I recently had the honor of sitting down with PaperCut CEO and co-founder Chris Dance to talk about all things cloud print management in celebration of our PaperCut Hive launch.
Well, okay, confession, I have chats with Chris about cloud and print management every single day here. But this time, what do you know, PaperCutter Al was there with a couple of cameras and his sound rig.
For the TL;DR crowd, you can skip this blog and just watch the interview here.
For my fellow book worms, you can pop the kettle on and get your read on with the transcript below!
Kieron: Chris, thank you for joining me for this chat, ahead of the big launch of PaperCut Hive. The easiest question I’m going to ask is, how does it feel now that it’s about to be out in the world?
Chris: “It’s interesting, because for us, you know, working in the team, we feel it’s already out in the field because we’ve had a lot of early customers and partners in production use for a long time.
“I suppose really it’s more of a milestone, a bit of a celebration as opposed to something radical changes. So it’s a good feeling. But there are a lot of little milestones. I think the first time we got it to a real customer, to get that beta feedback, was awesome as well.”
So what have been some of the most challenging milestones getting us to this point?
“When you look back, I think a real challenging milestone was the decision to do a line-one rewrite.
“Now, I think as a software company, you’re always building on technology and 99 percent of our development has been building on something. To take that step back is very refreshing, but also very daunting. So it was a big, huge undertaking.
“PaperCut MF is a multi-million line code base and to endeavor to go and do that in a cloud paradigm is a big challenge. That would be probably the most challenging initial milestone.
Why was there that decision to do that line-one code rewrite?
“I think probably the underpinning aspect is that we’ve had amazing success with PaperCut for the last 20 years and we want to be successful for the next 20 years. Cloud is a technology paradigm shift where the game changes - reliability, security, in particular, and usability.
“There are quantum leap shifts when technology goes from a predominantly on-prem approach (or on-prem to hybrid cloud or on-prem to try to fit it in the cloud), there’s a paradigm shift that is occurring at the same time. So we thought, by taking that line one rewrite, it allowed us to leverage that paradigm shift and make sure that we had the best tech in the new world.”
You mentioned before about when we went to beta and got some of our first beta customers and people trying PaperCut Hive. What have been the biggest celebratory milestones?
“The behind the scenes ones I suppose, you know, getting in touch and speaking to the first customers using it in real life. It’s fine to use it in your office or the test lab, it’s another thing to put it in front of real people.
“And then also to speak to, not the tech or the admin, but an end-user. Just getting some of that initial feedback, like someone who might pull their phone out and scan a QR code to connect to the system to release their print job. What’s that feel like for an end-user? So that was awesome to go and do that.
“Another milestone, behind the scenes, would be probably fixing that first big bug. Maybe we as developers don’t like to talk about bugs because they usually bring back scars. But you really have that feeling of there’s a long journey to go and there’s going to be many more of these. But that’s what actually makes a product, right? It’s fine on the happy path, but it’s all these corner cases, and solving some of them is really hard, and that’s awesome.
“I do remember that first customer reported bug and nailing it a few hours later and got it pushed to the cloud. And that’s one of the benefits of the cloud, right? We fix a bug, email the customer, ‘Can you try now?’ ‘Yeah, yeah, it works.’ That’s an amazing feeling. We don’t have to release a new version to download.”
Let’s dive deep now into PaperCut Hive. You’ve been working on this for quite some time now, loading it with lots of these different kinds of features. What’s your favorite?
“That’s a good question. But probably my favorite is not a feature. I think the thing that makes me passionate about our team has been the design and bringing fun into the interface.
“We see printing software as just downright boring. We wanted to do a real shift in that and make it fun, bring the best of usability and experience, tone of voice, into the product. So that’s something I’m excited about it. But you know, OK, it’s not a feature.
“But if I had to pick one, I don’t know, I think maybe cloud node. So you’ve got you’re printing, you print and your print jobs stay local. Well, that’s one of the real advantages of Edge Mesh.
“But there are cases, maybe you’re home and you want to print, or you’re in the cafe across the road and you want to print and then walk back into the office and collect your job. You can enable the cloud node that extends your mesh into the cloud.
