Determining LIMS Functionality, Cost, and ROI: System Architecture Strengths and Limitations - Pharmaceutical Technology

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Determining LIMS Functionality, Cost, and ROI: System Architecture Strengths and Limitations
Before any information technology solution can be installed, a company must decide whether applications are going to reside on individual computers at each employee's workstation, on servers within or outside of an organization, or on a vendor's website.


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Figure 4
Web-based LIMS built on Microsoft's .NET framework typically transmit data between the .NET framework and traditional client/server architectures to offer a web-based application. In such systems, the thick-client is somewhat hidden because it runs in a browser. However, there is more running on the client than just the browser. A .NET application that runs on the .NET framework installed on the end-user client is required to render the browser pages from the thick-client server. In essence, the browser is not showing HTML, but instead, is showing a thick-client-server-like application. In addition, these applications also rely on the local client for computer processing, and therefore require a rich, rather than, dumb end-user client (see Figure 4).

Trade-offs. Integrating a LIMS into the overall IS should take into consideration the company's current infrastructure, long-term plans for the IS, and investment in hardware and human resources to manage the IS. This decision, in turn, affects the cost of clients and servers, third-party software needed to connect these LIMS clients, and the resources needed to deploy and upgrade the LIMS. Furthermore, it affects the robustness and security of the application as a whole as well as the flexibility of the system to later modification. Depending on the answer and the trade-offs to be made, the organization may decide to use either a thin-client, web-based, web-enabled, or a thick-client solution.

Network bandwidth. Thick-clients and web-enabled solutions typically require less network bandwidth. Because thick-clients themselves do much of the application processing, they do not require an application server for processing. However, it is important to remember that the database will likely reside at the server level, so communication to and from each thick-client is still required. Additionally, regional hardware and software is required to operate the cross-platform programs such as Citrix that enable such networked communication. Web-enabled and some web-based systems offer a hybrid to this approach, depending on where the functionality resides (i.e., on the client or on the server).

Redundancy. Thick-clients provide some level of redundancy. In a simple LIMS solution that uses a single thick-client, if the server–network goes down, the client can still collect sample data and hold it on the PC's hard drive until recovered data can be forwarded to the appropriate server. In a thin-client application, redundancy is achieved through clustered application servers that provide load balancing and fail-over, a process that routes client requests to servers within the cluster. If one or more servers fail, client requests are automatically routed to other servers within the cluster so there is no break in service.

Performance. Thick-clients tend to have advantages in multimedia-rich applications that would use up a lot of bandwith if fully served. For example, thick-clients are well suited for chemical drawing and molecular modeling programs, which require a significant amount of computing power. With that said, new technologies such as AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML), are offering more dynamic user experiences than previously available over the web. Moreover, thin-client LIMS can be easily scaled by adding servers to the cluster.

Access. With a thin-client LIMS solution, users can access the LIMS from virtually any Internet-ready device. All of the laboratory's applications and data are maintained centrally, thus allowing any number of people to share them in a secure way by simply plugging in a thin-client browser. Thin-clients also enable connectivity by critical users external to the laboratory such as executives, customers, and partners. Moreover, thin-client solutions can leverage a "dumb" client or portable device, as opposed to some web-based systems that require a client to leverage the .NET framework to communicate with the server. Thick-client systems pose the most difficulty in enabling enterprise access. Such systems must be installed at each end-user client, and they have no remote access capabilities. Web-enabled systems offer some remote access, but only to the specific, limited functionality available via the browser.


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