It’s probably not surprising that I wind up in many discussions with marketing professionals looking to implement digital asset management systems. However, I’m always surprised when I get asked, “Is it scalable?” This is one of the most common questions I get, and — coming from a technical background — my instinct is to think they’re referring to system architecture. Further discussion usually reveals the question to really be about system capabilities. Or, in layman’s terms, can a system like WebDAM be quickly scaled, going from five user seats today to 1,000 tomorrow, for example.
Further, this question often comes within the context of a scaled rollout — Can it be implemented within the marketing team now and company-wide next year? And the short answer that I love to give is, “Of course!” But let’s talk about what scalability really is and how cloud-based systems deliver.
What do we mean by scalability? Simply put, scalability refers to the ability to scale up or down (usually up) as resources and demands (data, bandwidth, etc.) grow without degradation of performance. For a digital asset management system like WebDAM, resource demands are usually driven by digital files, active users, or search requests.
When supporting increased resource demands, scalability often falls into both architecture (system resources, such as disk space) and application (software features, such as user seats) categories — and in most cases, scalability design utilizes both types. For instance, a large number of search requests requires both an optimized architecture design as well as a scalable application design.
All businesses change. A hot start-up may scale quickly as more people jump on board. Other businesses may have downsized during the recent recession but are looking at a five-year growth plan to scale up. In either case, 50 GB of storage will eventually turn into 500 GB, regardless of pace. By choosing a scalable platform, you ensure that you will never outgrow a system.
The cloud environment simplifies things for the end-user because the context changes from physical servers to virtual multi-tenant architecture. Server upgrades are no longer necessary; resources (such as additional storage) can be “turned on” instantly and transparently to the user without the need for downtime. However, this doesn’t mean that all cloud platforms are scalable. While this may eliminate the physical server, nothing is certain — the cloud merely provides a basis for building a scalable system. The application itself must be designed to efficiently utilize system resources. A poorly written, inefficient application will still under-perform, despite running on the most state-of-the-art environment available.
In the end, a well-designed SaaS solution is still the optimal path to scalability. The very nature of cloud computing means that SaaS vendors are in the business of servicing a large number of customers. It is then vital to that business to have a strong back-end architecture proactively designed with scalability in mind. Remember, there are no physical servers for end-users to deal with — it’s a level playing field. In a SaaS environment, small business customers use the same architecture as a major enterprise customer.
For businesses just beginning to explore their digital asset management options, the big question shouldn’t be about scalability in the traditional sense. The focus should be about the strength of the application’s design and the performance record under duress.
When talking with a potential vendor, ask about the number of clients they have, maximum database size, and their capacity for simultaneous users across their entire network. The answers should give you a clear idea as to whether or not that vendor is prepared for your digital asset management needs – both for now and down the line.