“I think it’s awesome technology. It’s fun. We had a great time designing it to get the security up to the level we wanted. I think it’s super useful.
“It’s a feature that I started using pretty quickly because maybe I like going to the cafe a little bit (laughs).”
What went into that design process in terms of PaperCut Hive’s grocery list of the features?
“Oh, look, my favorite feature will change next week or next month because we’re putting things in all the time. There’s a lot of features, I wouldn’t say we’ve held them back, there were things that we wanted to do but we realized essential features were really important. There’s a number we want to get done that we’re going to get done quickly.”
If I could, Chris, could you go into a little bit more detail there? I do enjoy not showing all of the magician’s tricks, but could you tell me a little bit more about future features?
“There are the obvious ones, we’re making sure that we’ve got embedded software for as many brands, quick scan or integrated scanning is being developed at the moment on a number of brands. So they’re all predictable, you see them in MF, but we’ve got a lot of features that are cloud unique and that’s super exciting.
“So some we’re working with our partners on, to bring a number of add-ons and they’re coming out soon and that’s super exciting. Also, the cloud enables us to do some interesting things we’ve in-dropped with other services.
“There are ideas in the pipeline. How do you notify an administrator if there’s a printer problem? You know, maybe having notifications coming in your email is one way to do it, but can we leverage the mobile app that everyone has in their pocket and things like that? So there’s a lot of really cool stuff coming down the pipeline.”
Any integrations with coffee machines at all?
“Very good point. Could we - could we get that? That’s a good challenge. I’m trying to work out now how we can do it.”
I’m cool with George Clooney. I’ve got people at Nespresso. I can make that happen.
We’ve been talking about all these different PaperCut Hive features with our coding hats on. Let’s put the sales hat on now. Why should small to medium businesses want to go out and get PaperCut Hive?
“One of the visions that we really set in the early days was, we always get excited about our big customers, some very big names run PaperCut, a lot of universities around the world with very complicated feature set requirements and things like that. We’ve often been pulled over the years to put more and more features in for them. They want Linux support X or they want support for particular levels of security for Y, and it’s become a complicated product.
“When we went to cloud, we had a bit of a rethink and we set a goal to make sure that print management was available to every business of all sizes. And I really think that’s what cloud unlocks. So I’m super excited about just getting the basics of print management and print security across in any business.
“There’s not a business in the world that shouldn’t remind their staff to use duplex or shouldn’t be aware of their printing; what they print. You know, I can bring up reports and find out all manner of information on, say, who’s using the Wi-Fi network? Why wouldn’t I have that for my printing? So getting visibility, getting some basic waste minimization, security is paramount today, secure print release…
“Any business can do it. You’ve just got to have a smartphone in your pocket. You don’t even need embedded software on the printer to do it. So I’m super excited about just getting the basics through to more businesses. There’s really not an excuse to be leveraging these benefits today.”
Those benefits, do you think they’re more visible because everyone is aware of cloud services due to covid-19?
“There’s a little bit of that. I think there’s been a trend over a long time. Take something like a customer relations management system or something like that. Pre-cloud, you would have an admin set things up and do a deal with some provider to come in and configure things.
“Now, the small business can just whizz to a website and sign up for a trial, enter a credit card, and be using something. So it’s allowed businesses, whether it be, you know, document storage or collaboration software, they’re available to everyone. So I just think it’s a general shift that we had and it’s making the world a better place.”
The core of our cloud-native platform is PaperCut Edge Mesh. So we’ve got edge computing and mesh. How did you smush those two together?
“It started from us looking at IoT and we’re finding more and more edge computing occurring. It makes a lot of sense with printing because we’ve got large documents, privacy, and sensitive information. Why send it up to the cloud and back again when I can physically see the printer? It sort of doesn’t really make sense.
“So we wanted to benefit from the power of the device, the edge, and take in the IoT type mindset. But printing is also a little bit different because it’s not just one device. It’s not just your Google home speaker that might be sitting there or something like that.
“When we walk into large customers, there’s hundreds, if not thousands, of printers. So it’s important to think about the system as a whole. And that’s where mesh came in. Can we have these devices, laptops, working together? Forming a mesh?
