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Life after Cloud Print deprecation: how Google solved printing with PaperCut

After two years of no travel due to COVID-19, I’d never have guessed my first business trip for PaperCut would be to… New Jersey. Why was my first destination the Garden State? To interview Googler Ofer Bar-Zakai about how the tech giant replaced Google Cloud Print with PaperCut MF . The pandemic made it tricky for guests to visit Google offices, so this Oregonian paid a visit to a COVID-safe location in the Sixth Borough.

Traveling during a pandemic is a mix between nervousness, excitement, and surrealism. The few people on the plane were all wearing face masks, and I was reapplying hand sanitizer so frequently you’d have sworn my cologne was Dettol.

When I finally met Ofer in person, it was a relief how normal it felt.  We spoke for a good 30 minutes before the cameras even started rolling. It was our first time meeting in the flesh, but PaperCut and Google had been in constant conversation for over two years, ever since they began their hunt for a Google Cloud Print alternative in June 2019.

Google Cloud Print deprecation creates a print solution gap

Ofer Bar-Zakai has been the Operation and Engineering Manager for the past six years. His team sits within Google IT’s Corporate Engineering group.

With the air clear, and the taste of airplane food leaving my mouth, we settled in, and Ofer walked me through the whole journey of how Google chose PaperCut for their printing.

We began at the beginning, printing at Google before PaperCut: “Previously we built our own cloud print solutions, which up until last year customers were also able to use. You could use extensions built into Chrome APIs to print to any printer that supported the Cloud Print connection to the Google infrastructure.”

Google used Google Cloud Print for internal printing, but that changed a few years ago when the solution was first slated for end-of-life (EOL) . Ofer was tapped to find a replacement: “My senior director at the time told me, ‘Cloud Print is going to be deprecated and in whatever number of months or years, we need to find a different solution for printing.’”

Google, as you’d imagine, is not your run-of-the-mill printing environment, so Ofer had his hands full of complexity and scale: “We have about 200,000 employees and approximately 3,000 printers globally across all of our offices. We have some additional printers that are not connected to our infrastructure.”

The biggest piece of the gap was Google’s unique approach to infrastructure. All of Google’s internal resources are hugely dependent on BeyondCorp , their own zero trust model: “Google does not rely on direct connections to our own internal infrastructure, and we don’t use VPNs. So all the printing capabilities need to comply with BeyondCorp. Google limits our employees to only use a Google device blessed by Google in order to connect to any of our infrastructures.”

How did Google find the right enterprise print solution vendor?

Ofer and his team began by assessing their choices: “We had basically two options on the table at the time. One was to take over the infrastructure for what used to be Cloud Print as a public product and make it internalized only, then maintain whatever that infrastructure meant.

“The other option was: go and build your own, go buy your own, go do whatever you want - basically all options on the table. We evaluated all the options and decided to find a product and vendor that could work with us and support our security and infrastructure needs.”

Ofer and his colleagues reached out to the Chrome team for a list of possible printing vendors as an enterprise alternative for Google Cloud Print: “PaperCut was and still is one of the recommended printing vendors for Chrome . We asked the Chrome team for a list of all the recommended vendors they were working with. We reached out literally to every single one of those vendors.”

On top of filling the print enablement gap left behind by Google Cloud Print, Ofer’s team had a list of other requirements, all of which had to support BeyondCorp and include native OS printing: “We had to support, at the very least, the three major platforms that we have at Google, which are basically: Linux, Mac, and Windows. We wanted, if possible, support for mobile devices as well. We wanted the ability to badge in order to collect your prints, but we also wanted direct printing.”

Easy and smooth proof of concept in a “matter of days”

After reaching out to the vendors, it was time for proof of concept (POC) : “With at least three vendors, we built a POC within Google Cloud, which is where the infrastructure is hosted for us. We tested each vendor’s capabilities and we also did some basic analysis for scalability and high availability.”

As you’d expect, future expansion was also a priority: “Google is a big company and we have to support multiple regions. So we wanted to make sure that we had enough scalability for the future in order to increase the capacity of printing as we go forward.”

This turned out to be a key differentiator during the POC process: “The main learnings from the proof of concept were that many of the printing providers out there are kind of geared more towards small businesses. Google is not a typical enterprise, not from a scale and infrastructure perspective. But yet at the same time, we found big differences between the printing vendors in terms of scalability and high availability.”

“When we did proof of concept with PaperCut, it literally took a matter of days,” says Ofer. “My colleague Alex did it single-handedly. The solution was up and running on a Google Cloud Platform testing domain with whatever instances we needed. It was easy, it was smooth.”

Ease-of-use from New York to London

Ease-of-use and simple, hassle-free printing were essentially non-negotiable, explains Ofer: “Global travel is important to Google when it comes to printing. We felt like we needed to be, at the very least on par with what we had before. Meaning, a user can print to any printer in any office.”

Ofer reports that PaperCut is more than filling that void: “I think we have a little bit more than that today. Users can sit in New York and know they have business travel to London, they will print in New York and pick it up in London.”

“Of all the benefits we were expecting from the PaperCut solution, the biggest one was security. The biggest right after that was ease of use.”

Sustainability provides print security “win-win”

“Sustainability is very important to Google nowadays. The idea that we could literally just save paper when printing was appealing for us from the get-go,” says Ofer.

“Funnily enough, it’s not only sustainability but security really liked it because we don’t have confidential papers going anywhere around.

“It was kind of a win-win for everyone: This is how the product is working, and this is where Google wants to move in terms of sustainability. Everyone likes it. I think it was a great match.”

Google’s tips for solving enterprise printing

After two years of working together on this Google printing project, Ofer offered his tips for other large companies searching for a print solution:

“The advice I would give any enterprise at this point for a printing solution would be…  First, make sure it’s very easy for your users to use. The more complex it is for the users, the more work you have to do on the backend. Second, if you’re as focused on security as we are, then I think you’ll get what you need from the PaperCut solution.”

Before I hopped on the plane back to Oregon, I finished our time together by asking Ofer to simply summarise why we were the right choice for them: “Google chose the PaperCut solution because it’s the best printing solution we could find.”

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