by Henning Volkmer
When analyzing your business process, how much consideration do you give to your print environment? Much like all areas of business, print management has evolved over the last few years, with more options to simplify and increase productivity and cost-savings within an organization.
By taking a closer look at a company’s IT architecture, industry, and its organization’s specific requirements, the companywide print environment can be optimized. A key part of this process is determining how the environment can be best managed and which form of printing is most appropriate?
Should a central print server be responsible for all printing processes? Or, would direct IP printing fulfill all requirements?
Both approaches have their advantages, which is why it’s best to find a solution provider that offers both server-based print management, as well as cloud-managed server-free direct IP printing.
Print server-based print management
The first approach to consider is the central administration of the print environment with print servers. There are major advantages to print servers especially for larger, more complex or centralized environments, including:
- Large volume – no problem: Processing large print volumes, and numerous simultaneous print jobs reliably
- Free up user’s desktop resources: Offloading print processes is especially important in virtual or remote desktop scenarios
- Security enhancements: Printers contain and process large amounts of sensitive data but are rarely monitored for data-loss and other security issues. Separate printers onto a separate network so only the print servers can connect to them, not individual users.
- Environment control: IT admins can keep track of print metadata, such as page volumes, user behavior and administer permissions and restrictions on printer use/access, as well as prioritize certain print jobs or printers
- Simplified troubleshooting: Most print issues can easily be solved centrally.
- One print environment for the entire company: Integrate user’s desktop printing with printing from backend applications like CRM, ERP and EMR.
Server-based print management is not a new concept. This approach has not fundamentally changed in decades. As a result, innovative solutions have been developed and matured to leverage the basic print server for even more functionality and value.
For example, the right server-based approach addresses the issue of network load by reducing data volume through sophisticated compression and caching features as print jobs travel to the printer. Another example is removing drivers from user desktops and replacing them with a universal print interface to eliminate administration and improve usability.
On the security side, improved security is possible by encrypting print jobs all the way to the printer and storing print jobs centrally until the user authenticates at the printer to retrieve the document. In regard to reliability, print server environments can ensure business continuity by adding high availability/load balancing with print specific health criteria. Server virtualization is not enough to replace print server clusters and even those only offered a minimum of protection.
Server-free direct IP printing
Direct IP printing is probably as close to what the average person imagines printing to be. Set up a printer – connect it to a computer – and print. It has three main advantages because of its simplicity and, depending on environment needs, its ability to be the ideal solution for both small organizations as much as the largest corporations.
- The Obvious – No Print Servers: Fewer servers are needed because print job processing is handled on each workstation. In this scenario, only servers for driver repositories and management software need to be built and maintained.
- Printing – Even When Offline: No internet or WAN or infrastructure dependencies because print jobs are sent directly from the user’s workstation to the printer.
- Easy Setup and Instantly Ready to Use: Simple, easy to understand architecture that does not need a lot of specialized knowledge for its basic setup and maintenance.
While simplicity is the draw of direct-IP printing, it also means that there is some basic functionality missing to effectively manage these environments and make them secure and manageable for business use. If you decide that direct-IP printing will help your organization, there are best practices you should be aware of, including:
- Eliminate all servers by opting for completely cloud-based management. Your print data still never leaves your network.
- Don’t search for drivers by selecting a solution that comes with a pre-populated driver store.
- Centrally manage a decentralized environment by adding a solution that can easily connect to every device in the entire environment and avoid managing each device individually.
How to choose? Determining which approach is right for you and your organization should start with just asking a few questions. Here are the top five:
- What is being printed?
- What are the security requirements?
- What does the desktop environment look like?
- What applications are being used and how do users access these applications?
- What are the expectations for printing of the various stakeholders in the organization
Once you have insight into these questions, it will become clearer. Print servers, as well as cloud-managed, server-free direct IP printing, have clear advantages depending on your business and IT needs. It is also important to note that each approach can benefit from management and optimization solutions that improve upon the basic concepts. Whichever concept fits your needs or preferences, don’t implement either without proper added value through the right tools.
As you evaluate the questions above as well as your organization’s more specific needs you’ll probably develop a clear preference for one of the two approaches to printing. At the same time, additional requirements or wishes will probably come up, which is why I recommend you have the right experts on-hand to help with the follow-up questions.
Henning Volkmer is president and CEO of ThinPrint, a leading provider of print management software and services for businesses.