Stefan Meissner

Cloud Computing in the Online Printing Industry

Stefan Meissner, Cimpress Technology

Research Question:

How to go about adopting Cloud Computing technologies and architectures in order to design an economic and sustainable Information Technology (IT) infrastructure for the online printing industry?

When people are asked about the printing industry, probably their first thought is about the heavy printing presses, many piles (or webs) of paper, or barrels of ink. These are usually the characteristics printing houses are known for. However, presses are being developed and installed by press vendors, while the consumables are delivered ‘print ready’ by suppliers. So, the actual job of printing houses is to bring all together in order to reproduce customers artworks visually onto substrates. Today, customers normally deliver their artworks in a digital fashion. On the other side, printing presses consume digital data directly or imposed on printing plates. The nature of printing has changed significantly towards Information Technologies (IT) over the last decades. Many parts of the printing process have been digitalized. Examples include order management and routing, ganging, pre-flight checks, colour management, rasterization, imposition, generation of pre-settings for press and finishing, production data acquisition, etc. The number of file formats involved in the print production process has also increased considerable. File formats include Portable Document Format (.pdf), Job Definition Format (.jdf), Print Production Format (.ppf), Tagged Image File Format (.tiff), International Color Consortium Profile (.icc) etc. The number of print specific file formats is an indicator of how software and IT biases the printing industry. Particularly in the online printing industry, where integration and automation are major keys, printing providers are transforming increasingly more towards software development companies – specialized on printing.

This research project is aimed to be a basic research for the online printing industry in order to underpin this progression. Along the technological and structural development in the printing industry, so too the IT business has experienced notable evolutions. Many new technologies, concepts and architectures have emerged over the last decade. One of the most important topics appeared in this field is probably Cloud Computing. When developing highly integrated and automated print production systems, a fundamental challenge is to define the technological and architectural IT framework used for that system. Print production systems are usually complex, as many people, legacy systems, devices and third-party applications are involved. This means, the focus of the IT framework must be on sustainability, as complex systems are typically slow-acting. Sustainability implies, that a technology is supported by a broad community, rather than from a single vendor only. Further, the technology shall be approved by commonly known real-world projects to have common experiences, best practices and experts by the hand. The objective of this publication is to explore the frontiers of the technologies and architectures in both the printing industry and Information Technologies. The result of the publication is the definition and evaluation of an IT framework which enables online printing providers to design sustainable and economic IT systems in order to increase their level of integration and automation. This publication addresses the following research question: How to go about adopting Cloud Computing technologies and architectures in order to design an economic and sustainable Information Technology (IT) infrastructure for the online printing industry?

Centre of the research is the prototyping of a cloud service for the generation of preview images. The prototype is designed as a minimal viable product (MVP) and is used for the definition and evaluation of the IT framework. Ries (2011) has defined the concept of a minimal viable product (MVP) as “a version of a new product, which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort”. Lenarduzzi and Taibi (2016) entitle the MVP as one of the most important steps of the Lean Startup methodology, needed to start the learning process by integrating the early adopters’ feedbacks as soon as possible. Further, Lenarduzzi and Taibi (2016) outline in their publication “MVP Explained: A Systematic Mapping Study on the Definitions of Minimal Viable Product” how broadly the MVP concept has been adapted, interpreted and further developed over time. So did Maurya (2017), who picked up the MVP definition and set the major focus on the minimal viability: “A Minimum Viable Product is the smallest thing you can build that delivers customer value (and as a bonus captures some of that value back).” This publication will follow the stricter definition by Maurya: The prototype developed in the context of this publication focuses a simple preview generation cloud service and requires to be usable for everybody. Based on that prototype, the direction of research and theory extraction is being conducted. Further, the prototype is used for evaluation purposes and to ensure the validity of this publication.

