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Productivity: More Than a Print Spooler

Aug 1, 1997 12:00 AM

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A graphic arts server is a key element in achieving productivity in prepress operations. But how do you know which server to buy or what functions it needs to have?

Before answering that question, let's consider the terminology used in developing server architectures. Currently, the trend in the graphic arts industry is to use a client/server configuration. But what does that mean in actual operation?

Powerful servers with large storage capacities are needed in prepress operations to store the increasingly large amounts of data being generated. Sophisticated configurations also "serve" their "clients"--various workstations that carry out specific tasks.

To optimize productivity, it is only natural that computer tasks be "distributed" among a central computer (the "server") and workstations connected to it ("clients").

Therefore, the client/server model relies on three components: centralized data (or at least centrally managed data), distributed functionality and structured methods to share and transmit that data. For this reason, the best and most effective client/server configurations are designed as global systems and implemented with a centralized workflow.

Keep in mind that client workstations are becoming more powerful and are able to handle more sophisticated functions in their own right. There is no sense in an interactive session to send tasks back to the server if they can be processed on the client. Productivity, after all, depends on using the most efficient tool for the task.

In fact, an example of this use of the right tool for the right task is the current trend of sharing, or distributing, interactive aplets (with application software downloaded from the server) together with data. This approach allows more functions to be executed on the client workstation, thereby leaving the server to perform more efficiently.

Now let's look at the various tasks that can be performed on a graphic arts server. Barco's DigiServers, for example, manage job data, high-resolution images, fonts, color data and application software for all clients on the system. In addition, these servers also provide a wealth of data conversion facilities. Finally, DigiServers perform a large number of automated background operations such as trapping, step-and-repeat, imposition, image transformations and color corrections.

A graphic arts server distributes data to clients on the network. Clients include workstations that process data, then return it after processing.

But there are other types of data that are better handled by the server. These include fonts and color. Centralized management of font and color guarantees a more consistent production of images across a wide variety of workstations and output devices. Users don't have to worry about the availability or consistency of fonts across the network. The same holds for color data used when transforming device-independent color (including special colors) into device-dependent color.

Because of its position on the network, the server is the ideal gateway to other systems and, more important in prepress applications, other data formats. The internal format for storing editable jobs on a system is not important. In fact, essentially all systems and most popular desktop applications use their own format for this purpose. What is important is the ease and effectiveness with which all kinds of industry standards and so-called "de-facto" standards are input and output. The ideal site for these operations is the system server because it makes data conversion services available to all clients on the network.

Furthermore, a graphic arts server also is the best platform for the execution of time-consuming computer-intensive tasks. These include trapping, imposition, image processing, sizing and rotation, and color transformations. Once the parameters are set, possibly interactively on a client workstation, the most effective execution of these process steps is on a powerful server platform.

Finally, chaining all these process steps in some automatic and repetitive pattern is also best done on the system server as it has access to all system resources. This will turn the server into a workflow server and implement server-based workflow automation.