Tailoring Your Network To Meet Enterprise Printing Needs
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Published in TechRepublic's Windows NT Adminstrator Report (TechRepublic.com)
When it comes to printing, users can be very demanding. Although it's fairly simple to keep a network printer running, it's an entirely different challenge to keep it running in a manner that truly meets the needs of your users. In this article, we'll look at the various printing needs of typical network users, and show how you can configure your printers to best meet these needs. For example, we'll demonstrate how to control users' rights to a printer through settings in the Printer Permissions dialog box, shown in Figure A.
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What do the people want?
Before you can custom tailor your printers to meet your users' needs, you must understand those needs. To do so, let's take a brief look at the various types of print users and their needs.
Normal users print at a low to moderate volume. Typically, these users aren't in an extreme rush to get their print jobs, but still need them in a timely fashion.
High-priority users are typically in management or in marketing. and must be able to print their jobs very quickly. Unless they have personal printers, such users are often frustrated by having to wait for others' print jobs to complete before the printer starts printing their jobs.
There are two basic types of high-volume users. The first type includes people who print lots of small or average size jobs. The second type usually prints only one job, but this one job may be thousands of pages long. Both types of high-volume users can tie up the printer and make others wait a long time for even the shortest jobs.
Users who think they're high priority
Almost every office has a user who thinks that every one of his or her print jobs is urgent although they're actually of relatively low importance. Many times such users figure out how to boost the priority of their print jobs and make them print before other jobs that really are important. Fortunately, there's a way of dealing with such users, as we'll discuss later.
Non-business users are those people who sneak into the office in the middle of the night to use that nice color laser printer to print 5,000 color flyers advertising a bake sale at their kid's school. Such users not only cost the company money for paper and ink, but also in the cost of maintaining such a heavily used printer. If this is a problem in your office, you'll be happy to know that Windows NT offers an easy solution, as you'll see in a moment.
Sometimes situations come up when a user may need to print to a certain printer, but only once. Although such a user poses little threat to printer traffic or wasted supplies, the administrator must still load a driver onto that user's PC and give permissions to print. Doing so occupies the administrator's time when he or she could be working on higher priority issues.
Now that you understand the needs of various types of users, you can do something about them. The first step is to better understand two aspects of printing: setting user rights and scheduling print jobs. Once you understand how to do these two tasks, you'll be well on your way to solving the bigger challenges.
You can do several things to regulate who has what type of control over a printer. To begin, open the Printers applet in Control Panel. Right-click on an existing printer and select Properties from the context menu. When you do, you'll see the printer's Properties sheet. To control users' rights to the printer, select the Security tab to open the Printer Permissions dialog box, which we showed you in Figure A.
Notice in Figure A that you can choose from several different levels of access. For example, the Administrators, Print Operators, and Server Operators groups have Full Control over the printer. This means they can print to the printer and can do anything they want to anyone else's print jobs. The Creator Owner has Manage Documents permissions. This means when users send documents to print, they can do anything they want to their own documents, but may not touch anyone else's documents. Finally, Everyone has the rights to print to the printer.
Although these are the default settings, you don't have to use them. Using this dialog box, you can easily grant printing permissions to only one group. You may also grant individuals control over this printer, without making them members of one of the groups with Full Control. By doing so, they can manage this printer, but will have only print rights on other printers. Finally, you can grant an individual or group the No Access permission, meaning they can't print to the printer.
Scheduling and setting priorities
Another key skill in printer management is scheduling printer availability. To do so, go to the printer's Properties sheet and look at the Scheduling tab. As you can see in Figure B, you can make the printer available only during specific times, control priorities, and regulate several other aspects of the printer.
Denying after-hours access is the key to preventing the non-business user from draining your toner cartridge late at night. If you have users who need late-night access to a printer in case a big project comes along, don't worry. As we'll explain later, you can set these priorities independently for various groups.
Making the printer more efficient
Although this article focuses mainly on helping special-needs users to print, let's begin by helping everyone. The key to doing so is to make the printer as efficient as possible. You can use several settings to increase efficiency.
Changing the Scheduling tab
When users prints documents, their PCs translates the documents into a language the printer can understand. After this translation is complete, the jobs are sent to the print server one page at a time. Because of the way that Windows sends print jobs, you should change some settings on the Scheduling tab of the printer's Properties sheet. Begin by making sure the Spool Print Documents So Program Finishes Printing Faster radio button is selected. Next, select the Start Printing After Last Page Is Spooled radio button. By selecting these options, you'll prevent the printer from holding print jobs that are ready to go while it's waiting for another job to finish spooling.
If you check the Start Printing Immediately radio button, the printer will print a page as soon as it's spooled. Therefore, it's possible for one person's job to be interrupted by another person's job and for their pages to be mixed together. Selecting the Start Printing After Last Page Is Spooled radio button guarantees that print jobs won't be mixed together.
