By Jim Rapoza  |  Posted 2005-03-21 Print this article Print

More and more businesses are relying heavily on digital media and content for describing or promoting their products—or they are touting digital media as a valuable product on its own. However, many of these companies have not yet taken steps to centrally manage and track their digital assets.

For many organizations, an enterprise-class digital asset management system would not only make it easier to track and find digital assets, it would also reduce redundant work and offer significant cost savings.

IT managers usually have two choices when it comes to selecting a digital asset management solution: graphics-oriented solutions that provide strong client capabilities but lack central management, tagging and enterprise collaboration features, or enterprise digital asset managers that handle multiple content types and have strong authentication, tracking and workflow but lack rich-client interfaces.

Cumulus 6.5, released last month by Canto Software Inc., attempts to bridge this gap. Coming from a Macintosh-oriented graphics background, Cantos Cumulus 6.5 provides all the media manipulation and cataloging features that graphics-oriented users could want. The product also provides a scalable server-based implementation that integrates with company directories and back-end systems, and it offers strong collaboration and workflow capabilities.

Cumulus 6.5 is impressively cross-platform, with both Mac OS X and Windows clients and a Java-based server platform that runs on Linux, Mac OS X, Unix and Windows servers. Pricing for the Enterprise edition of Cumulus 6.5—the version we tested—starts at $33,000 for 20 client licenses. Many of the components can be purchased separately: Prices range from $69.95 for a single-user client to $4,995 for a publishing server.

The server software itself installed easily on all our test systems, and if we chose to go with a default setup, we were up and running in no time.

A browser-based administration console offered basic server information and a few administration options. It was the main interface for entering our license information. Although this feature worked well enough in tests, we would like to see more administration capabilities made available through the browser-based interface.

Most of the additional administration is done from the Cumulus Server Console, which can be installed when implementing the main Cumulus client. Using the Server Console, which ran identically on Windows and Mac systems in tests, we could access logs and monitor user activity; we could also add users and define roles .

The Server Console was simple to use, for the most part, but it isnt among the best administration GUIs weve seen. For example, it was sometimes difficult to discover where certain settings were configured, such as when we wanted to switch to a roles-based user system.

Cumulus has its own built-in user directory, which will work well for most companies. In Version 6.5, it is also possible to authenticate using a companys LDAP or Active Directory server. This is a welcome option, and, once configured, it worked well in tests, making it possible to map groups in our directory to roles within Cumulus, for example.

However, to enable LDAP authentication, we had to manually edit XML files on the server. Although this wouldnt be complicated for any business accustomed to LDAP, we would prefer to see the LDAP integration enabled in the Server Console.

Most digital media handlers will work in the main Cumulus 6.5 client, and this is the area where the product shined brightest in our tests. Cumulus provides excellent workflow and includes collaborative features such as check-in/check-out that will be very welcome in enterprise environments. We used this interface to easily manage a variety of files, from image and media files to PDFs and Office documents, and we could also track files and view histories.

Customization features have been greatly enhanced in this release through the new Actions feature and a metadata template editor.

With the new Actions feature, we created macrolike task progressions to use on files and batches, and we could also share these Actions. For example, we could create an Action where we did a specific image conversion to batch files, packed them in a .zip file and delivered them to a specific directory.

We especially liked the new metadata template editor, which greatly eases template creation—one of the key factors of asset management. The editor made it possible to generate templates that accurately defined what metadata should be captured when cataloging assets .

Digital media professionals will quickly become comfortable working with the main client interface of Cumulus, which makes it possible to quickly catalog, find, manipulate, view and preview a wide variety of files. Using the improved Quicksearch options, we could prebuild content-type searches and then quickly invoke these searches from our tool bar.

We also liked the smart way the program handles content view sets so that when we viewed an asset, we received the proper information for that type of asset, whether it was an image file, a document or other media.

Users looking for rich image editing and manipulation features might not find everything theyre looking for. However, we found Cumulus tools suitable in this area, and we could easily launch any editor directly from the interface.

Cumulus 6.5 includes the Internet Client Pro, which is essentially a Java-based application server for accessing media through a browser. Using this feature, we could easily view and search our asset catalogs without the full Cumulus client.

By default, the ICP will run on the Tomcat application server, and it can be configured to work with other servers such as WebSphere (though this requires a solid understanding of Java application servers).

In addition to the built-in customization features in Cumulus, companies that have expertise in Java can directly extend the product. Using what Canto calls Embedded Java PlugIns, Cumulus can be extensively customized, and the product includes a couple of good samples to help developers learn how to integrate with the system.

Next page: Evaluation Shortlist: Related Products.

Jim Rapoza, Chief Technology Analyst, eWEEK.For nearly fifteen years, Jim Rapoza has evaluated products and technologies in almost every technology category for eWEEK. Mr RapozaÔÇÖs current technology focus is on all categories of emerging information technology though he continues to focus on core technology areas that include: content management systems, portal applications, Web publishing tools and security. Mr. Rapoza has coordinated several evaluations at enterprise organizations, including USA Today and The Prudential, to measure the capability of products and services under real-world conditions and against real-world criteria. Jim Rapoza's award-winning weekly column, Tech Directions, delves into all areas of technologies and the challenges of managing and deploying technology today.

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