Network printing opportunities: Services to the Small and Mid-Sized Networks

Network printing opportunities: Services to the Small and Mid-Sized Networks

The network printing marketplace differs somewhat from the printer marketplace. With printers, customers tend to know exactly what they want. Except at the very high end, there is very little education involved and virtually no installation services.

With network printing, on the other hand, more often than not the end user is looking for help instead of a specific product.

Phil Parent investigates

Network printing now represents opportunities for resellers in two main areas: services and componentry. For the hardware, there are network cards and print servers. Print servers usually come with bundled software. The service opportunities for resellers lie in first providing the expertise to specify which servers are the most appropriate for the user's requirements, providing and installing the actual servers, and perhaps even in remote management on a service contract.

`Network managers look to print servers when their networks finally grind to a halt whenever a big print job goes into the network,' explains Intel's Alan Moore. `They look to the reseller for advice on how to reconfigure their system to free up the bottlenecks. The resellers that can offer good service in addition to a good product range always do better.'

For small and mid-sized networks, network administration is a part-time job, often only a subset of the tasks entrusted to a single person. Rarely does that person have the specific experience in identifying where print servers can add the most value and specifying which product is best for the job. Resellers that assist with network audits and requirements analysis usually get the business to upgrade the network. `While the complexity of the software is decreasing, configuring the print server and the various printers is still a specialised task,' says Moore. `We've found that the resellers who provide the widest range of network services sell by far the most hardware.'

In most cases, network managers don't usually look to print servers unless there is a clear and present need, ie the network comes to a halt when a big job is sent to the printer. Only then do they usually look for solutions. However, that leaves an opportunity for the reseller. Network congestion can be traced to the printers.

`Printer servers are almost becoming a commodity item in respect to functionality and price,' says Richard Holden of New Zealand distributor Datamatic. `But despite their low cost, they are still an enterprise product and can have a tremendous positive impact on the network. We see most of our sales go through systems integrators who understand the technology.' With retail prices of around $800 for a high-end 3-port printer server, an entire print server network might come in at under $5000 for hardware for all but the very largest networks. On the other hand, system audit services and implementation can easily add up to 40 or more hours of on-site consulting, depending on the complexity and scope of the analysis. Usually larger networks have skilled network people in-house for specification and installation. So in terms of income, network printing services bring in more revenue than simply selling hardware.

`Trust between the reseller and the end user is extremely important when dealing with any kind of network, but especially a printer network,' says Chris Preddle of printer reseller Lingo Computer Systems. `For a complex project we usually put in a lot of pre-sales effort. For instance, the physical location of the server can have an impact on the overall effectiveness of the network. We look at the amount of printing a company does, where the jobs originate and where they eventually end up. This helps us decide which type of print server is best. We also look at their network configuration and plans, as many of the new print servers can support fast Ethernet as well.'

One area where resellers can add value to their sales is by being more proactive on networking issues. For instance, print servers represent a cost-effective way of taking some of the load off the file server. By implementing print servers before the network reaches that critical stage, network managers can put off undergoing a major upgrade. And with the pace of change in the network component industry, working around an upgrade can save an organisation a significant amount of money.

These types of interactions between resellers and clients can definitely foster trust. On the other hand, the margins on the hardware preclude any extensive gratis pre-sales requirements analysis. Resellers should carefully balance any potential sales with the amount of time spent on building relationships. Most of the opportunities for services come in the small-to-medium networks, where the network manager has other responsibilities.

Distributors and vendors are usually keen to assist resellers get up to speed on network printing solutions and will sometimes even go on-site with resellers to help specify a system. `We will work with resellers to help them understand where particular products fit into the overall network configuration,' says D-Link's Maurice Famularo. `We find the systems integrators and the resellers with a high level of technical knowledge get the most sales, so it is a good investment on our part to provide them with as much as we can. Networking is a fast-growing area and we need to cultivate those resellers that want to participate in that growth.'

