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Server Trends & RIPs--New Configurations, Network Solutions

March 1998

When do you think about your server? Probably not until something goes wrong. When the network is running smoothly, jobs are being routed seamlessly from prepress station to prepress station and performance is consistent—

despite the large volume of digital data.

The server may be the central player in a prepress environment, but, for all intents and purposes,

it's an invisible man—until a network crash demands immediate attention.

"Getting the best service from your server inevitably leads to a discussion about performance, because the primary objective in a production environment is to keep the [prep] work moving and the presses running," asserts Larry Halleran, product marketing manager at Harlequin.

With the bottleneck in commercial printing and prepress operations shifting to storage, archival and retrieval of digital assets, servers are meeting growing demands for workflows with enhanced content management power.

Here's what is happening:

• Server configurations are moving from a single host, with multiple processor configurations, to clustered solutions with multiple hosts, such as offered by Windows NT.

"In terms of sophistication, there is a trend toward servers with multiple processing units all connected to the same internal high-speed bus. This feature has been available on PCs and UNIX systems for some time, and it is one of the important new features of Apple's Rhapsody operating system," Halleran reports.

Such configurations, with multiple application clients, can overcome the bottlenecks and single point of failure problems in servers.

• Computing platforms are growing in speed and overall sophistication, while prices have dropped. In terms of speed, shops with DEC Alpha platforms running at 500+ MHz are becoming commonplace, and 600 and 700 MHz machines are expected soon.

• An all-digital workflow approach with the addition of trapping, imposition and proofing puts more load on the central server—the logical place to do all the processor-intensive tasks.

Scott Seebass, CEO at Xinet, reveals that the development and marketing of faster processors and enhancements to networking will empower the server to handle many tasks simultaneously, without performance degradation.

"The need for scalable speed and reliability will drive even more of the server market to UNIX, which is the only operating system that can currently take full advantage of multi-processor architectures—and can scale from a small system to a system suitable for the largest shop," he contends.

• Networks are becoming ever more powerful, with Gigabit Ethernet now available as well as a fibre channel.

"There is little limitation to dataflow for a properly designed and implemented network," reports John Werth, director of development, at Shira Computers.

•More intranet applications are running on prepress and printing servers, linking in electronic requisition; customer information; and giving clients access to data, such as low resolution images, billing data and job status.

At Silicon Graphics (SGI) this trend is considerable, contests Wayne Arvidson Jr., industry manager for printing and publishing.

"The focus on intranet uses has been a big turning point for us; we have a whole suite of intranet applications," Arvidson reports "Capability to do intranet and Internet connections are pushing the server to perform beyond all previous performance levels." SGI, he continues, sees three directions for the server:

  • driving CTP devices;

  • supporting the move for digital asset management and serving as the tool to support distribute-then-print models; and

  • working with digital file delivery products.

Sharing A Platform
There are great advantages to having the server and the RIP on the same platform. Typically the server is an OPI or a print server that prepares jobs for the next step in the process, which is RIPing. Any functions such as trapping, imposition and color management that can be handled automatically will improve efficiency.

Handling those functions in the RIP will make the process even more efficient. When the server and RIP reside on the same system, data transfer can take place over the computer system's internal bus rather than through I/O ports and network links.

What of multiple processors? Are there advantages to having multiple processors on the same platform? "On the face of it, multiple processors on the same system enable parallel processing of multiple jobs, which increases efficiency," Halleran explains.

An even more powerful approach for demanding applications such as CTP and direct-to-press is symmetrical multiprocessing (SMP), which Harlequin has offered since 1992.

SMP allows multiple processors to operate on a single complex rush job, for example, to produce it on time. It also provides the flexibility to separate RIPing into interpretation and rendering. All high-performance platforms now offer multiple processors and a few RIPs provide the ability to take advantage of SMP.

"Many shops are running with multiple RIPs. These RIPs can be on the same platform, but they are typically distributed among different servers driving different output devices," he adds. "An advantage of this approach is that different RIPs can be employed which offer specialized functionality, such as driving a platesetter vs. a color printer or proofer."

For today, what is the outlook for hardware RIPs vs. software RIPs?

"Increasingly powerful computers coupled with the new breed of reconfigurable image processors will make it possible to take full advantage of software RIP flexibility," Halleran speculates. "We will see fewer hardware RIPs being used, except for dedicated applications and low-end functions."

—Marie Ranoia Alonso

RIP Round Table: ROOM to Grow

Whether the term used is Rip Once, Output Many (ROOM) or Rip Once, Plot Many (ROPM) or any variation thereof, the intent is the same, RIP Once—and make it count!

Glenn Fisher, sales support manager at Screen (USA), on where the Rip Once, Plot Many concept needs to grow.

We view ROPM as a hardware function that should be handled by a screening box which sits in front of the proofer, imagesetter or platesetter on the network. By using this technology, Screen has developed the ability to RIP a file to disk, and then output the exact same digital data to either a proofer, imagesetter or platesetter, applying dot gain curves and screening characteristics.

Ray Cassino, product manager for CTP at Heidelberg Prepress, on Delta activities.

ROOM is alive and well; we have it running here in demo studios in Atlanta. Our first installation, Progress Printing of Lynchburg, VA, is completed and that customer has doubled its output. We have more ROOM installs in the works; the floodgates are opening for ROOM.

Using Delta technology, we RIP a PostScript file once, send the data to the Delta list, then use the Delta list as an output vehicle, sending the data for a job through trapping, imposition, platemaking, contract proofing, even to CIP3 output—all from the one RIP.

Peter Gorgone, director of marketing at Rampage Systems, on why RIP Once, Plot Many proofing is not a concept, but a deliverable product.

Whether you call it ROOM or ROPM, I can report that Rampage has hundreds of customers who are trapping and RIPing files at a high resolution for an imagesetter or platesetter, saving those files in an unscreened format and proofing them without reRIPing on virtually any device they choose.

RIPing once at a high resolution means more than a reliable proof: it means a better proof, one that renders traps and sharpens the linework and text. Best of all, nothing is hardwired to specific print drivers or manufacturers. It's open, it works and it's here.

Francis Lamy, founder and chief technology officer at DALiM, on customers' views of the ROPM concept.

Customers are looking to RIP Once, Plot Many times. Most vendors are busily developing automated workflow solutions to work with all aspects of the workflow at all steps, residing on a centralized server.

DALiM is developing a client server output system where the rasterizing is done on the server, allowing the output manager to set the particular screening and calibration parameters at the output device, without re-RIPing the files each time those parameters need to change.

Allen Dunn, senior product development manager, Electronic Imaging, Fuji Photo Film U.S.A., on where ROOM needs to be.

RIP Once, Plot Many is a platform for many companies to be long on promises yet short on delivery. The promise of an all-encompassing workflow is not new, it's been around since the days of CEP systems. The challenge is to provide the solution on today's standard hardware platforms at a price people are willing to pay.

Phil Crosby, product manager, Gerber Systems, on a new name for ROOM.

What you really can have is Interpret Once, Render Many (IORM).

After the render to the highest desired resolution, this render file is sub-sampled to create a lower resolution file that can be sent to a lower resolution device. Another method would be to render files of varying resolutions. These files are then screened or not screened, in the case of a continuous tone printer, for output.

Server technology, such as that offered by server staple Silicon Graphics (SGI) in its array of related offerings, including Octane and O2, is advancing to manage the increased volumes of digital content at commercial printing sites, where the server is the central prepress player.

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