Network print management: It’s not about the printers

Today, print management is going through a revolution, and IT wrestles with increasing costs related to managing data growth. Discover a number of best practices to network printing and optimizing your infrastructure.
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Effective print architecture can improve total cost of ownership

This post is designed to deliver helpful information related to optimizing your infrastructure. More specifically, this content will help network and server managers optimize IT infrastructure for network printing.

Today, print management is undergoing a revolution. IT departments historically have focused on reducing the “cost per page” metric. Maybe your company has tried:

  • Applying authentication at printers/MFPs
  • Reducing print volumes and utilizing cost effective printers
  • Eliminating excessive high cost devices

If you’ve tried these, you know that this approach only addresses part of the issue.

If you expand the scope of the problem, you find that IT organizations continue to wrestle with increasing costs. Cost growth associated with the explosive growth of data, including supporting ever-growing print streams and document-rendering activities. There are opportunities to optimize computing, storage, and network assets while ensuring users printing needs are met.

This series will explore the most common way network printing is deployed in large organizations. In addition, we will take a look at alternative solutions that will lower TCO and optimize CPU and network resources, while maintaining user performance and security requirements. A strong partnership between the printer and server management teams can yield significant benefits for users, as well as position IT as a value-add partner to business units.

 

How Moore’s Law affects network printing

The growth of data is outpacing the decline in processor, networking, and storage costs historically brought about by innovation.

Businesses are struggling to scale up their networks and data centers to keep pace with the explosive growth of data. Until now, advances in network, processor and storage technologies have enabled businesses to absorb increases in data volumes with relatively inexpensive infrastructure upgrades. However, the rate of technological advances in data processing, storage and compression is slowing while the growth in data continues to accelerate.

Moore’s Law, the well-known adage in the semi-conductor industry where, in effect, the number of transistors that can be placed on an integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years – increasing computational power or performance exponentially without diminishing returns – has been shown to be slowing down.

Yet silicon is approaching its limits for transistor density. Soon CPU manufacturers will need to deliver computing power using next-generation technology, such as quantum or molecular computing. This transition will inevitably make computing, storage and networking technology relatively more expensive for a given amount of processing power.

 

Data growth outpaces cost declines

As a result, the growth of data is outpacing the decline in processor, networking, and storage costs historically brought about by innovation. Therefore, businesses can no longer count on an ever-cheaper supply of network bandwidth and server CPU cycles to handle an ever-expanding volume of data.

Now businesses must look for more economical solutions that decrease the demands placed on networks and data center servers. Network printing is one area that places very high demands on networks and servers. New approaches to organizing network printing components have emerged that:

  • Eliminate the demand for server CPU cycles
  • Eliminate print traffic on WANs
  • Cut LAN print stream bandwidth load in half

 

The most common network printing architecture

It also worth taking a closer look at the most common network printing architectures. What roles do the print servers play? Can we explain how print streams affect WAN and LAN network traffic and print performance?

Traditional network printing over a LAN or WAN requires print servers. In a large office environment with thousands of users, there are often dozens of print servers deployed within the corporate LAN infrastructure. When a branch office or retail store is considered, a Wide Area Network (WAN) connects the main office to the branch offices. Within the branch office, LANs support the local network traffic.

Since network printing streams can take up large amounts of bandwidth, print servers are often placed within the branch office to optimize WAN bandwidth, which is usually considerably lower speed and more expensive than LAN bandwidth. Occasionally, print servers are located in the corporate IT center to send print jobs to remote printers across the WAN. While this type of deployment provides central management, performance issues such as latency can make this an unacceptable option to users.

 

The role of the print server

The primary role of the print server is to be a traffic cop. It manages where the print jobs go, as well as handling the queue to ensure print jobs are appropriately prioritized. Print jobs from desktop clients are sent to an assigned print server, along with the proper “directions” for the specific print job and target printer. Print drivers are often maintained on the print server, and then downloaded by users on individual desktops.

If a print server is deployed within the LAN to support remote printers, it must send print streams across the WAN to the remote printer in the branch office. Depending on user requirements, this may not be a cost effective use of WAN bandwidth. In some instances, IT organizations deploy print servers locally within the branch office where it utilizes the LAN to distribute print streams.

To route and print a document on a networked printer, the desktop application initiates a printing request and sends the request and print stream to the print server. In turn, the print server puts the request in a queue and assigns it to the proper printers queue. The print server uses the “directions” dictated by the desktop print driver for the target printer. Print data streams can vary in size from very small (small page counts with minimal formatting) to very large (hundreds of pages with embedded images). Deploying print servers to serve users’ needs should be carefully architected based on printing requirements and planned bandwidth requirements.

WAN bandwidth is much smaller and more expensive, which makes it a poor choice for sending large-scale print streams from a print server housed in a data center to a large-scale printer at a remote branch office. In this case, it is better to deploy the print server locally in the branch and service the users across the LAN, which optimizes less expensive and more available bandwidth. This way the users get the performance they need using cost-effective network bandwidth. What happens when you have lots of branch offices with small numbers of desktop PCs, such as bank branches, or retail stores?

 

Total cost of ownership

IT departments are always trying to lower the total cost of ownership (TCO) of their hardware and software assets. TCO includes not only the acquisition price, but also the maintenance of both the hardware and software that resides on it. In addition, per unit support costs (i.e., help desk) can also be applied to desktop PCs and servers, as well as each unit share of power, cooling, and heating costs. According to Gartner, the average annual TCO for a server is estimated to be $6300.

When you take into account the average annual TCO of servers, this presents an interesting dilemma to IT managers. Is it cost efficient to deploy network printing using the traditional print server architecture in these types of environments?

In future articles, we will explore an emerging alternative to the traditional print server architecture that optimizes less expensive computing resources as well as network bandwidth.

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Brandon Most

About Brandon Most

Brandon Most is the Sr. Product Marketing Manager for Nuance Document Imaging’s print management products. As an experienced marketing professional and technology enthusiast, he strives to bring those two passions together to effectively bring his product categories to life. Brandon holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a major in Marketing and a minor in Finance and Leadership from Fort Hays State University, Kansas. Follow Brandon on Twitter: @MostBrandon