ThinPrint Engine 10: Taming the Print Environment

Printing in the Office or from Virtual Desktops Can Be Hard to Manage, but ThinPrint Provides Some Succor



Priya Gohil

Ask any IT administrator about what vexes them about their workload and there’s a good chance that high on the list is the onerous task of managing a busy, heterogeneous print environment. Different operating systems, different hardware and different printer drivers can cause innumerable conflicts, drive up help desk calls and, ultimately, divert valuable IT resources away from more essential tasks. Meanwhile, users have a very reasonable expectation that their job will print quickly and correctly when it’s sent to a printer. In practice, however, reality often falls short.

A typical printing environment poses some serious challenges for the IT administrator. One challenge is that a company may not have the same printer model installed in every office location; this creates the need to manage many different printer drivers on the server and client sides—and the drivers must match up. Bandwidth can be a limiting factor when printing over WAN (wide area network) connections, while network stress will impact printing performance and slow down productivity.

Another issue is raised where businesses adopt a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) operating model. This a fairly commonplace practice in mid-size and large companies, and it’s gaining traction in smaller sized companies as well. From an IT perspective, virtual desktops help reduce the time it takes to set up and service new PC hardware and software and they also help to decrease desktop management and support costs. Everything is centrally managed and secured, so virtual desktops eliminate the need to install, update and patch applications, back up files, and scan for viruses on individual client desktops. It also paves the way for more agile ways of working. Administrators can provide end users with ‘any time, any place’ access to their work desktop from multiple devices, such as their home computer, mobile devices or laptops; users get a familiar desktop experience with all their applications, and they can maintain their productivity while working in different locations away from the office.

However, one drawback of a VDI-based environment is that it can be difficult for administrators to set up and make local printers available for users to connect to when working remotely. The same applies for shared desktop environments, such as Microsoft Remote Desktop Services (previously called Terminal Services) and Citrix. Even when printing connections are made, the amount of bandwidth consumed when a user sends a print job from their virtual desktop to a physical printer can be problematic—file sizes can bloat tremendously in the process—and could affect network performance. As a consequence of all these issues, IT departments may look to third-party solutions to help resolve such challenges.

ThinPrint Engine: Manage Your Print Environment
ThinPrint Engine is a centralised management system that offers a number of tools that help IT administrators control and streamline their print environment. Its individual components combine together and primarily serve to increase workplace efficiency, optimise print environments, simplify the printing process for end users and reduce print-related costs.

At the heart of the platform is the ThinPrint Output Gateway, a virtual printer driver that replaces individual printer and MFP drivers on an organization’s print server, PCs and virtual desktops. End users see just one print dialog box regardless of which brand or model of printer they send their print job to. Having one consistent and familiar interface should help to simplify job programming, as users will always find print settings in the same place, no matter which device they choose. And administrators no longer face the headache of deploying and managing multiple drivers. In fact, no printer drivers have to be installed on client workstations at all, as they are deployed only on the ThinPrint central print server. Plus, conflict issues should be reduced, which means fewer helpdesk calls to handle and fewer print-related issues to manage overall. Administrators can even enforce certain cost-saving print policies, such as duplex and/or black-and-white printing only, directly from the central driver management console, prohibiting end users from changing these settings in the print dialog box (if the administrator so chooses).

A typical printing environment poses some serious challenges for the IT administrator. One challenge is that a company may not have the same printer model installed in every office location; this creates the need to manage many different printer drivers on the server and client sides—and the drivers must match up.

ThinPrint Output Gateway supports the advanced finishing options (such as binding, stapling and hole punching) offered by so-equipped MFPs, but there’s a fallback option should an option not be available. ThinPrint have a utility called Finishing Detector, which is used to evaluate if a native driver has finishing options that could be supported by ThinPrint Output Gateway. If any native finishing options are reported as not supported, the ThinPrint development team will endeavour to build them into the ThinPrint Output Gateway virtual driver for the next release.

In virtual distributed environments, users can address the familiar challenge posed by the high volume of data passed across the network when printing; administrators can define the maximum bandwidth to be used per location, and this bandwidth limit isn’t exceeded even when multiple users print large documents simultaneously. Users also have the ability to reduce the bandwidth additionally on the client side to increase application performance if they so wish. In addition to bandwidth control, the solution’s Advanced Adaptive Compression functionality compresses print data—by up to 98% according to the company. This applies not only for application protocols like RDP/RemoteFX, LPR/LDP and ICA/HDX, but also for the most commonly used protocol, TCP/IP. It’s designed to intelligently analyse each element of a given print job and then apply the optimal compression algorithm, in line with the available bandwidth, prior to job transmission.

There are other ways ThinPrint Engine fine tunes printing performance in the workplace. It starts to transmit a print job after it processes the first page; it doesn’t need to process the whole print job before release. In addition, its SpeedCache feature enables faster printing and reduces traffic, as it caches repeated elements in a print job (such as brand logos and fonts) so that a document containing these elements will print more quickly. ThinPrint Engine aims to offer stable printing results, while achieving a further reduction in print data volume, via its intelligent font management: only the characters that are actually used in the document are transmitted rather than the whole font range. The software’s VirtualCopy feature adds a further boost to user productivity, with the ability to send up to five copies of a document to different printers with just a single mouse-click; moreover, each copy can be output using different settings.

