In 1436 Johannes Gutenberg collaborated with a gem cutter and a paper mill owner to seek seed funding from venture capitalists to began work on the ‘Printing Press’.  Their invention began the ‘Print Revolution’ driving a wider spread of knowledge and new understanding, innovation and industry. Printing is so fundamental that it is often overlooked as an IT service when migrating to virtualised desktops. In Part I, we considered issues with distributed printing and what printing functions you should consider for your desktop architecture.

VDI Printing. Is it the Nemesis it was with Presentation Virtualisation? If so would client hypervisors help, or is it that traditional desktops delivery is still the best method? In Part II we’ll consider the core printing options for the likes of Citrix XenDesktop, Microsoft RDS, Quest vWorkspace and VMware View; and how they match to our printing considerations. Do you still need third party products to make your print solution effective? We’ll take an overview of solutions from ThinPrint, triCerat and UniPrint to help find out.

Hopefully you can use this knowledge to avoid any user revolution to your hosted desktop implementation, and instead, press on to get the best printing solution for your organisation.

What Hosted Desktop Solutions Offering?

In Part I we considered four factors when designing your desktop architecture’s print environment: Bandwidth Prioritisation, Printer Driver Management, Universal Printer Drivers and Proximity Printing. Let’s take a look at a selection at how hosted desktop vendors address these issues.

Citrix XenDesktop

In XenDesktop 5.0, Citrix have utilised their Printing Optimization Pack, released with XenApp 6. This pack is the latest Citrix innovation produced to improve the printing speed, reduce bandwidth required for printing, and enhance the user experience when printing to re-directed client printers. It is fair to say that  this is the most advanced of all Citrix printing solutions so far. Yet, you need to have the latest Citrix Receiver (v12) installed and importantly, as of today, support is only available to the Microsoft OS’s – so Windows 7, Vista and XP Professional are supported. Nothing else.

Therefore Citrix’s most enhanced offering relies on having end-devices that are essentially PCs. Not a problem per se – but a ‘need-to-know‘ if you’re considering a move to Thin Clients. Printing from the virtual machine directly to network printers will not use Citrix’s Universal Printer Driver (UPD). Indeed if you want to manage printer bandwidth for networked printers accessed directly from the VM, you’ll need a different solution. Citrix don’t have  a native proximity printing as part of their product set.

Microsoft RDS

In Windows Server 2008, Microsoft introduced EasyPrint for the (then) Terminal Services component.  EasyPrint creates XML Paper Specification (XPS) printers for each real printer you have installed or mapped from your client before you connect, removing the need to manually install and configure drivers for each printer. XPS is a document standard similar to Adobe’s Portable Document Format (PDF). In this instance, XPS is being used to provide a UPD solution. That’s it. Bandwidth? Printer Driver Management? Proximity Printing?  None of these are available with Easy Print.

The Easy Print functionality is now  built-in to Windows 7: if you connect to Windows 7 remote hosted desktops, you have access to the Microsoft EasyPrint technology. Note, not Windows XP or Windows Vista.  You may say ‘ah, but Easy Print was a feature in the Remote Desktop Connect client 6.1, which is available for XP or Vista‘. I say ‘yes – as a client, but not as a host‘. Only when your hosted desktop is Windows 7, do you get access to Easy Print.

Microsoft’s solution is easy, but is focused on providing one component and won’t work for every hosted desktop implementation.

Quest vWorkspace

At its core, Quest vWorkspace’s Print-IT component is another UPD solution. In addition, Quest offer options to control bandwidth usage control, print driver management, printer naming and printer assignment.

Using a UPD often meant that native printer driver options (such as bins, paper sizes, stapling and watermarks) were unavailable: Quest’s Print-IT solution looks to remedy this by providing these functions via their UPD if they are available. Quest also offers options to support network printers: supporting client-less printing for both LAN connected print servers and remote site print servers. Using Quest’s Universal Print Relay Service for Remote Sites you’re able to utilise encryption, compression, and bandwidth usage control outside of the native remote protocol. All these features combine to allow you to be able to support printing from a wider range of client devices than other solutions.

