IT Challenge #2 - Printer Mapping in VDI Environments
Thursday, November 08, 2018
by Lou Bartlett
In the first of our series of articles about IT challenges, we talked about the difficulties of printer mapping in Windows environments. Finding and installing printers is tough enough when users are more or less logging on to the same workstations every day. But for a real challenge, consider what happens when individual users don’t have any fixed workstations at all. Imagine if with every login, you had to basically rebuild your entire printing environment from scratch.
Over the years, organizations have taken a variety of approaches to organizing the office environment where employees carry out their work. Sometimes the changes were driven by cost concerns, security requirements, IT simplification initiatives, hardware consolidation efforts, or other factors. In most cases, the needs of the end user were at best an afterthought. Until now.
Countless organizations (including LRS) are beginning to place more emphasis on the end user experience. Unfortunately, some of the changes that were implemented in the past have made printing a bit less convenient for these users. This leads to a difficult choice for IT departments: do they reverse the changes they made in the past or try to make them work in a more user-friendly manner? Given the time and capital committed to these projects, the latter option is obviously preferable.
Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) and shared workgroup multifunction printer (MFP) projects are just two examples of initiatives that benefitted IT departments more than the end users they serve. Why? In both cases, users sensed that something was being “taken away” from them… physical PCs in the first case and personal desktop printers in the second. Do you like that powerful desktop or laptop computer that you can customize to your liking with fun software you downloaded from the Interwebs? And the printer sitting next to it on your desk, where you print out funny memes and vacation pictures? Great… IT will trade you for a locked-down ‘empty’ workstation pre-loaded with company-sanctioned software. You’ll also have the opportunity to set new records on your fitness watch, now that you have to retrieve your documents at the MFP down the hall near the break room.
Taken together, these changes do have the potential to help the organization save money. However, they likely add complexity from the end user’s perspective. That’s because in many cases, whenever a user logs off from their VDI session, any changes made to defined printers or printer settings/drivers/etc. are lost. Next time the user logs in, these settings need to be made again – even if the user is working from the exact same location.
This is inconvenient for the end user and system administrators alike. Keeping user session changes and server-side changes in sync is difficult to say the least, especially when it involves updating drivers or removing/adding print queues. There is a lot of information available about printing in VDI environments and the use of printer mapping tools, for example here on the Citrix support site. But in general, we can say it’s no walk in the park.
Now, let’s return to the so-called “office of the future,” one that centers around end user convenience. Surely such an environment would offer a way to handle printing in a user-friendly manner. Luckily, there are a number of ways to enhance the printing experience within these VDI environments, like printer mapping tools and proximity printing. We covered Windows printer mapping tools in our first article in this series, and this functions the same way in VDI environments. These provide an easy way for end users to locate and install printers without helpdesk interference. And in a VDI environment, these advanced tools also store any printing changes made during the session so that these will be remembered during subsequent logins.
From the end user’s perspective, printing “just works” the way it used to on a normal Windows PC. This is even true when it comes to native print drivers. The aforementioned page on the Citrix site mentions the use of their universal print driver, which makes sense in such a complex scenario. However, with LRS’ approach to printer mapping, it becomes possible to use with native print drivers without causing conflicts between server and session information.
Another way to make VDI printing more user-friendly while reducing IT complexity is to implement proximity printing. Based on an end user’s location, the nearby printers are automatically installed with no effort on the part of the helpdesk or end user. Imagine stepping into a new office where you have never been before. The moment you start your session, you can automatically print to a variety of nearby printers. The IP address of your terminal determines which printers are associated to your session, so your printed documents are always nearby. This makes life easier for users as well as IT administrators, as there are fewer parameters to set up and maintain.
Want to learn more about printer mapping in VDI environments or our LRS solutions for managing printing for enterprises with VDI deployments? Contact the experts at LRS, visit our website, or make a point of seeing us at one of our upcoming events!