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Plug In To Online Opportunity with ZBE's MultiServer System



Plug In To Online Opportunity with ZBE's MultiServer System
by Mike Antoniak

Daunted by the challenges posed in building a system to receive files and take orders over the Internet?

ZBE may have the solution you've been awaiting in it's new MultiServer with Internet DropBox. This turnkey hardware/software/e-commerce solution plugs right in to your existing network, to provide your imaging department with a file server and web presence customers can use to upload their images and place orders for prints.

The MultiServer system comes equipped with 1GHz processor, (512MB) 520MB of RAM and an 80GB (Level 5 RAID redundant) hard drive for the transfer and storage of large image files. The system requires broadband Internet access via DSL, cable modem, ISDN or a T-1 line for handling image files submitted by clients.

Also included as part of this solution is a website the lab can use to receive orders through it's Internet DropBox component. Labs with established websites can also link their sites to the Internet DropBox to take advantage of its image management features.

Once they log in to the password-protected DropBox, clients have several options. They can review and delete image files previously submitted to the lab; organize (and manage) their images by (using their file folders as a personal image library and cataloging system) dragging and dropping them into file folders; upload additional (unlimited) image files in popular file formats; and place orders for prints. Additionally, if a lab provides scanning services for customers, it may scan files directly to the Drop Box for customers to review.

In labs equipped with ZBE's Chromira printer (or any digital printer), clients can route their orders directly to the unit for printing. Any orders placed in the DropBox are organized in a special folder identified as "Incoming Orders." MultiServer may also be set so that all orders placed through the system are automatically forwarded to an e-mail account. ZBE has been conducting beta tests in several labs since early this year, and began shipping MultiServer version 1.0 in April. The system costs $7,900 which includes all of the hardware and software required to run MultiServer and the Internet Drop Box on a network.

Aced The Beta Test
For those involved with the beta testing of this system, it has already been proven a winner. One of the convinced is John Pecora, owner of the Autograph LLC digital services bureau in Farmington, CT. Pecora was looking for a solution that would allow customers to submit their files over the Internet when he first heard of ZBE's plans for the MultiServer at this year's PMA show.

"People have been trying to e-mail their files to us for some time, and that works fine when you are dealing with smaller files," explains Pecora. "But once you start trying to transfer larger image files by e-mail, and several of them at a time, you can start to have problems. I was looking for something that would make the whole process easier for me and my customers."

As soon as his company was equipped with broadband DSL service, Pecora installed the MultiServer on his Mac-based network. "It comes pre-configured, so it was simply a matter of plugging it in," he reports. A 30 inch Chromira digital printer is plugged into the network as well. With MultiServer also functioning as an image file server, work arriving arriving through the Internet DropBox is easily turned around on the Chromira.

Clients who also have access to high-speed Internet connections have been the first to embrace the new file delivery option available through the Internet DropBox. "The biggest, and most immediate advantage, has been in how easy it makes it for customers to transfer their images to me," Pecora says. "As more and more photographers get access to broader bandwidth I expect it's going to become very popular."

In the few months since Gary Bachman, the owner of Michigan Photo in Saginaw, MI began testing the system it's had a very positive impact on business. "In the last 45 days our digital printing business has been up 800 percent," he enthusiastically reports. Bachman credits part of that success to his efforts to promote the ease with which photographers anywhere can now submit their work to his lab. "I've worked hard and gone to all the trade shows to spread the word and push this service," he shares. "As soon as we had our DSL service in place so people could start submitting their files to the Internet DropBox, they fell in love with it."

He admits he was taken by surprise at the pace and level with which this service option has taken off. "When I first heard about this I could not comprehend that people would prefer to upload their files over the Internet than send them in on a CD." Bachman has been proven wrong and then some as work from all over the country is now arriving through the Internet. He estimates his DSL service can support up to six concurrent uploads before there is any slowdown in file transfers.

There's no fee for using the DropBox; Bachman justifies this by the fact that MultiServer has broadened his reach and provided better service - giving the lab a competitive edge.

"All of a sudden, with the Internet and MultiServer, I am a local lab to every photographer in the country."

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