It's been estimated that roughly 15% of all of the costs borne by an IT organization are consumed by the management of print servers; considerably smaller than the amount dedicated to file services, but similar to what is spent managing backups. Often the costs of capital equipment such as servers and printers are known, as are the line items for consumables such as paper and ink, but rarely is the time spent managing printing accounted for. That's really too bad because there are good tools for streamlining print services that can save both time and money.
To begin with, even organizations with a casual use of printers can benefit from the replacement of general purposed file and print servers with dedicated print servers. Print servers can be as simple as a specialized add-in board, or a small device the size of a network hub with entry points as low as $100. Depending upon your needs, print servers can serve hundreds of users, offer multiple connections to your network and come with highly specialized management software. Among the best-known print servers are HP's JetAdmin or JetDirect series, but you will find that this is a rich product category that includes many hardware and software vendors. Rarely does print server equipment cost as much as a general-purpose server, and both the hardware and software offer managers a rapid return on investment.
Print server equipment is helpful to managers because they typically operate like appliances: plug them in, assign them a network address, and they are available to a diverse client base. Just how diverse that base can be is a function of what drivers are made available, but in an era when most print-server management software has become browser based (typically Java applications) drivers are much less of an issue than they used to be. The first benefit of using print servers is that they reduce the complexity of your printer setup and offer a uniform client-support strategy. These are important points worth noting when considering purchasing such a device.
Beyond hardware, pay particular attention to the software that a print server offers. That software can similarly be a valuable way to save time and streamline your operation. Good print server software should allow an enterprise view of your print servers, offer features such as printer pooling, intelligent queuing, alerts for error conditions, logging and many other features. A good pooling feature may obviate the need to acquire additional expensive printers; alerts can protect you from runaway print jobs or unauthorized printing; and logging can help you better plan your purchases as well as institute a policy where the people who print are the ones that pay for the service. It's not uncommon to see print-management software integrated into network frameworks, so if you are using a framework product this too may be a factor in selecting a print- management package. And although most print servers come with software in the box, many enterprises will find additional benefits from considering more sophisticated print management packages from third party vendors.
This was first published in June 2003