is anything left in the budget, we might consider buying a $2000 network upgrade or replacing a five-year-old server. It is easier to spend our money on something we can see: a platesetter makes plates that we hang on a press, and its value to our business is tangible. Infrastructure (the servers, storage systems, backup systems and network) remains unseen. We never really think about it until it goes 'flat' and the rest of the machine grinds to a stop. In the grand scheme of things, money spent on infrastructure is a fraction of what we invest in our businesses. You can probably upgrade your entire network (including servers and storage sub-systems) for less than what you spend on a platesetter. But failure to invest in infrastructure could prevent you from realizing the greatest Return On Investment in your pressroom and in prepress. What's New in 'Infrastructure'? Did you know that the [infrastructure] technology exists to make your output device the bottleneck in your workflow? Most of us know about hot-swappable power supplies and hot-swappable disk drives; did you know that hot-swappable servers are a reality now? Did you know that there are backup systems available that provide complete and immediate restoration of production data? Did you know that the [infrastructure] technology exists to make your output device the bottleneck in your workflow? I have a customer that makes almost 2000 plates a day. He has the fastest platesetters on the planet, and an infrastructure in place to keep them busy all day - every day. Ask him if the money spent on infrastructure was well spent, and he'll tell you his race car won't run without wheels.



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