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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Security. With thin-clients, all the applications and data are maintained on a central server. For leading thin-client LIMS, access is role-based and password-protected for security, complying with 21 CFR Part 11. Disabling a login account disables access to all company information. No application data ever resides on the client, hence files cannot be transferred to local hard drives and memory sticks.

Ease of use. A thin-client browser interface has the familiar web-site look and feel. Thus its use is intuitive, which keeps initial and ongoing training costs low. Because end-users are more comfortable with the interface and adoption is easier, the LIMS can be integrated with the organization's workflows more quickly. This enables organizations to leverage their investment and reap the benefits of enhanced productivity sooner.

Hardware, software, and IT costs. Thin-client solutions reduce the cost per user and IT manpower requirements while delivering a solution that is easily upgradeable and expandable (without interrupting business). Software updates are done once from a central server and are immediately available to all; desktop upgrades are not required. A thin-client LIMS enables an information technology (IT) team to deploy, maintain, and support only one central LIMS, thereby increasing return on investment. Thick-client and web-enabled systems require the IT team to upgrade all end-user thick-clients around the world, along with each of the regional servers and cross-platform programs residing on them. Although some web-based systems achieve some of the benefits of thin-client systems, there are added costs to maintain the .NET framework on each end-user client, especially on portable devices. Moreover, such .NET systems are tied to Microsoft's proprietary browsers and application servers.

Thin-client hardware is generally less expensive than thick-clients because they do not require as much local disk space, application memory, or powerful processors. The total hardware requirement for a thin-client system (including both servers and clients) is usually much lower as well. One reason for this is that the hardware is used more efficiently. A thick-client central processing unit is idle most of the time. With thin-clients, memory can be shared. If a LIMS application is being used by several users, it needs to be loaded into the random access memory only once on a central application server. With thick-clients, each workstation must have its own copy of the LIMS in memory. Ultimately, the real value of thin-client computing emerges through determinations of the "total cost of ownership," which includes not only the upfront price of the hardware and software, but also the much larger cost of installing, supporting, and updating the system over time.

Selecting the right solution

While the advantages of a thin-client strategy appear to be greater than that of a thick-client, that may not be the case for every organization in every instance. IT professionals must consider a number of variables pertinent to their particular organization. For example, consider a LIMS at a contract research organization that would like to provide secure Internet access for data entry, analysis, and reporting to external customers. It would be challenging to provide this capability with thick-client LIMS. Also, users should be aware that just because the application runs on a browser, it doesn't mean it is thin-client. Firms should also consider whether their external customers are running Internet Explorer with .NET, so they can support access to the firm's .NET LIMS. Do they allow .NET applications to be downloaded to their end-user clients?

Another consideration for firms to determine is whether the technology behind the LIMS is associated with a single vendor and whether that raises concerns with the firm's own IT organization. For instance, a firm might ask whether its IT organization wants to limit itself to technology proprietary to Microsoft? This means that the LIMS most likely can only use Microsoft browsers and Microsoft back-end web and application servers. In this case, an existing Linux or Unix environment would not be able to run the .NET LIMS, thus complicating assessment of the actual cost for using such a solution since it may preclude use of existing technology.


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