By Pat Taylor, Proactive Technologies One of the more unique characteristics of our business is that fewer people use more digital storage than just about any other industry in the world. September 27, 2004 -- Do you remember last month's article about Harley and the wall of CDs he used for archiving jobs? Well, my old friend Andy remembers; he jumped on me like a chicken on a June bug about it while on the sidelines at the junior high football game last night. "You said you put all of Harley's CDs into one of them Digital Asset Management systems and he don't ever have to look for files anymore. My people spend way too much time looking for files, but those DAM systems are complicated and they cost too much. Got any options?" "When was the last time you priced one out, Andy?" I asked. "Back during the last big upgrade; that Y2K thing. Things have been pretty tight for the last couple years, but I'm feelin' optimistic and I need to plan for growth." Relying on my best poker face, I struggled to hide my surprise as I stared out on the field. Nowadays, there are not many aspects of the commercial printing industry that demand a plan for growth. Headcount? Not likely… Capacity? I think not; more companies have reduced their number of shifts than have added them. Profits? Not according to the GATF economic reports. However, there is one area of unrestrained growth in the printing and publishing industry: Storage. Can you remember when 20 megabytes was a lot of space, and files were measured in kilobytes? Now we are testing stand-alone disk drives with capacities of 300 gigabytes, and we're testing them because our customers need them. Printers can create composite files larger than a gigabyte, and file sizes of several hundred megas are considered "normal". It is one of the more unique characteristics of our business: fewer people using more digital storage than just about any other industry in the world. Storage will continue to grow because printers make new files every day, and the new files are added to the stockpile of job and image data currently housed in our data storage systems (which already bulge like a city girl's suitcase). How many files do you make each week, and how do you keep track of them? As the numbers of files grow from hundreds to thousands to tens-of-thousands, printers will need to find new ways to manage them. We need faster ways to search through the ever-growing image warehouse, and better ways of protecting this business-critical data. Think like a librarian Since your storage system is a virtual library, you might consider managing your files like a library manages books. In the mid-90s, programmers began to work on products to meet these new demands. The end result was a flood of software products advertised as Digital Asset Management systems, or Media Asset Management systems, or Digital Media Asset Management Systems. The long-winded titles are misleading; what we are actually working toward is better File Management. The business problem is easily defined; how do we manage an ever-growing library of job and image files without substantially increasing staff or associated costs? (Isn't it neat how a question answers itself when asked properly?) Since your storage system is a virtual library, you might consider managing your files like a library manages books. The comparison is meaningful. A library is constantly adding new titles while retaining the old ones, except for discarding some duplicate or totally outdated material. Libraries catalog their assets using a unique filing system that allows them to find any particular book by knowing any one of a number of identifying characteristics; title, author, subject, date of publication, et cetera. Likewise, many of the "off-the-shelf" DAM/MAM/DMAM systems provide the same functionality; you can search for jobs or images in as many ways as you can define the data. The big difference is that real libraries have a universal system for cataloging books. Your DAM library will need its own methodology for cataloging (since the Dewey Decimal System probably will not work for you) and, unfortunately, will require a cybrarian to maintain the consistency and integrity of the data used to catalog the files. The cybrarian (a digital librarian) is the individual responsible for cataloging the job or image data into the "library". It is an important job; without good metadata (the data about the data), the catalog and search functionality of any DAM system would be severely compromised. The downside is obvious, and Andy was quick to point this out to me. Many of the newer DAM systems gather metadata from the files and catalog them without having to manually enter the job or image information. "Are you tellin' me that -- in order for this system to work right -- I have to hire a cybrarian to keypunch information into every data field for every image I got on my RAID?" growled Andy. "It's gonna cost me 50 grand for a system that'll need a full-time employee to manage? I ain't no Einstein, but that seems like a step in the wrong direction to me." Fortunately, many of the newer DAM systems gather metadata from the files and catalog them without having to manually enter the job or image information. You simply point the system at the data volumes you want included in your library and, in a very short time, you will have cataloged every job and image file in your storage system. Since the system does the cataloging itself (using the metadata contained within each file), there is no need for a cybrarian. This provides the solution to our business problem: any user (including customers, if you desire) can quickly search for and retrieve any job residing on your storage system in seconds. When new jobs or images are saved to the storage device, they are automatically cataloged and added to the database. Good file management saves time, money and can actually bring you closer to your customers. Printers make and save too many files to ignore the benefits of a good File Management system. You can call it DAM, MAM or DMAM -- give it a name. But good file management saves time, money and can actually bring you closer to your customers. Have another look; things have changed since Y2K.