This research is following an inductive approach. Fisher (2010, p. 109) defines induction when a conclusion is drawn from experience or experimentation. In contrast to deduction, where the conclusion follows in logic the premises stated in the beginning, he mentions a risk that inductive arguments may base more on wishful thinking than on a carefully judged balance of probabilities. This publication has a special focus on that risk in order to provide an objective view. Fisher (2010, p. 149) further argues that theories are an attempt to generalize the findings from specific instances. In short Bryman and Bell (2015, p. 19) stated the inductive approach is where the theory is an outcome of research. The research strategy is a qualitative one. Bryman and Bell (2015, p. 38) observe a predominant relationship between the inductive approach and the qualitative research strategy, as the emphasis is placed on the generation of theories. The theory generation is also the focus of this publication. The research design of the publication will be a case study design. Fisher (2010, p. 69) differentiates the case study as a design pattern which focus on an in-depth understanding of a situation. Further he stated, case studies are giving a holistic account of the subject of the research by elaborating the interrelation between factors such as people, groups, policies, technologies, etc. According to Bryman and Bell (2015, p. 67), the basic case study entails the detailed and intensive analysis of a single case. This design pattern is a widely used one in business research. In contrast to other research designs, a case study focuses on a bounded situation or system. As examples Bryman and Bell (2015, p. 67) list a single organization, a single location, a person or a single event. The case treated by this publication covers a single cloud service for the generation of preview images.

The scope of this publication covers the IT framework for the development of a prepress cloud service as evaluation as well as the deployment of the service in a managed environment. The document introduces the deployment models of cloud environments; however, for the evaluation the publication assumes that a cloud environment does exist and is ready to orchestrate services. Chifor (2017) refers orchestration to the automated arrangement, coordination, and management of services. Sun (2015) acknowledges Chifor and states that orchestration allows users to coordinate services in a cloud. This includes not only the deployment, but also the management, such as availability, scaling, and networking. This publication focuses on the development and design of the services, rather than the setup and operation of a cloud environment. Cloud environments can be provided and managed by both experts within a company or on a pay-per-use basis from public cloud providers. This publication applies the latter solution. Even the publication does not cover cloud environments in detail, it considers design criteria for services, which let them seamlessly integrate into any cloud environment.

The audience of this document are technician and technical manager of the online printing industry. The document is structured in four content chapters – excluding the ‘Introduction’. The first chapter ‘Printing Technologies’ analyses the technical and economic trends and backgrounds, the production volumes, the technical state of the art, as well as IT challenges in the printing industry. The second chapter ‘Cloud Technologies and Architectures’ gives a technological and architectural overview in Cloud Computing and finishes with a technical concept, best practices and recommendations of how to build cloud services. The evaluation part of the publication is covered by the third chapter ‘Development of a Preview Generation Service’. This chapter is a summary about development of the preview generation service as evaluation. It lifts out the implementation of the major design criteria elaborated in the second chapter. Further, the chapter refers to the source code, the cloud service live demo as well as the interface specification of the service. The last chapter ‘Conclusion’ contains the lessons learned during the evaluation as well as recommendations of an IT framework of how to use Cloud Computing technologies and architectures in the online printing industry.

References

  • Bryman, & Bell. (2015). Business Research Methods. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Chifor, A. (2017, May 30). Container Orchestration with Kubernetes: An Overview. Retrieved Decembre 29, 2019, from https://medium.com/onfido-tech/container-orchestration-with-kubernetes-an-overview-da1d39ff2f91edium.com/onfido-tech/container-orchestration-with-kubernetes-an-overview-da1d39ff2f91
  • Fisher, C. (2010). Researching and Writing a Dissertation. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.
  • Lenarduzzi, V., & Taibi, D. (2016). MVP Explained: A Systematic Mapping Study on the Definitions of Minimal Viable Product. In 2. 4. (SEAA), Davide (pp. 112-119). Limassol, Cyprus: IEEE.
  • Maurya, A. (2017, June 12). What is a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Retrieved Decembre 23, 2019, from https://blog.leanstack.com/minimum-viable-product-mvp-7e280b0b9418
  • Ries, E. (2011). The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses. New York: Crown Business.
  • Sun, L. (2015, Novembre 4). Container Orchestration = Harmony for Born in the Cloud Applications. Retrieved Decembre 29, 2019, from https://www.ibm.com/blogs/cloud-archive/2015/11/container-orchestration-harmony-for-born-in-the-cloud-applications/