Islandora Deployment Scenarios: What Works Best for You?

What’s Here

If you’re reading this there’s an assumption that you’re either interested in what Islandora has to offer as a digital asset management solution or already committed to implementing it. In either event: To fully evaluate, plan, and/or implement Islandora you’ll need to decide how to handle deployment, and that’s what this information is designed to help with. My intent here is to support your Islandora adoption by describing:

  • Deployment strategies.
  • What a successful deployment requires and should have.
  • Costs involved.
  • Options that best suit particular adoption scenarios.

I’ll also use hard facts to answer questions I’ve fielded regarding do-it-yourself Islandora deployment vs. using a service provider, usually along the lines of: “Can’t I just download the source and set it up myself? Or have a subcontractor do that for me?” Technically of course the answer is “yes” (you could do a lot of things), but there’s much you should consider before making your choice. Read on.

Deployment Strategies

Options for deploying an instance of Islandora are:

  1. Installed and hosted by organizational resources, e.g. the IT department of an adopting or supporting entity such as a Library, University, or Publisher.
  2. Installed and hosted by a subcontractor.
  3. Subscription to a packaged solution (software as a service or SaaS) from a service provider.

Requirements and Should Haves

Now let’s look at what any of the preceding deployment options must (M) or should (S) provide:

  • Hosting. Islandora is a web based framework that will require secure server infrastructure to run on, and storage space for your assets and backups. (M)
  • Installation and configuration. Not just the initial install but of major point releases as well (see next item). (M)
  • Maintenance. Islandora is not a prepackaged software. It’s a framework of many open source components, all of which need to be kept up-to-date and in harmony. (S)
  • Support. End user support, configuration support, assistance with significant transactions such as large ingests or exports of records, troubleshooting, training, etc. (S)


Cost Basis and Analysis

The spreadsheet below—also available here if you’d like to open it in a separate tab—contains two worksheets:  Cost Items lists cost items and factors, and the Deployment Option Costs uses those numbers to show estimated total and component costs.

Let’s review what’s in the Cost Items first:

  • Outsource IT is a list of hourly costs for external service providers of the three roles any deployment option will require: Systems Administrator, Developer, and Support staff.
  • For this analysis I’ve used Amazon Web Services (AWS) to price the infrastructure costs listed under AWS Monthly Costs. There are three scenarios here for different scales of installation. They take into the amount of storage space required, the amount of data transfers, and storage for backups.
  • Adopting Entity Internal Costs give us a list of estimated expenses for personnel resources that must be committed to a deployment, and also for users so we can estimate downtime costs. The costs here are given for a scholarly or academic organization.
  • Skills Factor, Full Time vs. Part Time gives us a way of factoring the efficacy of technical staff that support Islandora instances full-time vs. first-time or part-time support.

The Deployment Option Costs worksheet calculates costs for deploying and maintaining a medium scale Islandora instance (scenario 2 from Cost Items) under each of the three options for doing so. It also gives you an average hourly cost per person for downtime. More on that in a moment.

What’s Your Best Option?

Making a decision on which deployment scenario is best needs to take into account the following:

  • Any legal, funding, or contractual compliance mandates that rule out an option.
  • Whether your organization is, or is supported by, an entity that has its own IT staff and infrastructure capable of meeting service and service level requirements.
  • Costs.
  • Any value adds an option provides that are not directly quantifiable in cost analysis.

Additional Points to Consider

I want to speak to the last item above prior to going through some potential conclusions. One of Infoset’s strategic partners is discoverygarden, an Islandora service provider. Their offerings are a good example of some indirectly quantifiable benefits that should play into your decision making process:

  • Service provider Solution Packages usually include a Service Level Agreement that establishes guaranteed levels of service and response times to issues or questions. Given the expense and inconvenience of down time this is a very good thing. Take the number of users you have and multiply them by cost shown above and that’s your raw cost of downtime. 
  • If time is of the essence, a SaaS solution is unquestionably the quickest way to have a fully configured and tested instance deployed.
  • discoverygarden maintains a knowledge base for its clients with a large body of documentation and solutions. 
  • With a Solution Package your Islandora instance is always up-to-date—in fact more up-to-date than you could possibly be working from the Islandora open source repository. (discoverygarden’s solution packs are deployed from the ‘head’ branch of Islandora some time before it becomes available for download.)
  • discoverygarden works with the Islandora Foundation to maintain Islandora. Working with them gives you a more direct channel to request features.

OK, All Things Considered

My own conclusion is that in most cases a hosted solution from a dedicated Islandora service provider such as discoverygarden is superior, and in no case is a subcontracted deployment the best option. Why?

  • Math works. From a cost standpoint hosted solutions are less expensive.
  • Service will always be better from a provider focused purely on servicing Islandora users.
  • Success rates are higher for projects and organizations focused on using their high value skills to achieve their objectives.

That said, under some circumstances an organizational deployment may work or be the only option:

  • Legal, funding, or contractual compliance mandates that rule out other options.
  • Organizational resources are available, responsive, and cost is not an issue.
  • In addition to the preceding item, large scale adoptions can find economies of scale with institutional support.

Even in these cases though remember that you can save time, money, and improve your results by leaning on Infoset for help.

Parting Shots

Regardless of their nature most projects’ success depends to a large degree on smart resource utilization. My own decisions about outsourcing are based on what falls within Infoset’s domain of expertise and what falls outside of it and could possible serve to distract us from and/or make us less effective at providing core services. In my personal life—despite being able to read, follow instructions, and drive to Lowes—I don’t do plumbing. By hiring a plumber my time is better spent at what I do well, less money is expended, and the plumbing is fixed right quick. Once.

The scenarios played out here are hypothetical and don’t cover all those possible. Need more help sorting out your options? Want a service provider that will save you time, money, and add value to your work? Contact us.