Network printing is only a subset of the more complex network structure. However, dedicated print servers can, for a fraction of the cost of a new file server, increase network speed and efficiency far out of proportion to their cost. The challenge is for resellers to identify when a print server is appropriate, know which servers are the best match for the job, and to be able to install and service them. The tools are there - the rest is up to the reseller.

Network printing:

Managing the network to manage the printing processWith the growing specialisation of printers, network printing is becoming more important to more and more organisations. Network printing provides the opportunity for users to send print jobs to various and sundry printers quickly and efficiently around the network. Most of the time, for instance, small offices where the only printers are lasers and most of the print jobs are letters, reports, and other relatively small data streams, printers can be connected to individual PCs via the parallel port or linked directly to the network via a network card. However, the minute larger print jobs are brought into the equation, such as colour printing, PowerPoint presentations, multiple reports, images, graphics and so on, issues such as print queuing, memory, bandwidth management, and other potential problems pop up. This is the point where network printing solutions are the most prudent choice.

Printers are optimised to receive print jobs from a single source via a dedicated, high-speed link. Adopting a network printing strategy will not enhance the ability of the printer to print - it will only offset the added burdens that multiple users and print jobs and the inherent bandwidth limitations bring. Network printing can be seen as ensuring that the big fancy printer gets enough work to make it pay for itself.

There are four basic stages on getting a print job from the application to the printer. Print job preparation is the time taken to convert the job from the application format to the printer format, such as PCL or PostScript. This is usually a function of the PC or workstation. Spooling time is the time required to move the print job from the application to the print queue. This is affected by the efficiency of the application as well as network performance. Wait time consists of the time spent in the print queue. This is a function of the file server or print server. And finally de-spooling time, which refers to the efficiency of the server for removing the job from the queue and sending it to the printer.

At the low end of the network printing spectrum are simple network cards. These cards provide a serial port that can then be linked directly to a token ring, Ethernet or LocalTalk network. These allow the printer to act as a simple node on the network. Every manufacturer has its own particular type of network card. Some simply allow a connection to the network and rely on the network operating system, like Novell intraNetware, for printer management. Others, like the Tektronix PhaserShare network card, come with printer management software, called PhaserLink in the case of Tektronix, which provides printer status, configuration and intranet support.

Inexpensive to install

The main advantage of simple network cards is that they are very inexpensive to install, configure and operate. The main disadvantage is that they place more of a burden on the file server which is not optimised for print files. However, they are a better solution than simply hanging a printer off a networked PC.

A network card is the interim step between printing over the network and true network printing.

Moving up the scale are print servers. A dedicated print server increases the efficiency of the network in spooling time, wait time and de-spooling time.

Printer servers can be internal, like the HP JetDirect 600N, or external, like the Lexmark MarkNet Pro 1 10/100BaseTX. The advantage of internal print servers is that they minimise the footprint and are typically cheaper per printer. The disadvantage, of course, is that they are very much product specific. External print servers tend to support a wider variety of printer makes and models. If you upgrade the printer or change vendors, you need to buy a new print server.

Also, external print servers are available with three ports which makes them much more cost-effective on a per-printer basis.

As with network cards, printer servers typically come bundled with printer management software.

It generally provides real-time printer and job status information for any printer on the network and can manage virtually any task that is normally done at the printer across the network.

Most of the print server software supports SNMP-compatible functionality which provide for remote management as well as icon-driven interfaces.

Another feature which is becoming more prevalent is Web-enabled administration. For instance, the Intel NetPort has a built-in Web server which enables network managers to manage the printers and print servers from any browser, anywhere in the world. The manager simply logs on via a password and user ID and then enters the IP address of the component. The browser then displays the diagnostics of that particular component. Similarly, the HP WebJetAdmin incorporates functionality over and above the basic JetAdmin management software with such features as three-tier security management and device discovery.

Network printing provides the next step up for optimising the efficiency of the network. By implementing a print server and the requisite software, network managers can reduce the overall load on the file server, decrease spooling, wait, and de-spooling times and optimise the paths that the print jobs follow as they navigate the network. By Phil Parentwhat's new from . . .

