Choose your language

Choose your login


Everything you need to know about cloud printing

The beginner’s guide to being an expert at cloud printing

brain with cog thinking icon

What is cloud printing all about anyway?

Cloud computing is nothing new. In fact, it’s a staple of everyday life both inside and outside the workplace. Streaming music, movies, or TV? You’re in the cloud. Backing up your photos on your phone? Cloud. Using online spreadsheets or word processing software? Oh, you better believe that’s cloud. Streaming video games? Wave down at the ground below because you’re in the cloud.

Like entertainment streaming and countless other software, platform, and infrastructure services, print management is another area of technology being enhanced by cloud computing. It’s an obvious enough desire: eliminate on siteprint servers and leverage the cloud for your print environment = cloud printing. But there’s a bit more to it than that.

What is cloud printing guy at desk with printer

Picture this: you’re sitting at your computer at work, right next to your printer. Traditionally, your printer and computer are connected by a wireless or wired network and your secure and quick printing has historically been facilitated with an on-premises (or on-prem) print server. The dream of cloud print management is to outsource printing to a cloud provider without having a print server on-prem.

But here’s the catch… The long arm of the cloud can’t just reach into your local network and stuff documents into your printers all by itself. It’s cloud computing, not magic. Darn it.

Your print jobs need some kind of software or something that can talk to your printers on one hand AND the cloud on the other to pull those jobs down. So why hasn’t print management via a public cloud fully transitioned yet? Well, the printer/MFD/MFP/copier makes it a bit trickier because of the hardware.

So how does cloud printing actually work

To conquer this last bastion of the cloud, you need to solve two problems.

First, if you’re sending your print jobs to a service up in the cloud, you’re sending your documents over the internet - this can be slow and maybe a security concern. So you have to think about your organization’s security risk posture and what barriers you need in place to protect your intellectual property.

And secondly, your print job’s delivered to the cloud service provider (which you may not know the actual physical location of) but getting the print job from the cloud back to the printer in a fast and secure way is tricky -especially if you have a complex print environment.

To connect the cloud to the printer, extra software or hardware needs to exist somewhere on your network to fetch the print job from the cloud. There are three options for what software/hardware combo you need.

Software on the printer

Clouds can’t talk to printers, but printers can talk to clouds with the right software. So, you can house the software directly on the printer, not a separate computer. A downside to this option is the software must be written individually for every printer brand under the sun. The double kicker is that only some brands will be able to handle the software, so it won’t work for your regular printer around the office.

Other challenges to consider with this option are internet connection for the printer (another security attack surface to defend), and the computing power needed with your printer to run this kind of cloud software - software that often will only work with the printer manufacturer’s cloud print platform. As of today, we know Canon printers and Uniflow Online work this way. Also, Microsoft has special agreements with some printer manufacturers to have their software embedded on the printer.

However, we’ve seen that in most cases, the hardware that makes up your onsite printers isn’t a great substitute for computers. Certainly not the kind of computing you need to handle lots of print jobs or print queues, or large complex print jobs. We’ve seen organizations that have more complex print environments need a small box or device onsite (usually something like a computer that’s always on) that connects the printer to the software on the cloud directly. This piece of hardware does the heavy lifting of pulling the complex jobs and print traffic from the cloud that most printers can’t do on their own.

On a computer

A regular laptop can run the software to talk to the cloud.The issue here is if just one computer is running the software; if that computer is turned off or enters standby for whatever reason, you won’t be printing anymore. So,there’s a single point of failure if you have to depend on one computer providing that print server functionality.

On a dedicated device

An admin desktop that’s always on could house the software, and it wouldn’t even need a lot of computing power, but this still means a single point of failure. The drawback here is this is somewhat of a hybrid approach and isn’t that dissimilar to keeping a print server, so you’re not leveraging the full functionality of engaging a cloud provider.

PaperCut takes a hybrid approach to the above three options, but more on that later.

brain with cog thinking icon

Before we move on, we have to talk about “serverless printing”

If you’re technically minded, you know that “serverless printing” essentially means no onsite print server costs/management because you’ve outsourced the role of a print server to a cloud service provider.

Yes, cloud printing is possible without an onsite server handling all your print jobs. BUT, like we mentioned above, you still need something onsite to fetch your print job back from the cloud. We don’t want to belabor this too much, but let’s quickly dig into why and what this looks like.

In general, you have two types of cloud print jobs:

1. Simple printing

The first type of print job we’ll call “simple printing” - you just need metadata without any private info about the document, content or user. This is a lot like direct printing or mobile device printing. You just want your users to hit print from a laptop or mobile device, choose a printer from a small list of predictable printers, and pick up their printout. This works well if the jobs don’t need to be secure, you only have a small list of printers, your users aren’t too mobile, and you don’t need too much information on the types of print jobs traveling through your network.

2. Complex Printing

The second type of print job we’ve been calling “complex”printing. It’s when the whole file can go to the cloud, then be downloaded back to the printer. This is a must if you are in a different location than the office, like at home or in a cafe. You might fit into this bucket if you have mobile employees who need to print to remote offices, or you have too many printers on your network (some only the CFO can use, for example) or a large mixed fleet of printers,or you need to track certain departmental printing or client printing or you have specialty printers you need to keep an eye on - the list can go on, but we’ll stop there.

bell ringing icon

A note on simple printing

At the time we write this, there are services out there that help with “simple printing” - they have printers communicating directly with the cloud to request and pull down jobs, as well as reporting back status. If you look deeper at the technical requirements, this requires firmware/software on the MFD to support this, but it does remove the need for servers or clients on-prem communicating with the printer.

So why doesn’t this work for “complex” printing? One major reason is processing power. Most printers have limitations on processing power. So, the more devices, print drivers, print spoolers, print queues, and printers you have to manage, the more bandwidth you’ll need for all the additional processes. You also need to consider things like bandwidth throughput, latency of the working link, upload and download costs, print load capacity, and redundancy of internet links.

Another reason this won’t work for everyone is the variation between printer brands. Each brand would need its own software. This option will only support a small number of brands - however, this may change over time.

So why would you want hardware onsite?

We previously mentioned one reason: printers have limited processing power. If you’re an organization with, say, 10 printers or 100 users,you need a way to handle multiple print requests or print queues, or hundreds of print tasks with a little more oomph than a printer can provide, especially if you want the ability to track all those tasks and keep an eye on the rogue print-crazy employees. Most, if not all, current providers of a cloud print management solution require something onsite to help-maybe a little Raspberry Pi or similar hardware, or a piece of software installed on an always-on desktop.

You also have to consider security. Sending a job from a simple printer to the cloud opens up otherwise secure documents to the risks of being “on the internet.” You need to trust that your cloud provider is handling your data carefully, and that all points the job travels through are correctly maintained for security. Again, because your printers have limited processing power, having extra hardware onsite will help ensure you have fail safes in place to help with encryption and authentication…

What is cloud printing guy at desk with printer

Want more?

We know, that was such a tease! But if you really like this little bit, then you will LOVE the full Ebook. Don’t forget to check the consent box if you want even more great content.

Download the full Ebook

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

In a rush?

Download the full Ebook now