Share Printer Resources through Networking
Printing is a natural business function. Reports, graphs, and other documents are rarely viewed
solely on the computer monitor. As much as the paperless society was encouraged, the reality is
that people actually like to read information on paper.
How can you keep the costs of printing to a minimum while providing your users with the
functionality that they need to get their jobs done? You could purchase a printer for each user;
however, this requires a lot of upfront costs and ongoing maintenance. Sharing your printers over
the network is a better option, thus managing your capital expenditures as well as leveraging the
hardware investment for the good of many users.
The key is to share printers so that users are serviced efficiently and securely, and require a
minimum amount of technical support.
Every PC on a network can share a directly attached printer with other users. Whether it's
attached with a parallel or USB (universal serial bus) cable, the printer relies on the computer to
which it's attached for all its input data. This is referred to as a peer-to-peer model. Most off-the-
shelf printers have a relatively small buffer for printer data, so that stream of data from one user's
computer that travels through the network to another user's shared printer must be buffered or
spooled so that the data is fed to the printer only as fast as the printer can accept it, as shown in
Figure 1-1: Shared printers need to have their data buffered.
The computer that's sharing the printer buffers all of that data. Although this may be convenient
for very small offices, in most environments, it soon becomes troublesome. For example, if the
user decides to reboot his computer while another user is printing, the print job is delayed or lost.
Or perhaps that user is performing some intensive operations on his computer only to have the
printer consume additional resources that are needed to buffer the incoming print data.
If your work environment can be described as follows, you may need an alternative solution:
• There are 10 or more total users on the network or in your workgroup.
• Printing is a frequent part of most users' jobs.
• Most print jobs are lengthy reports.
• The user sharing the printer uses intensive applications or has limited resources.
• The user sharing the printer is not centrally located or is being disrupted by other users
retrieving print jobs.
In this case, you need to invest in a print server. A print server provides the capability to manage
print jobs more efficiently than the built-in printer sharing that a user's desktop operating system
offers. However, there are many ways to dedicate resources to sharing printers.
Exploring File and Print Servers
Dedicating resources to servicing file and printer sharing is a great first step to effective network
printing. By setting aside a computer to run a network operating system, such as Microsoft
Windows Server 2003 or Red Hat Enterprise Linux, your users get the benefits of dedicated
capacity for file and printer sharing. This setup is referred to as a client/server model. Not only are
these operating systems more suited to sharing files and printers, but they also contain software
that helps manage the print queues.
These multifunctional file and print servers provide the capability to service multiple printers from
a single server, as shown in Figure 1-2. Depending on the physical connectivity of the
multifunction server, printers could be attached using parallel, USB, or Ethernet ports.
Figure 1-2: Multifunction file and print servers service print and file sharing.
Parallel port and USB connectivity for printers are standard options for most wired printer
connections, and Ethernet ports are the standard for network-ready printers. Of the three types of
connectivity, parallel printer cables are the most bulky and distance-limiting.
However, much like the earlier example of a user's PC sharing a printer, a multifunctional file
server will also be saddled with the additional strain of servicing heavy file sharing needs and
print sharing. Although these servers may ultimately be more suited for these heavier loads than
a desktop PC, the responsibility of sharing files and managing printing may cause performance
A single server might not provide the best solution for larger loads, and that server's physical
location could be an issue for security and reliability. Printers that are directly attached to the file
and print server need to be located centrally and easily accessible by users. It's also important to
have adequate power and ventilation for the server resources. However, file and print servers
should never be located where anyone could accidentally unplug or damage the hardware.
Files could be lost permanently if a file and print server becomes damaged, and your file system
security could be compromised if a criminal has physical access to the system.
A potential solution to this problem is to split the printing and file servicing functions into two
servers. You could implement the file server in a secure location and locate the print server in the
open to service the printers where they're more conveniently located for users. One drawback to
this plan is the costs for the additional hardware and operating system for the second server.
Note: Multifunctional server operating systems are usually licensed on a per-user basis. Each
user who connects to that resource consumes a licensed connection. Once the connection count
reaches the licensed capacity, no other users may use the resources.
Implementing multiple print servers throughout a company can become costly in hardware,
licensing fees, and the additional overhead required to manage those print servers. The indirect
costs of managing and maintaining individual print servers may exceed the benefit of using them
to share printers in a small organization.
A Better Solution: Use Embedded Print Servers and Devices
When you're purchasing new printers, look for models with built-in network connectivity, usually in
the form of an Ethernet port and an embedded print server. Another option is to add an internal
network card that provides an onboard print server function. Similarly, you can buy third-party
print servers -- small devices with a limited number of connections -- that enable you to share
printers on your network, as shown in Figure 1-3.
Figure 1-3: You can add print servers to provide dedicated printer sharing.
These devices usually provide either a single parallel port or one to eight USB ports to share
printers. Using a print server -- an external device or a device internal to the printer -- provides
• Location flexibility
• Printer feedback
• Remote spooling, which speeds PC printing process
• Maximum print job performance
Figure 1-4 summarizes key parameters to consider when determining the best solution for your
Figure 1-4: Determining a solution to your printing needs.
If your network grows beyond these parameters, you'll need a more coordinated solution for your
Understand Wireless Printing
At the highest level, network printing falls into two main categories: wired and wireless. You've
already explored the basics of wired printers on a network -- connectivity via a parallel, USB, or
Ethernet cable. This section introduces two popular wireless connectivity methods: Bluetooth and
Bluetooth is a radio-based technology that enables a user to walk within the range of another
Bluetooth-enabled device to access services. Bluetooth has been implemented in various types
of devices such as cell phones, PDAs (personal digital assistants), laptops, and printers. The
transmission rate for Bluetooth is a maximum of 1 Mbps (megabit per second) and the range is
limited to 30 feet.
The Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) standard, also known as 802.11, is a popular medium. Typical
implementations for 802.11 wireless networking are used to connect laptops to corporate
networks or to enable home networking users to connect PCs without introducing new wiring.
Note: Wi-Fi is another name for 802.11, a set of standards by the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and
Electronics Engineers). The most common Wi-Fi standards are labeled 802.11a, 802.11b, and
The range and speed of Wi-Fi are also reasons behind the popularity of this wireless protocol.
With an average transmission distance of 300 feet and a throughput rate of about 11 Mbps
(megabits per second), Wi-Fi provides ample throughput for most wireless applications. However,
distance, interference, and obstacles can degrade transmission throughput.
What will work for you?
A Wi-Fi networking solution enables you to use wireless print servers on your network. Just plug
the printer's USB cable into the wireless print server, and then configure a few network settings to
allow workstations (with wireless network cards) to communicate with the print server.
If you're selecting a Bluetooth technology, you might consider one of the many printers that have
Bluetooth technology built in. With this setup, you can enable your PDA to send print jobs just by
walking within 30 feet of the printer.