The Problem with Enterprise Printing (And Some Solutions)
The cloud solves a lot of traditional Windows network problems, but printing isn't one of them. And while the market offers some solutions, each one comes with its own baggage.
- By Adam Bertram
Nowadays, it's impossible to imagine an enterprise without the cloud. The cloud provides scalability, reliability, optimized resources and improved productivity. Most importantly, the cloud mobilizes business solutions.
But while cloud networks can bring together systems that operate on opposite worlds, printing is one thing that still remains a challenge.
Today, every resource is being virtualized. However, printing cannot be completely virtualized, as it entails creating physical copies of the content that's being printed. So, you need a physical printer in the network.
Printing Challenges in Modern Enterprises
The main challenge for enterprise printing is the range of end user devices -- from desktops, laptops, smartphones and wearables to various Internet of Things (IoT) devices -- in an enterprise network. Each device type spans different models and makes.
With many enterprises operating from multiple locations and countries, each employee would ideally be able to print a document from anywhere and from any device. Cloud printing solves this challenge to some extent by integrating all the printing devices across the infrastructure such that you can connect to the cloud print server and print a document from any location and from any device.
However, the main challenge with cloud printing is that IT administrators have to include drivers for each device, model and make in the server's printer database. As devices keep changing, administrator have to dynamically update this database.
Along with diversified devices, administrators have to deal with diversified network deployments such as public, private and hybrid. Administrators have to integrate these networks for easy and instant access of devices while not compromising on security.
Another challenge is that most cloud printing solutions operate in a public cloud. So, data has to travel to a public cloud before reaching the printer. This can be a serious concern for enterprises that deal with sensitive data and must comply with various regulations.
Here are some printing management tools available for enterprise networks that can help alleviate at least some of these issues:
Easy Print for Windows Server 2016
In a Windows Remote Desktop Services (RDS) environment, in order to access a local client printer, administrators have to install the drivers for each device on the server. While some printers require exact drivers, others can be mapped with drivers installed on the server.
Enter Microsoft Easy Print in Windows Server RDS 2016. The Easy Print feature automatically gets installed when you enable RDS and can be configured via Group Policy. Easy Print makes it easy to map client printer drivers with the server.
However, Easy Print is specific to Client Printer Redirection and doesn't work for network printers. Another challenge with Easy Print is that you cannot make it a default option. If the server detects a new printer device on the network and there are no drivers installed, Microsoft-native drivers are automatically installed. So, many printers will use these native drivers instead of the Easy Print driver. As such, the RDS server will host thousands of printer drivers.
Moreover, this feature is only available for Windows clients.
UniPrint Infinity for VMware, Citrix and Hyper-V Networks
UniPrint Infinity is a print management solution that integrates all printers across multiple locations and makes it easy to instantly find and use any printer available in a given location.
When an end user accesses the server application and initiates a print, this tool creates a compressed .PDF using the UniPrint universal printer driver and sends it to the UniPrint Bridge, which in turn routes the print job to the chosen printer after converting it to RAW print data. The UniPrint client renders this job using the PC-native drivers.
By converting print data to .PDF, UniPrint saves 90 percent of bandwidth. It processes data through secure tunneling and privilege-based access for security and uses a load balancer for high availability. Administrators just manage a .PDF-based universal printer driver from a central management console.
Parallels RAS Universal Printing
Parallels Remote Application Server (RAS) Universal Printing is a powerful printer redirection feature that allows you to print to a local printer from RDS, VMware ESXi, XenServer or Hyper-V environments.
The best thing about Parallels RAS is that you don't have to install drivers on the client machine, server or on RDS. The print job is rendered on the server and sent to a local printing subset in a universal format. As there are no drivers installed on the client device, you can add or remove local printers without interrupting the network. This feature comes out of box so you don't need to do any configuration settings.
As the transferred files are small in size, printer performance is enhanced. Parallels RAS supports all clients, including Raspberry Pi, Mac, Linux, Chromebooks and Android devices.
To sum up, printing has always been a challenge for enterprise networks. While there are multiple solutions available in the market, each one comes with its own baggage: Easy Print works well only with Windows clients. UniPrint Infinity supports multiple platforms but is a third-party solution that has to be integrated with the existing infrastructure.
Parallels RAS offers printer redirection out of the box and is cost-effective. On the other hand, it is a new entrant in the virtualization segment when compared with Citrix and VMware.
If Microsoft cannot come up with the best solution to minimize the number of printer drivers on the server, however, then a third-party solution should serve the purpose.
Adam Bertram is a 20-year veteran of IT. He's an automation engineer, blogger, consultant, freelance writer, Pluralsight course author and content marketing advisor to multiple technology companies. Adam also founded the popular TechSnips e-learning platform. He mainly focuses on DevOps, system management and automation technologies, as well as various cloud platforms mostly in the Microsoft space. He is a Microsoft Cloud and Datacenter Management MVP who absorbs knowledge from the IT field and explains it in an easy-to-understand fashion. Catch up on Adam's articles at adamtheautomator.com, connect on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter at @adbertram or the TechSnips Twitter account @techsnips_io.