. . . Lexmark

Lexmark's high-speed colour printer Optra Color 1200 is a departmental network device with wide-format capability, according to the company. Its expanded paper input facility handles media sizes of up to 11.7 x 17 inches, printing on transparencies, paper, card stock, paper labels and envelopes. The network-enabled model, the Optra Color 1200nl, ships with 10/1000Base TX Internal Print Server and has two 250-sheet optional sheet input drawers.

Optra Color 1200 Page Printer

600 x 600 dots per inch

print speed: up to 12 pages per minute colour and mono

32MB of memory upgradeable for networkingprints on a variety of mediaDOS, Windows 95/98/NT, OS/2, Unix and Macintosh platform-capablePRICE: $7919 (not including tax)Available from Ingram Micro Australia (03) 8561 3000 9930 3500 . . PanasonicThe KX-P8420, a new network-ready printer from Panasonic released earlier this month, is aimed at professional groups such as ad agencies, print shops and graphic art studios.

Incorporating the Fiery technology, Adobe PostScript 3 and Panasonic's 1200dpi colour laser engine, Panasonic claims the KX-P8420 offers users `faster, more streamlined printing of multiple copy tasks', while ensuring print quality and productivity required at the professional level.

Panasonic KX-P8420

1200 x 1200 dots per inch

print speed: 4.7 pages per minute in 3 colour mode

3.5 pages per minute in 4 colour mode

14 pages per minute monochrome

80MB memory with upgrade options

Adobe PostScript 3-enhanced

EFI ColorWise architecture

Windows 3.1/95/98, Nt 3.5.1/4.0 and Unix platform-capablePRICE: $699913 2600 . . TektronixThe Colour Printing and Imaging division of the US-based vendor Tektronix has recently released a new network printer that, according to the maker, `combines professional design capabilities with the look of the Apple Power Macintosh G3'.

Aimed at Apple-centric design professionals, the Tektronix Phaser 840 Designer Edition is a solid-ink colour printer that has been specially configured to include Apple's ColorSync profiles. Offering print speeds of up to 10 pages per minute, the Designer Edition is one of the fastest workgroup printers on the market, according to the company.

Tektronix Phaser 840 Designer Edition

128MB memory

1200 dots per inch

standard 10/100BaseT Ethernet or USB connectivity

Adobe PostScript 3-enhanced

10 pages per minute

PRICE: $9109 plus tax

1800 811 177 . . Fuji XeroxThe DocuPrint N40 monochrome network printer from Fuji-Xerox has been designed using Xerox WorkSet Technology that, according to the company, `streamlines the processing time of printing multiple originals and multiple-set jobs'.

Like most network printers, DocuPrint N40 allows users to customise their paper tray options to best suit their needs while enhancing the printing capabilities through the inclusion of Adobe PostScript 3 and Web-based management tools.

The company claims DocuPrint N40 is among the fastest in the industry, setting the standard at 40 pages per minute.

600 x 600 dots per inch resolution

print speed of 40 pages per minute for A4 format - simplex

24MB standard memory upgradeable

built-in Ethernet card

prints up to 200,000 pages a month

Adobe PostScript 3 and Web management tools enabledPRICE: $6750 ex tax1800 655 070 . . KyoceraKyocera's mid-range network printer FS-1750 uses a 100MHz Power-PC processor to deliver up to 14 pages of 1200 x 1200dpi documents per minute.

Featuring full SNMP connectivity support, the printer gives users the option of customising its paper-feeding facilities, as well as the option of upgrading its RAM memory if and when needed. The machine comes with three years on-site warranty.

1200 x 1200 dots per inch resolution

print speed: 14 pages per minute

includes Adobe PostScript 2 emulation

8MB RAM memory upgradeable

uses TK-20H compatible cartridges

PRICE: $1935 RRP

1300 364 429

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