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Vertical vs horizontal scalability: Choosing the right approach for your cloud print environment

To scale outwards, or scale upwards? That’s the big question. If you feel like you’re outgrowing your current cloud print setup, you’ve got two choices: horizontal scaling or vertical scaling. Both have their upsides and downsides, and the choice usually comes down to a few questions. What does your print volume look like now? What hardware and infrastructure are you rocking? And what sort of growth have you got on the cards?

The good news is that PaperCut can help with both horizontal and vertical scaling of cloud print environments. It’s kind of our specialty. But if you’re after a scalability crash course, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s dive in.

What’s the difference between vertical and horizontal scalability?

Scalability in a cloud environment is simply your ability to ramp the throughput capacity up or down, depending on traffic and demand for bandwidth. Need more processing power? Scale your instances up. Experiencing a seasonal user dip? Save money by reducing your cloud capacity.

But let’s take it one step further. When it comes to cloud print scalability, you have two choices: vertical scalability or horizontal scalability. Vertical scalability means upgrading existing infrastructure, like the capacity of a server. Horizontal scalability, on the other hand, means ‘scaling out’: adding more print servers or instances across the network, to help with an increased volume of print jobs. It’s the difference between upgrading the old or adding the new.

Factors to consider

Vertical and horizontal scaling aren’t in competition. There’s no ‘right’ answer here. They each offer a different way of scaling your cloud print capacity – that’s all. So, what factors do you need to consider before making the choice?

Growth trends. You need to start by assessing your current workload and analyzing any expected growth trends. If your print volumes are consistently increasing in a linear fashion, and you expect them to keep tracking that way, horizontal scaling might make more sense.

Resource requirements. You also need to take stock of your current cloud print resource requirements. Look at stuff like CPU, memory, storage, latency rates, and network bandwidth. Once you’ve mapped your cloud print environment, you’ll have a better idea how to scale it.

Hardware limitations. In some cases, vertical scaling might not be possible, given your current cloud print setup. It all depends on your existing hardware and software. If upgrading the network is going to involve replacing existing infrastructure, you might be better served going horizontal.

Cost considerations. As a rule (there are exceptions) vertical scaling’s cost tends to be up-front – it’s whatever you need to pay to upgrade the existing cloud infrastructure. Horizontal costs tend to be ongoing, as you add extra capacity and instances. Neither one is a deal-breaker, necessarily, you just need to weigh the cost/benefit ratio.

Fault tolerance. You should factor in fault tolerance and high availability of your cloud print environment. If 100% uptime is important to you, horizontal scaling can usually offer better redundancy and fault tolerance, due to distributing the workload across multiple instances.

Pros and cons of vertical scalability

By choosing vertical scalability, and upgrading your existing cloud print infrastructure, you can usually get your new network up and running much faster. It’s the simple way to scale, but there is a trade-off…

Pros of vertical scalability

Keep it simple. Without the need to manage multiple instances and servers, vertical scaling is usually a simpler, less migraine-inducing process, and requires less management overhead.

Cost-effective scaling. For smaller print environments, where the workloads are relatively low and predictable, vertical scaling tends to be more cost-effective. This benefit drops off as your print environment gets bigger, or more complicated.

Easy to implement. Vertical scaling can generally be implemented quickly and easily, without huge changes to your existing cloud print architecture. This makes it ideal for small businesses and start-ups.

Cons of vertical scalability

Limited scalability. Vertical scaling has built-in limits – you can only upgrade a single print server so much! Eventually, if growth continues, you’re going to experience latency and bandwidth issues again, and then you’re right back where you started.

Single point of failure. Vertical scaling also has a lower fault tolerance than horizontal scaling, due to relying on a single resource (like a printer or print server). If your upgraded resource experiences teething issues, it can impact the entire print environment.

Not so spiky. Vertical scaling runs on a fixed capacity, which means it’s bad at handling traffic spikes. If your print volume suddenly blows past your server capacity, performance will suffer, leading to failures and delays.

Pros and cons of horizontal scalability

Horizontal scaling is kind of the default for larger organizations, or companies looking to handle spikey print demand. And there’s a few reasons for that. It’s basically the most flexible way to scale your cloud printing.

Pros of horizontal scalability

Scale. Scale. Scale some more. By adding multiple instances, horizontal scaling allows for the seamless expansion of the cloud print environment. There’s kind of no limit to how far you can push your setup (depending on budget and IT workload, of course).

Always available. Horizontal scaling enhances fault tolerance and high availability by distributing your print workload across multiple instances. In other words, you get rid of that single point of failure. This is a big tick in the horizontal column.

Load balancing. If you’re dealing with high print volumes across a complex, distributed network, horizontal scaling is probably the way to go. It facilitates better load balancing by evenly distributing print jobs across multiple instances.

Cons of horizontal scalability

Complexity. Where vertical scaling is simple and easy to do, horizontal scaling is very much not. You now have the job of coordinating, optimizing and juggling multiple print servers and instances, which means your sysadmins need to be on their toes.

Management overhead. Which brings us to management overhead: i.e. all the additional provisioning, configuring, monitoring and maintenance you’ll have to do on your fancy new cloud print environment. Again, not a deal breaker, but it’s something to consider.

What’s the cost? With more power and flexibility comes additional cost, and horizontal scaling does tend to be the more expensive option, especially if resources are underutilized during periods of low demand. In other words, if you want to go horizontal, you’d better be sure about those growth targets.

Scalability and PaperCut

Can PaperCut help you with horizontal or vertical scaling? Put it this way: our largest client has about 350,000 users, and they run PaperCut software on a well-resourced application server and DB server.

When it comes to vertical and horizontal scalability, PaperCut can help with both. But for organizations with more than 100,000 users, we usually recommend booking some time with our team to chat about cloud print architecture. We can usually tailor a solution that’s right for your company, rather than an off-the-shelf cloud print product.


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