VMWare View

Here at The Virtualisation Practice we’ve questioned VMware’s ability to “understand desktops“. Yet, when it came to printing VMware were smart, OEM’ing a solution: since version 3, View has included components of ThinPrint’s technologies to offer core printing services. VMware made use of two functions: driver-less printing and bandwidth prioritisation. This means View uses ThinPrint’s UPD to reduce compatibility issues and provide compression to help deliver printing to distributed users at the same time minimising the impact on network performance.

Yet, there is no print driver management and there is no proximity management. As with XenDesktop and Microsoft RDS, View’s optimisations are a solution for re-directed client printers rather than printing via network print servers directly.

What About Client Hypervisors?

If VDI printing is so complex, is this a factor for prevalence of “traditional” desktop deployments? Possibly: I’ve certainly been across sites where the remote printing experience had been awful and it was then very hard to get them to reconsider a remote protocol based solution.  If you needed better centralisation, would deploying client side hypervisors give a better alternative?

Bandwidth issues could be considered to be ‘less’ because the ‘distributed’ device is typically on the same LAN, or is physically connected, to the printer. That said if the device is sneaker-net-connected, how is the printer driver added to that device? Is the driver part of the distributed image, or is it added as-needed?

Could such an issue be solved with a UPD? HP, Lexmark and Xerox all offer UPD solutions. Yet, while useful for network printers, these drivers are not designed for locally attached devices (e.g. home-owned USB devices). In a distributed environment a user may need to be able to add a printer driver: which typically (for a Microsoft OS) requires administrative privileges.

To best manage devices, you need to ensure  that the user’s privileges are focused on getting the job done. By default, to allow print drivers to be added means allowing users admin privileges. Not Good. To best accommodate this requirement, you need User Rights Management – which requires solutions from likes of AppSense, Avecto and Viewfinity.

Bear in mind once you’ve added printer drivers you need to be able to save the modified state of that VM, otherwise the user has to add the device driver each time.

In essence, moving towards an improved management of your devices will help reduce costs. But, locked down environments can have an impact on printing (in terms of printer management) and in turn, distributed desktops have an impact on bandwidth.

You need to consider all your desktop environments when deciding on your printing solution, not just just hosted desktops.

What do Third Party Solutions Offer?

There are a number of third party vendors offering print solutions for an organisations network. A direct feature comparison is beyond the scope of the time you or I have here – but here’s an overview of vendors functions.

ThinPrint

ThinPrint have a dizzying array of printing solutions built around their core .print Server.  This allows ThinPrint to offer solutions whether using centralized print servers in traditional networks, hosted desktop or Presentation Virtualisation environments.

ThinPrint’s .print Server supports a UPD, which itself supports complex print options (such as paper format, duplex print and the correct paper tray in the normal way using the operator interface) . It also has options for bandwidth control and proximity printing, in fact it can also support remote print servers and print appliances. Indeed, ThinPrint are unique in having their software built into a number of printers (e.g. some models of Lexmark) and thin clients (e.g. ChipPC, Igel and Wyse), allowing optimised printing for a wide range of situations.

Uniquely, ThinPrint’s .print Server includes the facility to document and analyse printing patterns in your company. With ThinPrint’s .print Report Engine its possible to analyse printing patterns and costs for individual employees, departments or entire branches using a graphical interface. This provides valuable information to assist with the efficient distribution of printing hardware and the ability to identify cost savings potential.

triCerat

triCerat’s Simplify Printing has, at its core, the ScrewDrivers driver-less print solution. In a VDI environment, a ScrewDrivers server piece is installed as part of each virtual desktop with the client’s end point requiring the ScrewDrivers client component. The latest v4 release also allows native drivers features to be included.

