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Issue of October 2002 
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Tech Update: Network Printers
Network printers get smarter, flexible

Now that the Indian printer market has matured and Multi-Function Devices (MFDs) are more affordable, users have a wide choice of features and prices. by Soutiman Das Gupta

Printers are not the dumb and noisy devices that sit at the network's end anymore. Enterprise users increasingly view the role of the printer in the organization as a contribution to office productivity. The new features seeping into today's printers make them more versatile and these printers offer more value for money. Let's take a quick look at some of these features.

RESPECT PRIVACY
What do you do when you have to take a printout of a classified document from the network printer? You'll probably enter the print command and make a beeline for the network printer at the corner of the building. After all you wouldn't want your sensitive documents like sales figures, recruitment letters, management committee meeting minutes, and other 'for your eyes only' documents to be peeked at by others. K. Lakshmi Narayan Rao, Marketing Manager, Value Products, Canon India Private Limited, calls this phenomenon the 'Print Sprint.'

Printers can now enable a personal mailbox for each user. When a user triggers a print-job, it goes into the user's mailbox. The user can walk up to the printer at his/her convenience, key in a security password, and collect the printout. And while the document is in the mailbox it doesn't show up in a print spool queue, to ensure another level of privacy.

CARTRIDGE Issues
Although every vendor offers products that promise to interoperate, an important accessory, the print cartridge, usually doesn't interoperate. "It's a hassle to order separate cartridges for different printers in our network. Unfortunately there hasn't been any move to standardize this particular aspect in the industry," says M.D. Agrawal, Chief Manager-IS, Refinery, BPCL.

SERVICE ALERTS
With so many daily responsibilities already on your hands, the added burden of checking toner cartridge levels is something you don't need. Wouldn't it be great if your printer took care of this responsibility by itself?

"Now, printers not only display 'toner low' messages but can also send e-mail and pager messages to you well in advance, so that you can keep fresh toner cartridges ready," says Nitin Hiranandani, Country Commercial Category Manager, Imaging & Printing Group, HP India. "What's more it can even send e-mail, pager, and SMS messages to your suppliers so that a service personnel is at your door with the necessary refills in half an hour," he adds.

FLEXIBILITY
Printers can now let you scan a document in a bitmap or PDF format. You can send your document directly to a desired e-mail address or fax by using a virtual keyboard on the printer.

COLLABORATION
If your project has geographically separate teams working at the same time, your printer can offer a virtual common docking place where you can post the project status and updates.

OTHER FEATURES
Printers have a software utility that can merge documents from different applications like Word, Powerpoint, and Excel into a common file.

Better resource utilization can be promoted by dynamically distributing bulk printing jobs over multiple printers on the network. A remote delivery utility provides instant delivery of a scanned document from a remote location. So now, if a document needs to be delivered from the fifth floor to the ground floor, it can just be scanned on the fifth floor and the print can be collected from a printer on the ground floor.

IN THE MARKET
"The Indian printer market scenario is quite positive. Due to a strong recovery of software businesses and increased awareness of printing costs, many organizations are investing in network printers to enhance cost efficiencies. This is an encouraging trend and will have implications on all printing companies," says Anish Srikrishna, Country Product Manager- Office Automation, Samsung Electronics India Information and Telecommunication Limited (SEIIT).

P.G. Kamath, General Manager, Lexmark International (India) Private Limited, says, "Enterprises should not look at the cost of purchase of printers but at the TCO. The various efficiencies that are introduced due to the use of the printer are also important."

However a couple of years ago aspects like speed, functionality, and printer driver were the basis of choosing the product for the company. The features that most enterprises consider are workflow enhancement, degree of administration from the desktop, and multiple features.

Printer performance trouble

Correct interface - With bit-mapped graphic images, including text output from many word processing configurations, printer speed may be limited solely by how fast the data can pass through the workstation's print port to the printer. Choose an interface that is fast enough to keep up with the bulk of the print jobs to be run on a particular printer. To do this, you will need to estimate the data transmission rate for that printer.

Driver versions - The factor having the next greatest impact on printing performance after port type is the application and print driver version. To avoid difficulties with either, you should maintain a record of all versions, configurations, and type of applications for each of your installations. Many printing problems can be resolved by updating to the latest print services files.

Type of document - The next most important factor affecting printing performance is the type of documents you are printing. Files containing graphics require considerably more time to print than files consisting of plain text.

Buffer settings - With no load on the network, maximum data rate can be achieved with any buffer size larger than 5 KB. As network traffic increases, packet delays decrease throughput for any buffer size. For very busy networks, a buffer size of 20 KB may be desirable to ensure having enough data stored to carry over long packet delays. The buffer size needed for maximum data throughput will range from 6 KB to 20 KB depending on the traffic load on any particular network.

On non-dedicated workstations, you should normally use the default buffer size of 3 KB. A high buffer size may slow down your workstation because it requires more memory, even though printing speed may increase.

Try different settings to get best performance from your own setup. For example, if the printer is printing a lot of graphics data, you may want to increase the buffer size.

Slow workstations - Performance may be limited by slower computers. Use faster Pentium and RISC-based CPUs whenever possible on your system, especially for servers that will be handling the most traffic and workstations tied to fast printers.

Server load and network traffic - Performance may be limited by too few servers or an excessive amount of traffic on the network. Additional servers may reduce the load on an overburdened server. As network use increases, delays in delivery of data packets may increase. Increased Ethernet traffic increases packet-start delays and the possibility of packet collisions.

Packet collisions require data to be retransmitted, possibly slowing delivery of print job data to the printer. On a token-ring network, traffic directly increases the delay in receiving tokens and the start of data transmission.

Proper planning of the total network using individual segments separated by routers and bridges can keep localized network traffic at reasonable levels. Effective network administration, including the careful division of print resources among file servers and workstations to reduce multi-hop links on common paths, also can help reduce print job delays.

Printer bottleneck - Another important printing bottleneck is in the printer itself and the type of data being sent to the printer. For most jobs on non-laser printers and for printing plain text jobs on laser printers, the physical printer engine is usually the limiting factor. When a Page Description Language (PDL) like PostScript is used, the formatter in the printer may be the limiting factor.

The speed of PDL formatting varies greatly between printers. Unfortunately, the technical specifications for most printers seldom address this parameter. Non-PDL print jobs that include a lot of graphics or formatting may send so many bytes per page that the interface may become the limiting factor.

Soutiman Das Gupta can be reached at soutimand@networkmagazineindia.com

 
     
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