ThinPrint Engine’s security features are robust. Print jobs are transmitted with 128-bit encryption to ensure the protection of highly sensitive documents. And because the software integrates with office hardware, it allows end-to-end encryption of print data right up to output delivery at the printer. The solution also supports printing from host systems, such as in scenarios where companies use Microsoft Remote Desktop Services or Citrix XenApp to access enterprise applications such as ERP, PPS or CRM systems. The ThinPrint Host Integration Service feature allows print jobs (such as batch printing and printing from SAP servers) generated in the remote session, to be delivered securely to any local printer.

Remote Printing Made Easy
ThinPrint offers several tools and features to help organizations work more efficiently. For mobile workers requiring print support, the ThinPrint Cloud Printer app allows Android and iOS users to print easily to any Wi-Fi printer available on the network, without extra cost. Available with the Premium software edition, Apple users have the advantage of using the ThinPrint Mobile Printing app, which is a free download from the Apple App Store. It supports the native AirPrint functionality found on Apple mobile devices, so iOS users working on their iPhone or iPad can print a document in a remote session directly to an AirPrint-enabled network printer in their office.

Also included with the Premium edition, ThinPrint Engine’s Tracking Service has built-in graphical reporting capabilities, which let users remotely monitor print activity for individuals or groups of users and devices. Users can also run a number of canned reports to view and analyse usage. The information should enable organizations to spot trends and identify the main cost-drivers of their print operations. This information can also be used to make decisions on how to recoup costs and deploy and use devices more efficiently.

Helping to alleviate the administrator’s burden, the company has recently introduced the ThinPrint Hub to their portfolio of offerings. This hardware kit is designed to make it easier for administrators to deploy printing to remote locations, such as branch offices or employees’ home offices. The hub device has an Ethernet jack and four USB ports to support local devices. Administrators use a web-based console to configure the Hub device, a process that entails creating printers (either locally attached via USB or on the network), connecting it to ThinPrint Engine, and so on. Once the hub configured, it simply needs to be plugged in at the branch office and have printers connected to it. This enables administrators to manage printers in the branch office directly from their central location; since the Hub acts as the ThinPrint client, there’s no need for administrators to install client software anywhere else at that office. Importantly, it supports the main features of ThinPrint such as data encryption, bandwidth control, compression and print data streaming.

In virtual distributed environments, users can address the familiar challenge posed by the high volume of data passed across the network when printing; administrators can define the maximum bandwidth to be used per location, and this bandwidth limit isn’t exceeded even when multiple users print large documents simultaneously.

The solution offers great flexibility; it can be deployed in organizations of all sizes, and, as a general-purpose management platform solution, it’s suited to all vertical markets. Regardless of printer and MFP brand, with or without terminal or remote servers (Citrix, Windows, VMWare or Mac), or where 32- and 64-bit operating systems and mixed scenarios are used, the solution can slot into any existing IT architecture, and so businesses can leverage their existing hardware investments without having to fork out for extras.

For organizations, especially those which have complex IT environments or have employees in distributed locations, the rationale to employ a management solution like ThinPrint Engine is clear. Not only is it easier to print from virtual and remote environments, but print-related costs can be driven down by reducing the use of resources, eliminating driver conflicts and enhancing printing performance. It’s certainly worth a look.

Product Profile
Versions: ThinPrint Engine is a scalable solution for large organizations. The software is available in two packages: ThinPrint Engine 10.6 and a Premium edition which has additional components such as ThinPrint Mobile Print, Tracking Service and Reporting and Cluster Support. The company offers add-on products such as ThinPrint Hub, ThinPrint Personal Printing and ThinPrint Cloud Printer to extend the platform’s functionality at an additional cost.

Users: ThinPrint Engine can support an unlimited number of users.

Server: 2-GHz dual core CPU (quad core CPU recommended); 2-GB RAM (4-GB recommended); 50-GB HDD space; Microsoft Windows Server 2008 R2; Server 2012; Server 2012 R2. The Tracking Service database requires Microsoft SQL Server.

Client: Microsoft Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7 (32/64 bit), Windows 8 (32/64 bit), Windows 10, Mac OS 10.2, Linux; network and Internet access.

Mobile Device Compatibility: ThinPrint Mobile Print is compatible with iOS iPads and iPhones operating 7.1 or later.

Compatible Output Hardware: ThinPrint Engine 10.6 is compatible with all printers regardless of brand.

Software Integration: In addition to Active Directory integration, ThinPrint Engine can connect with terminal servers and virtual desktops, so it can be used in Microsoft, Citrix and VMware environments.

Availability: ThinPrint GmbH is a subsidiary of Cortado GmbH, a global company, with its headquarters in Germany and offices in the US, UK, Australia and Japan. ThinPrint Engine 10.6 is sold worldwide by the company and through select channel dealers. A free 30-day trial full-featured software package is available to download from the company’s website.

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