Printing in the modern world, part #1 – King Kong, Godzilla, and….printers?

By James Rankin | 21st March 2017

I recently took my kids to see Kong: Skull Island at the cinema. Not the most cerebrally-challenging film I’ve ever watched, but for two eight-year old boys, the prospect of a whole bunch of monster-on-monster tear-ups was probably quite enthralling. I have to admit that the toil of Kong’s daily routine, which involves beating up enormous monsters from dawn till dusk, left me feeling worn out, but as long as the kids were happy with the film, so was I.

But it did set me thinking. Two hours of monster battles without the need for anything as insignificant as an engaging story will make that happen, I can assure you.

The new Kong is absolutely huge compared to his previous incarnations (and he damn well needs to be, because apparently, he is going to fight the ultimate leviathan known as Godzilla in his next movie outing). Yet his existence has (apparently) remained a secret for many years because of a storm system surrounding his home island. In my mind (because I always insist on applying real-world logic to fantastical works of fiction), it would be very unlikely that something of such an enormous size could remain hidden in this way – it would be much more likely that the governments of the world had chosen to pretend it wasn’t there, hoping that the storm system kept casual travellers from finding out the truth. I mean, why bother dealing with a two-hundred foot beast when you can simply bury your head in the metaphorical sand and pretend it doesn’t exist?

And in the cloud-focused world of today, Kong reminds me of the issue of printing. Tenuous link alert? No, honestly, bear with me. Printing is the two-hundred foot ape in the room (or on the island, if you prefer) when it comes to cloud adoption. Seriously.

We’ve managed to start moving most things into the cloud. Microsoft’s partnership with Citrix around XenDesktop Essentials and the XenDesktop Cloud Service have finally allowed us to start delivering pure Windows 10 client desktops from Azure or your hybrid infrastructure at a reasonable price. We can put all of the component parts into the mix – applications, data, profiles, directory services, etc. – without the need to compromise on the cloud-based vision. But printing – because it deals with something physical that the end-user needs access to, wherever they may be – remains something stubbornly local, and that gives us problems.

Like Kong, printing is ugly. Most of the areas that make up our virtual desktop infrastructure or cloud-hosted services are cool and slick. They’re probably the equivalent of Godzilla – exciting, awesome-looking, laden with interesting and surprising features (atomic breath? How cool is that?)

But no-one gets excited about the smelly ugly brute that represents printing. And that’s a shame, because in the same way that Kong manages to keep the Skull Crawlers at bay, we couldn’t do without printing.

Oh sure, printing has come down in the hierarchy of needs, but it still sits there. We’re all familiar with the “think before you print” tagging and the days of storing vast reams of paper-based documentation have slowly started fading away with the advent of cloud-based services (for the most part, anyway). But even the arrival of e-signing and the like still doesn’t mean that we can do away with printing altogether. There are still occasions when you absolutely need to print (like the time I had to print out a 35-page car lease agreement, sign it on every page, and then scan it back in to send back – that was not an enjoyable task!) And in the main, the fact that we have always had the capability to print means that we need to build it into the solutions that we provide. How many applications do you know of that don’t have a print function? Users usually don’t take kindly to the removal of functionality they always assumed will be present – just look at Windows 8 and how the whole “Start Menu removal” turned out for a good example of this.

But printing also evolves – like the new Kong, it’s still growing (thought I couldn’t milk the hell out of this analogy? Think again) We don’t just print paper documents any more, and I’m not just referring to glossy photos or brochures. Oh no. We now have 3D printing, and this is something that manufacturing is positively beating its metaphorical chest about. In our cloud-based nirvana, we need to take into account this new wave of printing capability and provide the functionality that enables it.

And that brings us back to the issues we mentioned earlier. When all of our infrastructure is in the cloud (public or private), or in the process of moving to it, how do we deal with the fact that we need to send print jobs back to the print devices on the local network? Like the giant squid and the Skull Crawlers on Skull Island, how do we overcome these challenges?

With all of our workloads sitting pretty in the cloud, with applications, data and user settings all bunched nicely together, we can have a good user experience. But when we invoke the print function, the data that makes up that print job has to come back down the pipe and render on a device that sits on a remote local network. That takes bandwidth, and bandwidth is precious. Not only are (potentially) our user desktops now sitting in that cloudy infrastructure, we’ve got other technology in the mix like VoIP that also consumes bandwidth. So when we send big print jobs (and as everyone knows, print jobs can get very large these days – Kong-large), are we going to have a massive impact on the quality of the user experience, on the quality of VoIP traffic, on the whole process of printing? And that’s without even considering the potential impact of 3D printing jobs – if your ordinary print job can get Kong-large, then 3D printing moves firmly into Godzilla territory. Imagine waiting for a 3D print job to render from the remote datacenter in, for example, a JIT manufacturing environment where everything is time-sensitive? Let’s not go there…

So if cloud is on your radar – public or private – then you’ve got to deal with the King Kong in the room that is printing. And for some, like Kong himself, this can be a big problem. So much of a problem that often people will reconsider sending their workloads to the cloud when faced with the impact of printing. Whether you remediate it before or after your cloud strategy takes shape, it needs remediating. Like Kong, it isn’t going to go away – well, not without a hell of a fight, and one that you haven’t got much chance of winning.

In the movie, Kong was dealt with by a combination of mutual respect and a bit of friendship (and maybe even – spoiler alert – a hint of love). We don’t need to get so cerebral with our printing issues, though. Samuel L Jackson tried to deal – unsuccessfully – with the new Kong by means of napalm, but maybe we can leverage a tool to help us combat the beast that is printing. For napalm, we will be substituting UniPrint Infinity, an enterprise print management solution – I think napalm would have sounded cooler, but that’s what we’ve got 🙂

Over the next couple of months we will be publishing a set of articles showing how we can use UniPrint Infinity and their vendor-agnostic vPad devices to overcome the gargantuan, Kong-style challenges we face with printing via the cloud (although, sadly, I cannot guarantee a Hollywood film analogy for each instalment). We are going to cover several areas with some case studies, which should address all of the issues around this, including, but not limited to, bandwidth compression, mobile and BYOD printing, security, cost control, print policies, print visibility, user tools, workflow, resources and virtualization. The key element, though, is maintaining the quality of the user experience. When we go through digital transformation, when we make our infrastructure cloud-oriented, mobile and agile, we should never sacrifice the user experience on the altar of the latest buzzwords. UniPrint is a key tool in addressing the two-hundred foot ape that is hiding in plain sight in the cloudy environs of your new infrastructure paradise – printing.

Hopefully this should have stirred your interest, just like the Skull Island trailer clearly did to my kids. I can’t promise you a sequel with Godzilla in it (although I will make a concerted effort), but stay tuned for part #2!

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