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Issue of September 2003 
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Tech Update: Printing in the Enterprise

Making the choice

Organizations need to print, and purchasing printers is an integral part of the IT buying cycle. So the criteria includes the choice of printer, features, and technical aspects etc. A look at the various issues involved in the selection of printing solutions. by Anil Patrick R

To print or not to, that is not the question. The question is all about finding the printing solution that can satisfy your organization's needs. The plethora of printing options available in the market is mind boggling at first glance. However, you can get the best value from your printer investments with a little awareness.

In the earlier days a 'printing solution' meant buying a couple of stand-alones and sprinkling them around the organization. The advent of networks introduced networked printers and made major changes to this picture.

It is interesting to note that network printers did not entirely replace stand-alone printers. Today's networks use combinations of both stand-alones and network printers. In addition to this, Multifunctional devices (MFDs), which can do functions such as scanning and faxing, have also made their presence strongly felt now. Despite the entry of MFDs, stand-alones and network printers still rule the printing market. One of the major reasons behind this is the higher cost factor of MFDs. Although MFDs do provide consolidation of functions, organizations still consider entry-level pricing for MFDs to be a bit high due to relatively higher initial investment costs.

Therefore, we can clearly see that stand-alones and network printers still remain the hot favorites for organizations investing in print solutions. Let's now take a look at the differences between stand-alone printers and network printers.

Stand-alone vs network

Competition has always existed in the matter of deployment of stand-alone and network printers in the enterprise. However, the truth is that there is no competition between the two!

Both types of printers have their own strengths in the enterprise and one cannot always replace the other. It is best to use a combination of both in the network. "The functional requirements of decentralized operations calls for deployment of network-based high-speed printers. These combined with individual stand-alone printers serves the organization's printing needs," says Ashok Adhikary, General Manager IT/CIE, Kvaerner Powergas India.

Some of the differences between a stand-alone and network printer are highlighted in table-1 (A difference of print). Depending on a particular printing need, the correct printer for that can be put in place. Let's have a look at stand-alones and network printers in detail now.

Stand-alones are most suitable for small print jobs. They also provide the additional advantage of print document security, since these printers are usually placed near the user. For example, consider the CEO's office. The CEO may not want others to see his print documents due to their confidential nature. In addition to this, he may not want to go all the way to a shared printer to get print-outs. This segment of the organization that demands privacy, convenience and requires only small print volumes is where stand-alones rule.

Network printers come into the scene when larger volumes are involved. These are usually high-speed, heavy-duty printers with network connectivity (LAN/WAN). It is time to take a look at why network printers are better than stand-alones for large scale printing across the network.

Heavy duty print champions

Network printers offer several advantages over stand-alones in a networked environment. Some of the major benefits of using a network printer are in terms of print quality, costs, print volumes, and maintenance/management issues.

Since they are networked, more users can make use of the same network printer. Printing quality of network printers is usually better than that of stand-alones. Acquisition costs of printers also comes down since only a single, faster, high-end network printer needs to be purchased, instead of several stand-alones.

"Network printers offer advantages like better centralization, easier management, savings on recurring costs. Fast and efficient printing is a key feature of network printers," says Subhojit Roy, Head (IT), SBI Mutual Fund.

Network printers are built for handling heavy workloads. This means that wear and tear of printer components is lesser for a network printer. It also translates to higher uptime and lower TCO figures. Compare this with the maintenance and replacement of spares that would have been required for several stand-alones to realize the difference. This makes good economic sense for the enterprise in terms of operational and maintenance costs.

"Network printers provide huge reductions in capital cost. A single network printer can replace 5-10 personal printers. They have lower AMC charges and require lesser space," says A K Gidwani, Chief Manager (IS) - Retail Strategy, Bharat Petroleum Corporation.

In terms of management, today's network printers have come a long way. Most network printers have interoperability with popular network management tools. This facilitates remote management of the printers. Most network printers also have diagnostic features that can detect and alert the support personnel about malfunctions and things such as need for maintenance.

