Today, there are a variety of solutions being offered for print server consolidation. This is quite interesting, considering that 20 years ago, we all used print servers without questioning why.
What has changed? We now have a choice in how we structure our print environment, and there is something very compelling about removing print servers. First of all, these servers are costly and time consuming to maintain. Not to mention the environmental impact with the high electricity consumption and storage. So it makes sense to consider the alternatives.
With the growing number of print consolidation solutions, how do you choose the right one for you? Here are ten questions to ask when selecting print server consolidation software:
1. How much of our printing is Windows-based?
What does your organization look like? Are you exclusively a Windows environment, or do you require more than regular office printing? Think about Mac, VDI / Citrix, Epic, and other application output. You’ll find that many solutions are geared toward Windows printing, so if you need to print from multiple platforms, your list of options becomes shorter.
2. What features does the solution support?
You will want a solution that both consolidates print servers and manages printing, so be sure to ask if the solution offers all of the print management features you require. Think about pull printing, rules-based printing, secure printing, print quotas, cost allocation, device monitoring, reporting and more. Better yet, download our checklist so you can be sure not to overlook any important functionality.
3. How can I verify vendor claims?
This one tends to be overlooked, as we like to believe what we see and hear. But often vendors make things look better than they are, so it’s fair to ask for proof. For example, instead of asking how many printers can be supported, try asking “What is the largest number of printers that is currently supported at a customer site?” This is a slight difference in questioning, but it ensures you get a real response and not a marketing one.
4. Can you provide real references?
This is related to the previous question. You will want to see real customer names and read real customer statements. Reliability is everything, but what if a solution only looks good on paper? Good marketing can do that. Some vendors’ websites show hundreds of customer logos, but are these truly existing customers? If you find an overview of company logos, pick those that are most similar to your organization and ask the vendor for details. Then ask to speak with someone at one or more of these customers to check the reference. This is common practice when hiring a new employee, so why not exercise the same due diligence when selecting software?
5. How well does the software communicate with our hardware?
Printing devices are smart these days, and you will want a solution that can ‘communicate’ with your printers. Not just “tell” the printers what to do, but “discuss” the options. As strange as this may sound, that is exactly what happens with bi-directional communication. The print management solution and printer talk to each other and ensure print jobs are executed properly. Make sure you leverage your investment in hardware and make sure this box is ticked when you pick your server consolidation / print management software.
6. Is this a ‘One Size Fits All’ or a tailor-made solution?
In addition to bi-directional printer communication, you should look for interfaces with your business applications. Your organization likely needs more than a “vanilla” solution that functions the same way in each organization. Think about your mission-critical business applications that may run on a variety of computing platforms, from mobile to mainframe. There are solutions that expand beyond Microsoft Office printing, and even offer softcopy alternatives to printing. Explore the possibilities by listing your platforms and applications and ask the vendor to design a solution that is tailor-made for your environment.
7. Is pull printing support limited to Windows documents?
Your employees regularly use MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint or Adobe PDF. They submit a document for print and they want to collect it on any one of the numerous printers on your network. There are at least 20 solutions that can do that. But if your business also needs to process output from SAP and other line of business applications, the list of solutions is much shorter. Make sure to ask the vendor about all of their pull printing options.
8. What sort of high availability support is offered?
Failover scenarios and clustering are two key areas to explore. Does the solution support Microsoft failover cluster? Does it use DNS failover? Is it accomplished via a mirror database? Is it cluster aware? This is a highly technical conversation, but one that should take place in the initial stages while you are investigating your selected solutions. There are a number of options and ways to ensure high availability, but this is the one thing you want to get absolutely right from the start.
9. What kind of track record does this solution have?
You want to invest a long-term solution, one that will let you adjust to changing market conditions. An easy way to ensure ongoing development is to check the website. Most software companies publish their release information online. How has the solution changed? What has been added? Have they addressed market changes and how have they done it? Or have they only made minor updates to their solution? If it is not clear, then ask about major changes and new features. You will want to ensure this upfront so you have no surprises later on when the market changes and your software quickly becomes outdated.
10. Can the solution adapt to changes in my business?
The last item to consider is change. The market can and will change, and so must your organization. You will need to be aware of the limitations of each alternative so that as you grow, the solution can grow with you. For example, what if you change applications or operating systems? Say you are only using Windows at the moment, but you later need to start using Mac. Is the solution designed to accommodate this change? In the future, will you be the one responsible for reaching out to the provider to discuss ways to further enhance your business processes? All the more reason to think about flexibility up front.
In the case of LRS, we will help you identify a solution or combination of solutions that offers the greatest return on your current and future investment. As your workplace changes, we will be able to reassess your needs and help you adapt your systems without having to change vendors.
Only after considering questions like these and querying potential suppliers will you truly understand what you are being offered. There are additional considerations, but these depend on your preferences. Think about the support network. Is it important that the vendor have a headquarters or office near yours, or would you like to buy via a reseller that can also provide hardware and services as well? Also, how important is the length of the supplier’s track record? All of these considerations will help you find the right match for your organization.
If you want to learn more about the history and presence of LRS, contact us for an introduction or browse our site for more information about our company and solutions.