Once upon a time, the only way to manage printing was with a dedicated print server. Then cloud computing came along and “serverless” print management became a reality.
But if you’re there asking yourself, “Which one is better, print server or serverless?” You’re actually posing the wrong question.
It’s not a matter of one being better than the other. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages.
You should instead ask yourself, “Which printing solution suits my IT stack?”
What is serverless printing?
Serverless printing is essentially a buzzword for cloud print management. Instead of managing your print fleet with a print server, your printing is “serverless”. That is, you don’t have a physical print server on-premises. Instead, you’re outsourcing the role of a print server to a cloud service provider.
There are lots of different models for “serverless” print management. It can be self-hosted by your organization in a private cloud. Or it can be fully hosted in the public cloud under a SaaS ( Software-as-a-Service ) subscription.
Furthermore, some “on-premises” print management solutions can be hosted in the cloud. You choose the location of the print server where the software is hosted. Then you access it via the cloud, rather than you owning and maintaining the print server yourself.
Therefore, don’t be fooled, “serverless printing” is a misnomer. Something is fulfilling the role of the print server somewhere . Whether the print server itself is outsourced. Or if you’re leveraging public cloud tech that operates as an alternative to a print server.
You see what I mean by “it’s essentially a buzzword”, yeah?
The advantages of serverless printing
- No maintenance - No print server means no print server maintenance. This makes sense for modern workplaces with a naturally small amount of hardware. If you don’t have regular servers, you wouldn’t want to then add a print server in the mix. This is unlocking the magic of full-blown print management for businesses who usually considered it to be exclusively available to enterprise/on-premise print ecosystems.
- Flexibility and scalability - Cloud print management solutions auto-scale up or down depending on your printing needs. If the amount of end-users in your business grows or shrinks, your cloud print service facilitates. This is of paramount significance in a hybrid working world. Lowered print volumes doesn’t mean you have print servers gathering dust. Eased print flow just means your cloud print solution scales down to suit your needs.
- Reduce costs - Maintaining one print server costs approximately $2-3k (USD) per year. That adds up if you have multiple print servers. Serverless printing provides significant ROI in reducing operational costs including associated spending for hardware maintenance, software provisioning, and administration.
- No IT burden - It’s easier for your IT team to manage your infrastructure if you have fewer servers. Serverless printing reduces administration time, management tasks, and support tickets. Software patches and updates are automatic. Continuous delivery and instantaneous feature deployment mean upgrades take care of themselves. Your print management is therefore one less task for your IT administrators and they can focus on strategic long-term projects rather than the daily admin of print servers.
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The disadvantages of serverless printing
- Security - For some cloud print management solutions, there are some questions about the safety and privacy of data: are your documents going off-site when traversing the cloud? Does this leave your business extra vulnerable to security threats? Does a serverless printing solution impact your business’s compliance obligations for regulatory bodies like GDPR , HIPAA , and so forth?
- Reliability - Some cloud print solutions promise dependency but actually introduce more points of failure. Some serverless printing solutions are so tethered to the cloud, that if your desktop/laptop goes offline or the internet is down, it can disturb your printing.
- Performance - The viability of high-powered computing even in personal devices means print documents have become larger and more complicated. Downloading might be quick, but uploading is commonly much slower. If you’re enabling and managing all your printing in the cloud, if you don’t find the right solution, your printing performance may dramatically drop. It’s also worth considering that some cloud solutions don’t have a rich feature set. At least when compared to 20+ years of on-premises print server solutions.
- Control - Depending on your business and printing needs, it’s worth considering that outsourcing the print server role to a cloud service provider means outsourcing control. You, therefore, have no governance over your data location nor the update cycles for the print management software. This is an advantage for some businesses, i.e. part of the service is paying for the service provider to control data, backup, and update cycle. But it’s worth double-checking if this is suitable for your business.
Listen to the Print Geeks podcast episode on serverless printing demystified.
What is print server printing?
Managing your print infrastructure has traditionally been the role of a print server, just another piece of hardware that forms your overall technology stack including server racks, etc.
The advantages of print server printing
- Performance - Hardware equals power and a print server means you have a dedicated computing device managing your print fleet.
- Control - Owning and hosting the print server means you’re accountable and responsible for everything. Maintenance, updates, security, the works. You call the shots.
- Security - A print server means your print jobs never leave your network, which drastically shrinks your print environment’s attack surface area.
The disadvantages of print server printing
- Maintenance - Print servers take up physical space and require upkeep.
- Cost - Hardware of any kid comes with costs, and print servers themselves run up a tab. There’s the cost to own the server, then the costs to maintain.
- IT expertise required - Some businesses don’t have dedicated IT staff, or they only have a small team. Maintaining print servers is a full-time job and requires dedicated IT professionals with the time and know-how to take care of them.
Self-hosted or fully-hosted cloud print management
A self-hosted or private-hosted single-tenant implementation of “on-premise” print management offers some advantages of “serverless printing” while still providing businesses with the performance, control, and security benefits of a print server.
Our flagship print management solution PaperCut MF is perfectly suited to private cloud deployments as a single-tenant print solution. You nominate where your server is hosted for the cloud and you have full control over data, backups, location, and update cycles.
Our fully hosted cloud products PaperCut Hive and PaperCut Pocket were written from line one for the public cloud. We host the print solutions, they’re utterly serverless with no print server or maintenance required. The Edge Mesh infrastructure provides the best of both worlds with IoT-inspired technology.
PaperCut Hive is our feature-rich, flagship cloud print solution with MFP embedded software. You can track and manage printing, copying, and scanning, and enable secure print release with the mobile app, an ID card, or device touchscreen.
PaperCut Pocket is our DIY public cloud print solution. Set it up yourself to track and manage printing, with secure print release at your printer via the mobile device app.
Are PaperCut’s cloud solutions any good though?
But, I hear you saying dear reader, didn’t this blog just list a bunch of disadvantages for cloud print management?
I did, only to highlight the following: it’s not a case of serverless printing being better than a print server. It’s down to choice and what suits your business infrastructure.