You might also consider selecting Print Spooled Documents First. Doing so makes documents that are finished spooling print ahead of incomplete documents, even if they're a lower priority.
You've probably seen cases in which someone sends a job that's intended for a different type of paper than is in the printer. Many times, when this happens, the printer will stop printing and display a message for the user to insert the correct type of paper. If you select the Hold Mismatched Documents check box, the printer will wait to print such documents until all other jobs have printed.
Automating driver installation
Another way to increase efficiency is to allow for automatic loading of print drivers. Earlier, we discussed the user who needs to print one time only. By enabling automatic loading of print drivers, you won't have to manually set up printer access for such users. All they have to do is select the printer, and the computer will do the rest.
Setting up an automatic driver installation is simple. To do so, go to the printer's Properties sheet and select the Sharing tab. As you can see in Figure C, the bottom of this tab contains a list of alternate print drivers. To enable automatic driver downloads, select the operating systems on your network from the list and click OK. Windows NT will then prompt you for the CD containing the drivers. Now, when users try to print to this printer, their operating system will look for a print driver. If they don't have a print driver, their computer will automatically download one from the server and continue with the printing process.
Earlier, we discussed how users can be stuck waiting for another job to finish printing before their job begins to print. One way to reduce the wait time is to enable printer pooling. A printer pool is a collection of printers all serviced by the same print device. For example, you might have three printers sitting next to each other. A user will always send print jobs to the same default printer, but any one of the three printers is actually capable of printing the job. Printer pools are especially helpful for high-volume users who must submit a large number of print jobs, because multiple jobs can print simultaneously. (When you're setting up a print pool, be careful to position the printers close together. Otherwise, a user may end up running all over the building trying to track down a print job.)
To create a print pool, you must have identical printers. A print pool requires at least two printers, but it can contain many more. Because remote printers can be a part of a print pool, you aren't even limited by the number of LPT ports on your print server.
Creating a print pool is simple. Begin by using the Add Printer Wizard, as you would for any other printer. When you get to the portion of the wizard asking for the printer port, select the Enable Printer Pooling check box. Next, select all the ports containing printers that you wish to include in the pool, as shown in Figure D. You can use the Add Port button to add remote printer ports if you desire. When you've selected your ports, complete the wizard as you would for any other printer.
Prioritizing print jobs
As we mentioned earlier, in some situations one group of people may need high priority access to a printer 24 hours a day while another group may need only low priority access during business hours. Of course, you may have other groups of people with any mixture of printing needs as well. The solution to such requirements is simple.
In our last section, we made several physical printers act as one. It's also possible to make one physical printer act as three different printers. For example, in Figure E you can see that we've set up three printers. Although they give the illusion of being three different printers, they all print to the same place.
The key to accomplishing your goals is in the way that you configure these printers. To accomplish the initial setup, you don't need to do anything special. Simply create as many printers as you need, but tell them all to print to the same port.
When you've created all the printers you plan to use, go through each printer and set the permissions to allow only one group to print to the printer. Notice in Figure F that we've restricted access to the Finance printer to allow only the Finance group (and the necessary Administrators and operators) to print. We've removed the Everyone group.
When you've created a separate instance of the printer for each group to use, you can go through and set other options specific to the group. For example, you might assign a higher priority to the Management printer than to the Finance printer. Even though all jobs would print on the same physical printer, setting the priorities in this way would cause a job sent by members of the Management group to print before jobs sent by members of the Finance group.
We mentioned earlier that some people figure out how to set their job to a high priority and force them to print before everyone else's jobs. If you have a user like this and want some revenge, you could create a special printer just for them and assign it a very low priority. Users can never boost the priority of their jobs higher than anyone else in that group can. For example, if a user in Finance boosted the priority of his or her print jobs, they may print before some of the other Finance jobs, but they will still take a back seat to the jobs sent by the Management group.
Another benefit to establishing multiple printers is that you can create a special printer for high-volume users who send one large print job. You can set this printer up in such a way that the user can send the print job at any time, but the job doesn't actually start printing until after business hours. Doing so frees the printer for others to use during the day, and high-volume users can pick up their print jobs in the morning. The only downside to this technique is that you must make sure that the printer holds enough paper for the large print job to complete.
In this article, we've discussed the variety of printing needs that network users often have. As we did, we've shown you several ways that you can configure Windows NT to efficiently accommodate these needs.
Brien M. Posey is an MCSE and a freelance technical writer. He also works as a network engineer for the Department of Defense. You can contact him via E-mail at Brien_Posey@xpressions.com. (Because of the large volume of E-mail that he receives, it's impossible for him to respond to every message. However, he does read them all.)
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