IT Challenge #3 – Windows Print Server Updates
Friday, January 25, 2019
by Lou Bartlett
LRS customers are not shy in sharing what they think about our software, both directly with LRS staff and with each other (during our User Groups for example). Recently, a customer told us that we probably could not imagine how much time we were saving his IT department. This naturally piqued our curiosity.
When we asked where they saved the most time, he said it was Microsoft Windows print server updates. You see, before implementing LRS software, they had hundreds of print servers. Each time they had to update these servers, they needed to do a backup (properly documenting each step) and then repeat those steps for each of the servers.
Despite the fact that they had developed tools to manage the print server updates, it was still a time-consuming activity that required a team of people. He said that there was no such thing as Microsoft Windows Print Server “Best Practices” when it comes to updates. They just had to grind through the work, one server after another... which explains why they embarked on a server consolidation initiative.
After their print server consolidation effort, they were left with only a handful of servers. In addition to the obvious hard cost savings for each print server eliminated, they quickly noticed the soft cost reduction in IT administrator labor. To their surprise, these savings nearly equaled those of the print server reduction. The customer then told us about three areas which heavily impacted the time spent on maintaining their IT infrastructure for print related activities.
Updating software on multiple print servers
Many organizations have a print or output management solution in place. Depending on the vendor, customers may be required to update the print servers when a new release is available. These updates or upgrades are not always very important for each organization, unless they include a bug fix or feature enhancement that the customer deems necessary. But they may be very important if the vendor requires the upgrades as a condition of continued support.
We have heard of companies that were doing updates each month. Obviously, this can be an absolute nightmare for an IT infrastructure that includes hundreds of Windows Print Servers. As a result, customers sometimes choose not to update at all and wait for a later release and/or only update a small number of the servers. One can imagine the potential chaos resulting from this piecemeal approach, with different servers running different versions of software.
On any server being upgraded, a step-by-step process for each server should be documented so the actions can be repeated for subsequent servers. Logically, this means that by reducing the total number of print servers, you can reduce the number of times these steps need to be repeated. Updating 200+ servers is harder than updating five; anyone can do the math.
The complex task of print driver deployment and updates
Depending on how heterogeneous the printer fleet may be, print driver deployment can be a real challenge. The aforementioned customer said their 7,000+ devices represented 400 different models, each potentially needing its own driver. An obvious way to simplify things would be to deploy a universal print driver (UPD). Unfortunately, UPDs tend to limit the features available to end users to a “lowest common denominator” that overlooks the unique capabilities of some devices.
When this organization made the switch to LRS software, they still chose to run multiple print servers, but they maintained a centralized point of control and no longer needed to document the steps for print driver deployment or configuration. The LRS software handled driver management for them — they simply uploaded a given driver to a server once and let the software push it out to the applicable device(s) in the entire organization.
Aside from ease of support, there is a second benefit with centralized print driver management. Though infrequent, it is possible for a driver to malfunction and cause problems for end users wanting to print to a specific printer. What do you do in such a case? One solution is to manually restore the settings on all updated Windows Print Servers and revert back to the previous version of the print driver. Unfortunately, this takes time and while this is being done, end users are unable to print. A better solution is to use software with a centralized administrative interface that lets IT easily identify and solve the problem or simply push the previous driver version back to all servers. The impact on end users is minimal and it prevents a lot of helpdesk calls.
Configuration and administration of print queues
The same customer had over 10,000 active print queues. Before LRS, managing these print queues and changing the settings would require the same cumbersome process as updating software and deploying new print drivers. By contrast, with the LRS solution, the administrator could simply configure a print queue once and push it out to all clients within their organization.
There are many more aspects that add value to a print server consolidation effort besides saving on server hardware and maintenance expense. In the next article of this series, we will talk about the challenge of troubleshooting printing problems in a multi-Windows print server environment. If your own organization faces similar print challenges to the ones described in this Blog, contact us to learn how LRS can help.