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How does cloud print management actually work?

How does cloud print management actually work?

So you’ve outsourced your payroll and personnel software to cloud services. You don’t need on-premise servers anymore… almost!

There’s still one piece of hardware you’re relying on – your print server.

You can’t print without a printer (obviously) so you can’t throw away your MFD/copier. What about the print server? You’re using the cloud for all your other business needs, why not your printing?

Look, let’s be real for a second. When it comes to print management cloud services, there’s one simple fact… 

Clouds can’t talk to printers

Here’s the issue…

You’re sitting at your computer, right next to your printer. Traditionally, your printer and computer are connected by a wireless or wired network and your secure and quick printing has historically been facilitated with an on-prem print server.

(By the way, we are talking print management in the cloud here, so I’m assuming you’re using a print server to allow for the glory of print management to occur. If you just want to print in the cloud and are perhaps even looking for a Google Cloud print alternative, then PaperCut Mobility Print has you sorted. Of COURSE, you can print directly to a printer without a print server, but then you miss out on all the print servery goodness. So we are talking full print management here, not just printing cat pictures.)

The full context here is the print server was just one of many pieces of hardware that formed your business infrastructure. Then the cloud came along. You no longer needed servers on-site, or even applications on your devices! Your word processing is now in the cloud via the likes of Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace. Likewise, your file sharing needs are handled by Dropbox and Google Drive, etcetera. But printing… oh, printing… why are you as out of date as the walkman?! (Maybe that’s a bit harsh, but you get me, yeah?)

The dream of cloud print management is to outsource printing to a cloud provider without having a print server on-premise.

But here’s the catch…

The cloud can’t send a job directly to your printer. It just can’t. Your printer isn’t on the internet (but it is on your local network). The print job has to be delivered to the printer via some software on your local network that talks to the cloud and asks, “Oi, do you have any jobs for me to print, or what?”

Essentially, printing is the last technological bastion to move to the cloud. (We’re talking public cloud, businesses have been printing with a private cloud set-up for some time now. More on that later…)

So why hasn’t print management via a public cloud fully transitioned yet? 

Well, the printer/MFD/MFP/copier makes it a bit trickier – it’s harder because of the hardware.

How do you get the print job from your computer to the printer without a print server?

To conquer this last bastion of the cloud, you need to solve two problems:

  1. If you’re sending your print jobs to a service up in the cloud, you’re sending your documents over the internet – this can be slow and maybe a security concern
  2. Once your print job’s delivered to the cloud service provider (which you may not know the actual physical location of) how do your documents come back down from the cloud to the printer? Unfortunately, they can’t. A cloud service cannot send a print job directly to your printer.

How do we get around these problems?

We (the print management solution) have to run local software somewhere on your network to fetch the print job from the cloud. (Again, we’re talking public SaaS cloud-native print management, PaperCut MF has your private/hybrid cloud needs sorted – which you can read about over here).

There are only 3 ways to public cloud print management, and they all relate to one fact…

Where is the software that connects the cloud to the printer?

It has to be somewhere. All cloud print management solutions require something on-prem in order to work. There has to be something that either pushes or pulls the job to the printer. 

The only 3 ways to manage print in the public cloud

To connect the cloud to the printer a special piece of software needs to exist somewhere. There are three places where this software can run.

1) On the printer

Clouds can’t talk to printers, but printers can talk to clouds. So you can house the software directly on the printer, not a separate computer. Makes sense, right? A downside to this option is the software must be written individually for every printer brand under the sun. The double kicker is that only some brands will be able to handle the software so it won’t work for your regular printer around the office, only for the big MFDs/MFPs. 

2) On a computer 

A regular laptop can run the software to talk to the cloud. The issue here is if just one computer is running the software if that computer is turned off or enters standby for whatever reason, you won’t be printing any more. So there’s a single point of failure if you have to depend on one computer providing that print server functionality.

3) On a dedicated device 

An admin desktop that’s always on could house the software, and it wouldn’t even need a lot of computing power, but this still means a single point of failure. The drawback here is this is somewhat of a hybrid approach and isn’t that dissimilar to keeping a print server so you’re not leveraging the full functionality of engaging a cloud provider.

The pros and cons of how to manage print in the cloud

Let’s focus on the advantages of the printer and computer, as that will cover the third hybrid approach.

The pros and cons of running cloud provider software on a printer

Pros

  • No separate computer or device needed, the software on the printer will retrieve the print jobs

Cons

  • There are fewer printers than computers in the workplace so it’s a more constrained environment 
  • Most printers have limitations on processing power
  • Each brand would need its own software. This option will only support a small number of brands, however, this may change over time

The pros and cons of running cloud provider software on a computer

Pros

  • Ubiquitous – if you’re running the software on several computers you eliminate that single point of failure
  • It can support any model of printer – all brands can participate

Cons

  • You do still need to guarantee at least one device is on and reachable
  • The fewer devices, the more potential for a single point of failure

The PaperCut way to print management in the cloud

When we started working on our cloud-native platform we decided to get the software working on every printer from day one, then scale out to running on printers as the platform matures.

That meant running the software on computers first.

That’s why we did a line-one code rewrite of our software and designed the PaperCut Edge Mesh – the technology behind our cloud-native platform.

With the Edge Mesh, your computers on your network run the software. We went with the Mesh design (inspired by IoT – which also marries hardware and the cloud) to cancel out the single point of failure. It’s not just one computer running the software, it’s as many computers on your network as you choose – the more there are, the stronger your Edge Mesh.

We believe in running the software on computers first because it means our cloud-native printing solution is out there and will support your smallest $50 printer from BestBuy and even your home printer – which is a must in our current remote working lifestyle.

Edge Mesh technology brings you the best of both worlds: a multi-tenant cloud-native solution with security and resilience features that are currently possible only with on-premise print management. Print jobs don’t leave your organization’s network, printing continues when the internet connection is down, and the technology supports all vendor platforms.

What cloud print management suits you?

Transitioning your printing to the cloud isn’t as simple as switching from storing your own data to Azure or Amazon Web Services. (Which admittedly, isn’t that simple).

You want to make sure a cloud print management solution is right for your needs and requirements.

The way you print in the cloud also depends on whether or not you want to go public, private, or hybrid. We knocked together a little guide on how to mitigate that decision.

The important thing is not to be tricked by any shining lures when it comes to cloud print management solutions. 

All cloud options come with their advantages and disadvantages, so you need to make the right choice for your business’s printing needs.

If you’re looking for an alternative to Google Cloud Print, you want to check out PaperCut Mobility Print.

If you want to find out more – swing by our blog series on cloud print management basics

Or if you’re in the mood for a long yarn, pop the kettle on and get your read on with our story on printing and the cloud.

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