Screwdrivers allows you the ability to compress a print job to optimise bandwidth consumption and is able to support both RDP and ICA remote protocols. Simplify Printing also has the ability to add a print server, enabling access from thin client devices. It also supports DOS-based application printing remotely by sending encapsulated print data through a print server communication gateway.

From our original list, that only leaves Proximity printing – which triCerat would argue is available as part of the Simplify Suite. While a tad outside of scope, if you are in an Citrix/Microsoft/VMware environment triCerat’s suite (which includes printing) offers a number of components to help you manage that environment more efficiently. Whereas Simplify Printing is a very good solution, it becomes more compelling solution for VDI when considered as part of triCerat’s entire suite of additional services.

UniPrint

The UniPrint Suite consists of six printing solutions. When my daughter was young, six was the biggest number in the world. To think of a number bigger made her dizzy. UniPrint’s suite covers solutions for Presentation Virtualisation, mainframe, midrange and other Non-Windows host systems and VDI.

UniPrint provides a single print driver – based on the PDF format. There is also an option for client-less printing to networked and locally-attached printers. With UniPrint’s solution, bandwidth management isn’t controlled or limited directly, rather the optimisation comes via the fact that the generated .pdf print jobs can be smaller than the original native printer files. There is no facility for proximity printing, or the ability to modify which user printers are assigned.

Conclusion

When the Printing Revolution began it had a number of effects:

  • The popularization of knowledge led to the decline of Latin as the language of most published works, to be replaced by the vernacular language of each area. This increased a far wider variety of published works.
  • The printed word also helped to unify and standardize the spelling and syntax of these vernaculars, in effect ‘decreasing’ their variability – and so increasing understanding to a wider audience.
  • The rise in importance of national languages as opposed to pan-European Latin is cited as one of the causes of the rise of nationalism in Europe which led to quite a few fights. As any entrepreneur will tell you – venture capitalists are both a blessing and a curse.

It seems, without printing there’d have been far less war and strife. But, with printing and the way in which it drove the dissemination of information and learning,  there’s likely little possibility the Internet would have come about for me to talk to you about this very topic. Printing is important – do not overlook it in designing your environment.

VDI Printing. Is it the Nemesis it was with Presentation Virtualisation (PV)? Yes. Yes because if misunderstood it can break a project. However,  many organisations’ experience of PV means that the issues are not unknown which has driven vendors who support hosted desktops (because its the same technology core as PV) to offer solutions.

Perhaps the better question is will centralisation impact my printing. The answer is a resounding ‘yes’. Hosted Desktop vendors have solutions, but in the main they are focused on using a client OS (which you may not have in a thin client environment) or they are biased against branch offices with network printers and towards locally attached print devices.

Ultimately, it is important to understand your organisation’s printing needs. In understanding this, you can best make an informed decision about a suitable print solution for your VDI project, your standard desktops or even your Win7 migration.

An effective printing strategy must provide both the facility for printing to local printers as well as remote printing and include dedicated print server support. Ideally, you are in a better position to understand the cost of printing to your organisation: but don’t be surprised with incredulous looks when you tell user’s how much printing out their team meeting  agenda cost.

It is fair to say most hosted desktop solutions have addressed simple printing issues, with perhaps Quest edging the feature set from the vendors described at the moment. That said,  third-party solutions have been designed to bridge the gaps inherent in PV/VDI environments and are well positioned to cross over to your standalone desktop solutions (be they VDI/Client Hypervisor).

A full feature comparison is beyond our scope, but don’t be bound by thinking if there is an issue with your chosen VDI solution that it is insurmountable.  Indeed, these products could offer you the opportunity to initiate your own print revolution and improve knowledge and understanding for your users.

But try and avoid the war bit.

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Andrew Wood (144 Posts)

Andrew is a Director of Gilwood CS Ltd, based in the North East of England, which specialises in delivering and optimising server and application virtualisation solutions. With 12 years of experience in developing architectures that deliver server based computing implementations from small-medium size business to global enterprise solutions, his role involves examining emerging technology trends, vendor strategies, development and integration issues, and management best practices.

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