Wednesday, 03 March 2010 16:47

Cloud and open source delivers the goods for publishing services provider

A Melbourne-based publishing services company is using open source and honest-to-goodness cloud computing for a custom, core business application.

DAI Rubicon is a publishing service provider. That means publishers turn to it when they want to outsource some or all of the process of designing, printing, warehousing and distribution.

Around 80 publishers and other companies use DAI Rubicon's services, including Wiley-Blackwell and New Zealand based online bookstore Fishpond.

DAI Rubicon typically receives PDF files from a publisher, organises printing (usually in Singapore), arranges sea or airfreight to the relevant countries, and then delivers to newsagents, booksellers or individual buyers or subscribers.

The company previously used a system involving Excel spreadsheets and other pieces of software, but serious improvements were needed as it wanted to extend its distribution knowledge and relationships into the parcel delivery business for e-tailers and other organisations.

"We run a high volume, low margin business with bulk discounts and complex pricing schedules for customers and partners," said managing director Rob Turner.

Why open source, and why cloud? See page 2.

"We needed to enhance our ordering experience and find a better way for customers to manage their logistics for online purchases," he added.

The replacement supply chain system was built by Base2Services using the Ingres database and other open source software, and runs on the Amazon EC2 cloud.

Open source software is "a good, economical alternative for a growing business like ours," general manager of shared services Ian Wilson told iTWire. (At DAI Rubicon, 'shared services' means finance, accounting and IT.)

For example, the system can accept delivery manifests from clients, reformat them into a common structure, determine the correct postage rate for each parcel, lodge the documentation with Australia Post, email confirmation of dispatch notices to the clients, interface with the finance system to generate invoices, and produce profit and cost reporting by client and supplier.

DAI Rubicon currently uses MYOB to manage its finances, but is planning to move to a more capable finance system in about a year, said Wilson.

So why move to the cloud? "We were at a crossroads," explained Wilson. The company needed to make its systems accessible to clients and suppliers, many of which are based overseas.

How did the project go? Please read on.

There was also a desire for a robust, easily deployed disaster recovery system, as well as a need to speed up development work that was being carried out using a relatively slow server.

Some production processes were also becoming slow due to the amount of data being processed, so scalability and dealing with peak loads were also issues for the company.

"It seemed a natural progression to move to the cloud," according to Wilson, who said it turned out to be "a positive experience."

"Usage charges [for EC2] are so low it's almost irrelevant," he said. The cost is in setting up the instances.

The company pays a little extra for a larger than default EC2 instance, but now gets "much better performance" than it did from its old dedicated server at about the same cost.

Overall, the new system is expected to reduce DAI Rubicon's annual operational expenditure by between $A150,000 and $A200,000.

And there's more to come - see page 4.

The next version of DAI Rubicon's system will add track-and-trace functionality, so clients can monitor the progress of their orders.

"We've had a good experience with cloud and open source," said Wilson, while Turner said "We now have better processes, better integration with our providers, lower infrastructure costs, lower support costs, lower licensing costs and need less people to maintain the solution."


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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.



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