“We look for applications to be integrated into a solution, not the other way around,” says Deresinski, who has spent most of his 13 years in the printing industry working with computers and networking systems among web, sheetfed, and digital houses. “We can’t say, ‘I’ve got Linux–that’s what I want on my prepress network,’ unless we have programmers out there to write the programs for us.”
A key component to Lake County Press’s configuration is built-in redundancy, which eliminates the risk of downtime anywhere in the plant “Everything from our servers to our network switches is redundant; so if one part goes down, another picks up,” Deresinski says. “We have failover firewalls, mirrored disks, and backups upon backups of job data and operating systems on both the business and prepress sides.”
WHAT’S IN PLACE
As a technical specialist for the Senatobia, Miss.-based division of R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company, John Mark Owston is a firm believer that “no one operating system will outperform another,” and that choosing the right configuration is dependent on the firm’s workflow that already is in place.
“All of the newer things we’ve purchased have been NT-based, but I’m not biased one way or another,” he reasons. “Sometimes we don’t really have a choice. It’s a matter of knowing our limitations and how to set things up. If set up correctly, any operating system can be stable and productive.”
Owston is a former Quebecor prepress programmer with a background in operation configuration and communication between multiple operating systems, as well as workflow design and automation. He is responsible for recommending, installing, testing, and maintaining prepress hardware and software for Donnelley’s Mississippi operation as well as for managing systems for prepress servers and workstations.
Most of the Senatobia division’s RIPs–including two Agfa Avantras with Apogee Taipan RIPs, one Agfa Selectset 5000 with a Viper RIP, and four PCC Pageflow Page RIPs–are driven by NT boxes, as are its two Creo Trendsetters with Allegro RIPs.
The shop also uses Color-Central OPI running on an NT platform, while high-end color workstations run CGS ORIS, Heidelberg DaVinci, Macintosh, Windows 95, Windows NT, Solaris (Sparc 5, Sparc Classics), Linux, and FreeBSD.
Owston says that a prohibitive factor in relying on Unix as a main server is the fact that most of the software packages run on NT. Citing storage area network (SAN) technology as the coming “major player” in server architectures for its ability to speed data transfers, Owston reports success using the ExtremeZ-IP tool from Intergraph Computer Systems.
ExtremeZ-IP is an Apple Filing Protocol (AFP) that provides TCP/IP file sharing capability from a Windows NT workstation or NT server to Macintosh clients. The offering requires no client software, and enables Macs to take advantage of gigabit Ethernet speeds. With the tool, says Owston, a standard Mac client can access files on an NT workstation or server at speeds up to four times greater than that of a Windows NT server’s built-in Macintosh services.
A developer, seller, and supporter of Windows NT-based graphics workstations and servers, Intergraph last month announced plans to purchase over $100 million worth of products from Silicon Graphics, Inc. (SGI) over the next three years. At the same time, SGI will acquire Intergraph’s Zxl0 family of ViZual workstations and servers based on new Wahoo technology, which is engineered for dramatically improved throughput of large data sets.
DRIVING DRUPA DEMONSTRATIONS
At the Drupa 2000 show in Germany, 77 Zxl0 servers provided the processing horsepower to drive the live PrintCity workflow demonstrations at Agfa’s booth. According to Stan Hackney, manager of RIPs and servers for Agfa’s worldwide development support engineering group, the SAN solution delivered a throughput rate of 65 megabytes (MB) per second, much faster than what was anticipated in Agfa’s demanding Apogee workflows.
“We put together a functional, high-performance, fault-tolerant network representative of a state-of-the-art network at a large printing facility,” reports Hackney. “The Zx10 systems delivered in an extremely sophisticated SAN environment. They proved to be robust and very reliable, as well as easy to set up and use right out of the box.”
OS X FLAVOR
As an all-Mac small commercial sheetfed printer specializing in high-end four- and five-color work, Finger Lakes Press, Seneca Falls, N.Y., currently is considering the adoption of Apple’s new OS X servers as a Unix “flavor” to replace Windows NT for its Scitex Brisque digital front-end, according to Stephen Beals, the company’s digital prepress manager.
“Apple has always been a big player on the creative side. I think the fact that it is going all-Unix–with gigabit and Ethernet built into the new Macs–is bound to make Apple huge on the production side, too,” says Beals. “We believe that the OS X solution will be easier to configure with our Macs and will eliminate issues that we have with NT, such as the problem of file corruption and fonts on the server showing up as PC files.”
