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How does a print server work?

Printing is more complicated than we realize. We expect to just press print, and then our job will instantly spit out at the printer. No muss, no fuss.

But there’s a bit more to it. 

Printers aren’t computers, it’s mainly their job just to plop out the paper with the lines on it. So they need a little bit of help on the computing side of things, to process the print queues.

What is a print server?

A print server is a dedicated appliance or central point of software. They help clients/users/devices connect to shared printers and they process or pass through spool files from a client to the printer.

When you hit print, the print server accepts the job and pushes it to the appropriate printer. Essentially, print servers are the intermediary between the computer and the printer. They help minimize chaos from breaking loose. 

Can’t you just print directly to the printer though? 

Totally. Direct IP printing is an alternative, where jobs are sent straight to the printer without a print server. 

But, this is part of the chaos. Do Sysadmins trust the end user to add a print driver that will talk the same language as the printer?  Will your business record reams of paper loss as your accounting staff experiment with just the right print driver for the printer…

So, yeah, you can do it. But it’s not suitable for a workplace with multiple printers and dozens of users. 

It’s appropriate for a small number of users. Or where a print server is not a justifiable expense. 

However, it means there’s no tracking or reporting or overall print management available. More on alternatives to print servers later in this post. 

Why do businesses need a print server?

Print servers make print management a breeze for workplaces with large device fleets and multiple offices. 

A print server’s main task is to take care of the print queue. That’s the imaginary line where your print jobs wait after you press print.

Printers are different from computers and mobile devices. They’re peripheral to information technology but they themselves are actually mechanical devices with gears, ribbons, rollers, fusers, sensors, and cables. There are a lot of moving parts in a printer. These extra mechanical components mean there’s more to maintain than your standard laptop or tablet.

Because of all that, printers have limited processing power and memory. The main reason for print servers is to have a central driver management experience and to configure queues and printer settings on one machine which will be distributed to all the clients.

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How does a Print Server work?

Print management software needs to live somewhere. 

For medium to large businesses, a print server is recommended to host your print management solution. Your print server can be a dedicated server just for your print system. Or it can be an existing file or domain server - that’s a domain server, NOT a Domain Controller, they’re not appropriate as print servers.

Your print server operates in the background of your network. Ushering jobs from the client to the printers. They primarily manage the print queue. As well as deploying print drivers to client machines.

The user presses print. The print server receives that request. The server then directs the print job to a printer. This places the job in a queue. When the job reaches the top of the queue, the printer prints the document. 

What are the pros and cons of an on-premises print server?

Physical print servers are the most mature and powerful technology for managing printers. Like all things, there are advantages and disadvantages to having a print server.

Here are the upsides and downsides to consider.

Advantages of print servers

  • Dedicated powerful hardware - A print server literally has one job - to manage your print infrastructure. Their powerful processors exclusively look after your printers. This unlocks powerful printing speeds and High Availability for your workplace.
  • Takes care of all print complexity - Print servers can handle any number of workplace intricacies you throw at them. New users, permissions, policies, settings, etc. Whatever problem your print environment needs solving, your print server will tackle it.
  • Centralized management of print infrastructure - With a print server, print management becomes a singular beast. It allows your IT staff to control and manage printing from a centralized administration console. Rather than having to manually check each device in your fleet. The print server centralizes access control for security purposes and also consolidates queue management so that sysadmins can view and manage all pending print jobs if need be. 

Disadvantages of print servers

  • IT expertise required - A dedicated print server needs dedicated handlers. IT teams need to regularly maintain, update, and service a print server. They’re most suitable for workplaces with sysamins (system administrators) on staff, or a third-party provider.
  • Single point of failure - As powerful and dependable as print servers are, they can be a bottleneck if there is a serious malfunction. If the server goes down, so does your printing. There are workarounds of course, but it is a consideration. 

Do you need a print server?

For the modern workplace, something needs to manage your print fleet.

The flexibility here is that print servers can either be hardware or a cloud service.

Print management is no longer only a print server game. There are many “serverless” print management solutions available. Something somewhere does the “servering” so to speak.

What kind of print management solution you need depends on your business’s printing demands. If you have a complex printing environment, i.e. dozens of devices, the size and scale of your workforce and printing may necessitate on-premises hardware. In that case, your compliance and High Availability requirements are ideally served by a print server.

However, if you’re a smaller business and you don’t have many servers, a “serverless” solution in the cloud is more suitable.

You won’t need to own or maintain a physical print server, you’ll just leverage a server in the cloud or use an alternative to the print server to do the print server’s job.  

Here’s a little bit more about your other options over a print server.

Direct printing

As mentioned above, workplaces with a small number of users can print directly to the printer with a Direct Printing solution. Jobs are controlled by the client/device/computer that pressed print. 

Direct Printing is best suited for offices with a distributed workforce i.e. different offices and branches where end-users are local and not transient. But even in this configuration, it’s best for a central headquarters to host a print server. However, it does mean each office/branch doesn’t need its own print server.

Find out more about our Direct Printing feature .

Serverless printing in the cloud 

Like most technology these days, hardware isn’t your only option. You can manage print without a server and use a cloud print management solution instead. Cloud print management, also known as serverless printing, has different implementation types. 

With a private cloud solution, your print server is hosted elsewhere and you access it over the internet. Or for a fully-hosted public cloud solution, a service in the cloud does the print servering for you.

Find out more about our cloud products PaperCut Hive and PaperCut Pocket for serverless printing options.  

Looking for powerful on-premises print management software with a print server? You might want to consider our flagship locally hosted solution, PaperCut MF.


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