“Mesh is not unheard of in IT, in fact, and particularly IoT, it’s becoming more and more prevalent. We hear a lot about mesh wi-fi. Many of the home automation systems around lighting, switching, and control have gone mesh.
“So it’s a moving paradigm. Because printing is local, because we can do edge and should be doing edge and because there are many devices, it just made sense to think about edge and mesh together. And then, you know, we started talking about these technologies, and then we thought, well, actually it rolls off the tongue: Edge Mesh. So that’s where it came from.”
It’s such a snazzy title. But speaking as a non-tech person, I’d like to issue you with a bit of a challenge. I’m going to give you three different audiences for you to explain it to.
“Is one my mum? Because I’ve had a go at that before!”
Maybe… but let’s start with a kindergarten class. If you had to explain the edge to class full of kindergartners…
“Well, I’ve almost had to do this because my daughter has asked the question, ‘What do I do at work?’ What would I say to kindergartners? Probably… ‘Cool technology… Fun… So anything that makes me, dad, look cool.”
Like a video game!
“Exactly. I probably wouldn’t try to explain it any more than that.”
All right. Next level up now. You’re a reseller positioning Edge Mesh to a small business that also doubles as their own IT team…
“Hopefully they’re probably familiar with edge computing. So the first thing you want to explain when speaking to customers is you don’t really need to understand; it just works. But it’s important to explain the benefits and the benefits are that it’s a cloud system but your documents stay local and secure.
“The other thing you often find with print release as a construct is that a number of systems hold the job until you walk up to the printer and are ready to collect. That way someone can’t accidentally collect it. But that time period, where is that document stored? If it’s on your laptop and you shut the lid, you might not be able to release it, because your laptop is asleep.
“So that’s where the benefit of Edge Mesh comes in, your job won’t just sit on one device, it’s distributed. And our vision is we want everything to be part of the mesh, the devices that people use, the printers, and the cloud itself, all working together to make printing easy. And ultimately, that’s what it comes down to: be easy, be secure, be functional.
Ok, the third scenario. You’re at the 12th annual computer scientists and print geek convention. Elon Musk has just left the stage. Here comes Chris Dance, co-founder, and CEO of PaperCut explaining Edge Mesh.
“Wow, OK… Well, it’s got really cool tech… you could blow up one of the nodes in the mesh with one of Elon Musk’s rockets and the system will self heal around it, other nodes jump in to take those roles.
“If you want a more traditional set up where you host your printers on a separate subnet, infrastructure VLAN so people can’t walk up and unplug a printer and plug into your network, bypassing, you know, your Wi-Fi security because I could just walk up with a network cable, so your hosted on a separate VLAN and you need to bridge the two. You know, we’ve got this notion you can put a super node on that bridge and have it more like your traditional set up with MF, or you can go cloud entirely.
“We’ve got something called the cloud node. It’s amazing tech. And we’re trying to get more and more functionality into the devices, into the printers. We want the printers to be super smart. They’re getting bigger and bigger processors in them.
“So edge mesh is an evolution of the future as well. And then some of the crypto stuff we’ve got, we’ve got this stuff where print jobs are encrypted with multiple keys, encryption keys, right, so invalidating any one of those keys, like you remove a node from the mesh or you delete a user, those keys are destroyed.
“So if that job is left lying around on an old hard disc or grabbed by someone, you know, for some nefarious reasons, the keys are gone So we thought about all these sort of things, borrowed a lot of ideas from cutting edge IoT.
“That’s probably why if I was up in a conference speaking, a lot of what we’ve done is we’re not reinventing new wheels. We’re just bringing the best-of-breed tech into the printing domain. So, yeah, it’s just, look, it’s super exciting.
“I was really worried you were gonna ask me to explain it to my mom.”
Well, speaking as the only kindergartener who snuck into that computer convention, I still was able to understand a good two thirds of what you were saying.
“Ah, good, good.”
Well, I’m no Jerry Seinfeld, but it’s been wonderful having a coffee with you and having a chat, Chris, thank you so much. It’s really exciting that PaperCut hive is here. So thanks for having a bit of a chinwag with me today.
“I must admit I haven’t had so much fun talking about print for a while, so thank you.”