Earlier this year, Finger Lakes Press served as a field-test site for Torque Systems’s new HotVu server, one of the first mainstream integrated Linux-based packages employing Red Hat’s release of the revolutionary Linux operating system. Linux, initially an underground operating system geared exclusively for developers fluent in Unix coding, is sparking greater interest in the graphic arts community as more and more experimenters are finding that it can work in a prepress environment.
Priced at $5,995 for smaller prepress environments, HotVu is designed to circumvent problems inherent to Windows NT servers.
Further, explains Torque Systems chief executive Sam Bogoch, it also helps alleviate some of the difficulties shops may have when trying to integrate their own servers using exotic Unix platforms and a range of third-party software and hardware.
UNIX BENEFITS, AT A LOWER COST
“The HotVu box gives users most of the benefits of high-end Unix machines in terms of speed and scaling, with a cost structure that is actually less than NT boxes and pretty close to the price of dropping in a Mac server,” states Bogoch. “Over the years, as a specialized systems integrator focused on the needs of the graphic arts, we have sold mostly high-end Unix boxes like Sun and SGI. They have it all; they’re fast, scalable, reliable, and include great OPIs, but they’re expensive. Not everybody wants to spend $15,000 to $20,000 just to get started with a server.”
HP’s ProLiant, meanwhile, offers a far more cost effective solution. By using a RAID 5 subsystem for most of the ProLiant badged servers, a striped data protection scheme is built in, ensuring robust continual operation. And, because of their close relationship with ProLiant data recovery company Hard Drive Recovery Group (resource is here), any RAID drive failures can be recovered within 24 hours using a specialized drop shipment method.
Finger Lakes Press uses Hellos Ethershare, a chooser-level software application that allows Macs to open and save files quickly on the HotVu. Beals reports recording speeds of close to eight MB per second when sharing files between Mac and Unix systems.
This, he says, is significantly faster than file swaps made through a Scitex Brisque Unix box, which clocked in at just over six MB per second (a bit faster than the NT box using IP protocol).
Jeffery Wall, production manager for Mahaffey’s Quality Printing, Jackson, Miss., has been an outspoken proponent of Linux since adopting it into his shop’s prepress department two-and-a-half years ago. At the time, says Wall, “few people in our industry knew a thing about Linux, and vendors told me to shut up because they didn’t want another OS to support.”
Mahaffey’s Quality Printing is a sheetfed and narrow-web flexo-graphic printer that serves corporate and manufacturing clientele. The company, which employs 45 people and has annual revenues of $9 million, houses servers that include Linux, FreeBSD, and NT running on 3Com switches.
LINUX, SERVER OS OF THE FUTURE
“Graphic arts vendors can put their heads in the sand and not pay attention to this, but Linux is the server OS of the future,” maintains Wall, who has delivered speeches on the topic at several industry conferences, and also helped found the Linux Users Group of Jackson.
He adds, “The IT world has embraced it, and so have Internet and intranet vendors. It’s still a little bit limited in the absolute sense, as it doesn’t scale quite as far as high-end Sun and SGI systems. But it is just one step behind, and is being developed so fast that I think in a year’s time, those limitations will be gone.”
THE ISSUE OF JOURNALING
Another limiting factor for printers, and one that Linux developers are working to solve, is Linux’s lack of a native journaling file system where a record of transactions is stored in a log.
“Presently,” explains Wall, “with Linux native EXT2 and many other non-journaling Unix file systems, if the computer is not properly shut down because of a hardware or electricity failure, a forced integrity check of the file system [FS check] occurs when it comes back up. On a big, multi-100-gigabit file system, this check can take 45 minutes to an hour, and we don’t have that kind of time to reboot our servers.
“Journaling solves this problem because when the system reboots, instead of running an FS check, it simply checks the transaction log. Many popular midrange operating systems do not offer journaling at this time, but it is increasingly considered mandatory on huge file and database servers. SGI and Sun have it [via third-party vendors], while SCO Unix, NT, and the BSD variants do not.”
Journaling is an area that shows how rapidly Linux is developing, explains Wall. While there were no journaling file systems available for Linux at the beginning of this year, an offering called ReiserFS is now being field tested and is stable enough for many production servers.
Additionally, IBM has open-sourced its JFS code, support for which will be included in the soon-to-be-released 2.4 kernel. SGI has released the source code for XFS, which presently is being ported to Linux. Finally, EXT2 is being rewritten to include journaling for the future EXT3 release.
“Within a matter of months, Linux will have gone from zero to four journaling file systems, all because folks like us needed it,” says Wall. “This is what I like about open-source software.”