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Print in the Cloud

By Jeremy Witte, IT Director, Mittera Group

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Jeremy Witte, IT Director, Mittera Group

Being a technologist in the print industry usually involves converting digital into analog. In many cases, the resulting analog product produced by the printer shadows the technology component that ultimately drives the complete solution. As we see new printing demands become increasingly more reliant on technology and data, innovation and distinction can become key differentiators. We see the cloud as a competitive enabler with six key advantages:

1. Document and Develop Your Infrastructure as Code

We’ve seen the chaotic mess created the moment you try to manually record your environment and infrastructure with a collection of static documents and diagrams. It doesn’t take long before your documentation describes version X, but the running infrastructure is version Y. I used to believe this was almost always caused by “previous unorganized techs.”

As organized as I thought I was, I soon realized any time you involve more than one technician with manual provisioning and documentation procedures, you will most certainly end up with version X and version Y. This is also true from environment-to-environment when any single component or resource is configured manually.

One year ago, we began playing with infrastructure as code. The idea of creating immutable infrastructure with code that was declarative, self-descriptive, and able to be versioned was enticing. We were building our new datacenter in the cloud and were amazed at the rapid pace we were making from initial architecture design to full deployment—all while achieving automated and predictable provisioning.

Consequently, we also discovered a mechanism for actionable and testable disaster recovery. When was the last time you tested your disaster recovery plan? The experience has been great, and we are still only getting started on our DevOps journey.

2. Increase Agility with Shorter Feedback Loops

Time is critical with many things, but this is especially true in print. The more time you spend in proofing cycles upfront, the more chaos and risk you inject into your production schedules. With any small team consisting of shared resources, the impact is even greater. Your team cannot afford time away from essential duties to spend on research and development efforts with uncertain results.

 The new normal for us is that most of our projects are things we have never done before. It’s exciting and incredibly refreshing to be part of this effort and project pipeline, but most of it would not be feasible without the agility we have on the cloud to get from concept to proof as quickly as possible.

3. Expose Opportunity with Billing Insight

 Moving to the cloud can be very cost effective when you align the available costing models against your workloads. However, one of the most impactful cost optimizations is exposed through the regularity of cloud billing cycles. With typical purchase order cycles and on-premise hardware, your cost optimization strategy is limited to capacity fulfillment and utilization.

Cloud billing cycles routinely expose savings opportunities in the form of architecture or scaling changes. Recognizing this, we can react to these changes immediately and realize savings just as quickly. Several of our innovation and architecture evolution cycles are focused and aligned against our cloud billing cycles.

4. Control Audit Scope with Security Segmentation

Our first attempts to attain any level of security certification were ultimately challenged by environment scope creep. Isolating sensitive processing environments on-premise was also no small feat, but it finally provided the separation we needed in order to achieve certification.

We are now working on our next iteration in the cloud and are excited about the level of encapsulation we will be able to build in order to adhere to the policies and controls governing the environment. While we continue to add both processes and environments, we have completely removed the physical security concerns from our auditing process. Our overall security posture continues to improve as we move more infrastructures out of our four walls and into our cloud datacenters.

5. Harness the Power of Abstraction

We are much more effective builders with blocks than we are with raw materials. In the cloud, we see this in the form of managed services to form solutions we would struggle to realize on our own. Systems such as load balancers, database replication tiers, and auto scaling groups are very complex entities. Since cloud providers abstract these concepts into managed services, we can use them as simple modules—without concern for the underlying configuration and management.

6. Fuelling new Business Development

The survivors in print are the ones who understand augmented printing. It’s not just black and white anymore. Your solution portfolio must consist of solutions, services, and technology that either augment or compliment print.

Venturing into new business can be risky but is ripe with opportunity. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)is a great enabler of innovation and new business development.

Leveraging the cloud, we were able to spin up a data warehouse cluster in minutes and had our team operating in just two days. This gave us the environment we needed to get up and running quickly at an hourly rate with no long-term commitment.

When I think about what’s next for us, I think about the incredible opportunity around atomic transactions.

Processing automation at scale and consumed on-demand typically means some form of hourly pricing model for server-based infrastructure. The next phase of cloud computing is going to emphasize event and stream-based processing. These compute models are going to be a great match for unpredictable workloads based on seasonal or infrequent batching volumes.

In terms of print, this is going to deliver accurate per-piece-costing models as well as redefine on-demand. Why pay for servers when you don't need them? We think so too.

The cloud is shaping up to be the universal gateway transforming everyday businesses into technology companies. Getting there starts with the first step. Along the way, you must execute on your core competencies and focus on your differentiated value.