Backups, Support Contracts and Other Unpleasant Topics

By Ron Ellis

 

A certain amount of time is spent each month rebuilding or fixing broken workflows, RIPs and other systems that happen out there. Things break, nothing is perfect and unless you are willing to configure duplicate workflows, there will be times when you wonÕt be able to get any work done because of these events. As someone who is called in because things often arenÕt working, there are some things I see that can prevent downtime and allow you to get back up quickly. Some of these cost money and some donÕt, but very often I find myself doing work that never should have been done in the first place — if there had been a good backup plan in place.

 

Backups are still important

People get sick of hearing it, but backups are really important. The problem is that backups are not as simple as they seem. For example, backing up customer data is important, and those files need to be backed up — but in many printing plants the files that control the workflows and automation that we take for granted are even more important because without these all production stops until everything can be rebuilt and reconfigured.

Take a look at these two scenarios. In the first, a workflow goes down. A technician arrives on the scene and spends the next three days rebuilding dot gain curves on press (he is guessing because there is no press time), ICC (International Color Consortium) profiles, network connections, and trying to get simple things like copying a file and printing it working again. For days the customer is discovering things that are not working or they forgot to tell the tech about.

In the second scenario, a workflow goes down. A tech arrives on scene and reloads the core software and then loads backups of workflows, profiles and press curves. The entire system is back up and running in several hours. (Of course there is a third scenario, which is a complete duplicate workflow and work switches to this duplicate workflow while the original line is repaired. It is actually more common than you may think).

You can see that the backup of all these components is extremely important. Without it, the shop goes down. With appropriate backups in place, the shop can be up relatively quickly. If the backup is important then we need to know what needs to be backed up. Here are some recommendations: all plate curves and calibration curves for press, all workflow and restorable configuration files, all ICC profiles, all hot folders, network connections, Internet Protocol addresses, customer data files, and other information that is important for rebuilding systems quickly. If possible, disk images of all critical systems should be made.

 

DonÕt get toasted; support contracts are worth it

Although many plants cannot afford complete parallel production lines some do build fallback workflows on spare or little used machines. For example while they may have only one dongle to run a RIP, they may have a copy of that rip all set up and configured and ready to have the dongle plugged in the event that the other machine fails. Often, this fallback may be on a weaker machine but it is important because it would allow production to continue, albeit slower than normal. So remember, even though youÕve hear it a million times, backing up is still as important as ever (and anyone who has toasted their laptop lately knows it.)

Another unpleasant topic is that of support and support contracts. While it is often easy to get by without a support contract, and easy to see how you could run the current version forever, there are times when a support contract is helpful. Obviously when your RIP dies and you are searching for software and technical help, a support contract is important.

Clients often ask me if they can skip the support contract. I always hesitate to say ÒyesÓ because if they go down and they need help then it may be their lifeline. Support contracts often include upgrades and technical assistance. Most tech support organizations currently can use services such as WebEx to log right onto your computer and provide support in ways that was not possible a few years ago.

Support is important, and it is never more obvious that when you need it. Support is often provided by the manufacturer, but also can be provided by integrators, dealers, and distributors. Although these second tier support sources may not have tight access to the engineers, they often are more responsive and helpful than a manufacturerÕs support system can be, and often they understand how to make multiple systems talk together.

What are the other unpleasant topics? Well backing up and maintaining support are the most important. As for the other unpleasant topics, here goes: Make sure you have a good densitometer, make sure it is calibrated, and use it in your pressroom. (Make sure it is not just sitting in the corner collecting dust). Buy a spectrophotometer so that you can keep your proofs linear and use it every day or at least every week.  And if you have an old computer that is crashing, avoid the impulse to fix it and quickly buy a new one so that your staff can get things done instead of just going through crash after crash all day to save a few dollars. Make sure you have a viewing booth and that the lights have been changed. And, of course the biggy again — make sure you have a backup system, and backup everything, not just the client files.

About the author: Ron Ellis is a prepress consultant specializing in workflow training and integration. He worked in the commercial printing industry for 18 years and brings a strong background to all aspects of prepress. He has consulted on numerous CTP installations and he provides color management, integration, training, workflow development, and troubleshooting solutions to the graphic arts community. He can be contacted at 603-498-4553 or through his web site at www.ronellisconsulting.com.