I made the point in an earlier article that printing can often be the 64,000-pound gorilla in the room. But if recent experience is anything to go by, there’s still a long way to come before Citrix architects, consultants and administrators catch up with this. Printing, compared to the blue-screening, spooler crashing days of years ago, is often regarded as “solved” by people designing Citrix solutions. “Most people don’t print any more,” I hear a lot. “Citrix Universal Print driver has gotten rid of most of our issues,” is another refrain. Printing is often the last thing on the mind of those designing and implementing a Citrix solution, because there is a perception that it isn’t the critical bugbear that it once was. And this, not surprisingly, is breathtakingly naïve.
Firstly, to say “people don’t print” is a dangerous path to go down. Just because there is less of a demand on a service doesn’t mean that the service itself should be deliberately deprecated. The very fact that people are now printing less often means that when they do print, they’re printing something pretty vital (the last thing I had to print was my lease car agreement, and I would have been extremely annoyed had I not been able to do so!) And there are always departments and users that rely specifically on printing functions.
Also, we’re moving into a brave new world where the users who connect to corporate resources are increasingly outside of the traditional boundaries of the corporate network. Even the old concept of an Active Directory domain doesn’t encompass the enterprise any more. Active Directory has become much less of a monolithic, ring-fenced collection of managed devices and users, but a federated identity and authentication service that transcends specific physical locations. And more often than not, we have users with mobile devices and tablets connecting to our corporate resources. These users will need to print as well, with a minimum of fuss and complexity.
It doesn’t just need to be simple to print though – it needs to be simple for all users, on all devices, to be able to access advanced printing properties such as duplex, colour choice, stapling, hole-punching, the list can go on and on. It’s probably unfair, but users in the year 2017 will compare a company-provided hosted infrastructure directly to the devices that they use at home. Your Citrix solution has to perform on a par with this – in terms of available features, as well as ease of use. It’s comparing apples with oranges, but the key to acceptance lies in the experience of the user, and that means that this is a cross architects, consultants and administrators all have to bear.
And it’s not just features and ease of use that will come into play here – when talking a hosted Citrix environment, another area that users will always make a comparison on is speed. To cope with this perception, it’s very important to do as much work as possible to make functions in the Citrix environment as responsive as those in a traditional fat-client environment. Speed of printing is a particular bottleneck here, and an area where the local fat client environment can be considerably faster than a hosted one.
Cost is also a major factor. In the current climate, reducing cost, where possible, is always a win for IT departments who increasingly find themselves pitched against outsourced or cloud-hosted solutions in the name of saving money. Cutting down on the volume and overhead of printing helps cut back on wasted capital. And it applies to up-front expenditure as well – you don’t want to have to rip out a fleet of mixed printers and replace them with a single vendor just to put together your print service either.
Cost also runs down into maintenance. You don’t want to put in a complicated, many-moving-part solution because that’s going to improve user experience at the expense of increasing the cost of resources needed to keep the service running. But at the same time (and this is typical of modern IT’s “must have it all” approach) the solution, while easy to maintain and simple to use, must support high availability. And in an ideal world, can it also provide statistics to support maintenance and planning?
And no article about IT can miss out the word of the moment – security. Printing, due to the same complacency that relegates it to the “last thing to think about” when designing Citrix infrastructure, is also dismissed by those raising concerns about IT security. But it still needs to be taken into account when securing an environment. How do you make sure print jobs aren’t rendered on the wrong printer? How can you make sure that sensitive personal information and intellectual property is released for printing only for people authorized to deal with it? How can you ensure that print jobs can’t be hijacked “on-the-wire”? If the need arises, can you track who printed what, where and when, and is this information easily queried?
It all seems like a hell of a lot to think about for something as “simple” as printing, something that many people would have you believe has been solved a long time ago, no? The fact of the matter is, printing was simple, when it was done simply, in simple environments. But the cloudy, multi-device, bring-your-own world we live in know has moved firmly on from the previous methods of operation. It’s not that printing has become complicated – users and their expectations have evolved firmly upwards. We’re no longer providing a simple “print button” that renders a text-based print job onto the device in the corner of a dedicated office. We’re committed to providing an agile, adaptable, feature-rich, simple and secure printing service to users on any device in any location, and that’s why printing isn’t so easily “solved” any more.
So how do we “solve” printing in a Citrix environment in 2017?
Well, we’ve been solving it using UniPrint Infinity. UniPrint’s solution ticks all of the boxes we’ve mentioned earlier, and also does it in a simple, easy-to-deploy method that allows you to deliver extra printing features without an associated uptick in cost.
- Virtual print queue, using VPAD technology, means printer mapping and queue/driver management becomes a thing of the past.
- Mobile Printing allows anyone, whether within the corporate structure or not, to print from any device or location. Print servers are no longer needed for remote or cloud-based users.
- Spool files are compressed by up to 95%, drastically increasing the speed of printing and making associated user experience improvements.
- High availability module ensures maximum printing uptime.
- Printer profiles allow advanced features to be wrapped up and deployed to specific users or groups of users.
- Two-factor authentication and 256-bit encryption ensure maximum security for print services.
- Statistics and archiving module provides tracking and visibility.
- Vendor-agnostic technology – no need to standardize print devices to take advantage of the features.
- All settings are remotely deployed through Active Directory Group Policy Objects, simplifying management and overhead.
This is just a subset of the available features – the solution can be engineered in many different ways to provide a fully-customized print service that meets the customer requirements. Combining the features together to produce secure, flexible and modern printing solutions is the key strength of the product set.
So in summary, it’s important for us to start addressing the popular misconception that printing – and Citrix printing – is an easy process since we got through the dark days of Terminal Server crashes and buggy drivers. Designing the print service of today is difficult, complex and intensive – but if you choose the right supporting technology, you can make your life so much easier.