There is a rapidly increasing number of enterprise print management solutions that offer printing with a single server. However, their functionality does differ and it can be that a certain solution might not be suitable for your organization. So what do you look out for when selecting your single server printing solution? Here are key areas with questions to ask and potential pitfalls that you might not have thought about before.
It may seem like a logical one but this one is vital to get right in order for the solution to do what it promises. You want the single server to be able to manage all printers within your organization, whether there are 100, 1,000, 10,000 or more. Can the solution really support this? The only provider that clearly states the maximum number of printers is Microsoft with its Branch Office Direct Printing solution (up to 2,000 printers). Be sure to ask not only about the number of printers but also the number of print queues. You might have various queues installed per printer and all of these need to be managed.
Reliability & availability
In most cases, a single server printing concept relies on direct IP printing. The print job is processed on the user workstation and only a ticket is being sent to the server. The print job itself does not travel to the server. How reliable the solution is, depends on how the solution manages this process. If this is not done accurately, jobs could get lost. Or printing can stop entirely. This last one occurs if jobs are processed in the order that they are submitted. If one ticket cannot be processed, all others will queue and have to wait. So enquire about how the server ‘tracks’ the ticket from submission to the print. And also if it can process multiple tickets simultaneously. While you ask about this, also check what happens if the server cannot be reached? Can people still print?
Print driver support
This is probably the big differentiator. And it also depends on what you would prefer. Do you want a solution that works with universal print drivers or with native drivers? It can be said that the best drivers are the original ones offered by the manufacturer. And especially in environments with a large selection of brands and models it can be preferred to have these native drivers. Then you are sure all device functionality is available. When you want to use the native drivers, ask if the solution can manage different versions of drivers and operating systems. And also how driver updates are managed. Does printing remain available during these updates? Can new drivers be tested prior to being rolled out to the entire organizations? Obviously if you decide to have a universal print driver, you don’t worry about the various versions but still enquire about updates and printing availability during updates.
One more tip: while you are on this subject, you can also ask if the solution allows for bi-directional communication between printer and printer driver (again, only applies if you want the native drivers). If so, this can be another way to unburden IT as manual configuration of the device is not required if bi-directional communication is supported.
There are solutions that are very diverse with a set of features combined in one solution. And there are others with a focus on certain functionality, such as scanning, print management, mobile printing etc. You might want to have one solution that offers it all, or you prefer to invest in different solutions offered by different vendors. You might have already invested in a solution that you want to keep. Ask about the integration with other solutions. Again, this might seem like a logical one but also one that tends to get overlooked. Especially when it comes to a solution that you might not have or consider at the moment but one you might need in the future. If you are made aware of all integrations, you will know what your current and future options are.
Software vendors do not often produce hardware themselves, but might offer it as part of the solution. A good example is a card reader. Some vendors offer them at cost as a service, or they allow you to pick your own supplier. Others enforce that they are purchased from them, and at a premium. Adding hardware can really make a difference in the cost of the solution.
Upgrades & updates
Software is always being developed further. And many solution providers demand that customers are on the latest version of their software in order to qualify for maintenance and support. Ask if these upgrades and updates are charged if you have an active maintenance and support contract. Specify for both upgrades and updates. Some will make updates available free of charge while upgrades are charged. Some charge for both. Ask about the charge itself as well. Are you required to pay the full price or is it a different price for current customers. If you purchase the solution from a partner and not from the software provider, also how you get notified about these updates and upgrades and how they will be made available to you. Getting all of this cleared up prior to purchasing the solution, prevents you from coming across unpleasant surprises in the future.
Citrix & VDI
This one deserves separate attention. Remote desktop environments are not an ideal candidate for single server solutions. Yes, they can function in it. But do not be fooled by a nice sales pitch. One provider even has the fact hidden in their documentation. You first eliminate print servers using their solution and then you have to implement servers again if you want printing to work. Citrix requires servers. That is what it relies on to function. Nothing can be installed or processed on a user workstation. And that is what single server printing solutions rely on. One might go as far as to say that both solutions represent opposites. And though there might be a way to work together, would you want to? What is the point of investing in a single server solution if the core (removing the print servers) is not an option within your environment?
These are seven areas that one should explore and clarify when looking into a single server printing solution. It is a great concept with instant financial gain and one that continues to benefit IT professionals in their day to day management of the printing environment. Asking about these topics will avoid disappointment, high costs and added workload for IT. As with all other services and solutions, it is all about finding the right match. Some of the things listed may seem obvious, but there have been organizations that were required to change solutions because it just did not match their environment, or information was not supplied upfront.
With this list, you will be able to find out what you need to know about single server printing.