Almost all network printers come with support for a variety of operating systems. This is a very useful feature to have in today's heterogeneous networks. Different platforms across the network can make use of a single printer with this arrangement.

Features like duplex printing (using both sides of the paper), available in network printers, helps bring down printing costs. These printers also offer features such as stapling, hole punching, binding etc.

Making the right choice

It is essential to have a fix on your printing need. Unless you have an idea of what are your exact requirements, it is very difficult to make the right choice.

First of all, decide on the printer requirements. "Based on printer requirements, one must decide the type of printer to select—network or stand-alone; speed, quality of output, type of printing to be done, etc. So, the printer has to be as per requirements," says Subhojit Roy.

Calculation of how much printing will be required per day will help you decide what your printer's capacity should be. Always buy a printer that is of higher capacity than your calculated figure. This will help in case there is a sudden excess requirement as well as accommodate future organizational expansion. The second step is to calculate costs of operation (throw in maintenance/outsourcing costs) for all the options that fit your requirements. Compare all the products with each other to find which one best fits your present and future budgets. "Future recurring cost is important for selection, which includes maintenance cost and cost of consumables," says Subhojit Roy.

Now is the time to have a look at the technology used. This is where vendors usually con buyers by selling products that use obsolete technology by citing really low costs. Make sure to go in for a printer that uses the latest technology.

Irrespective of whether you are buying a stand-alone or a network printer, both have common technology factors. Some of the technical terms that you need to be aware of here are given in Table 2: Tech talk. Some of the key points to check are printing technology used, processor speeds, spool memory, network interface speeds, print resolution, and duty cycle. "It is necessary to look at DPI (Dots per Inch) when choosing a printer. This decides the quality of print. In laser printers, toner is the component that has to be carefully checked. If you are going in for a dot matrix printer, the printer head is the most crucial part to be checked," says A K Gidwani.

Last but not the least is to clarify the warranty terms. Find out if the warranty is onsite or return to bench. Onsite maintenance is always better since the vendor's technician will repair it at your office itself. The options available in warranty are 1 year and 3 year terms. Read the fine print carefully before exercising your option. Some more suggestions can be found in the Box below: Buying right.

Buying right

Buying in bulk always gives more benefits than buying piecemeal. The benefits include those in terms of cost, standardization, and support.

If an organization has a nationwide offices (or even global), buying printers for all of them from one vendor gives major cost benefits. This will also help a lot in doing future purchases since most vendors have loyalty and upgrade programs.

Most printers available now do not have interoperability issues. However, it is a good standardization exercise to keep standard printer configurations in the organization. A standard inventory of spares can be maintained. You get to save on spares with this arrangement.

Some of the printers come with tools for calculation of ROI, TCO, etc. Many of these tools are add-ons to the printer at extra cost. Make sure that you verify the methods used in these tools if you intend to splurge extra on these.


Table 1: A difference of print
Stand-alone printer Network printer
Used for printing small volumes (Single user) Used for volume printing (More than 5 users)
Lower speeds Higher speeds
Lower cost of acquisition Higher costs of acquisition
Higher maintenance costs if many are used in the organization Lesser maintenance costs
Cannot be managed using network management tools because of stand-alone nature Can be managed using network management tools
Supports lesser operating systems Supports more operating systems
Have less of spool memory to save queued print jobs Have large spool memory to prevent loss of print data
Do not usually have features like duplex printing/printing on different stationery sizes and types Offers options for duplex printing as well as printing on stationery of different sizes and types
Not network dependent Network dependent. Requires 100% failsafe networks.
Only one user is inconvenienced if printer goes out of action All users of the printer are inconvenienced if the printer goes out of action

TabLE 2: Tech talk  
Technical term Translation
PPM Pages per minute
DPI Dots per Inch (This is the print resolution)
Duplex Printing on both sides of a paper automatically
Duty Cycle Number of pages that a printer can print per month
CPP Cost per page of printing based on toner price
OS support Not all printers support all OSs. so you need to check this factor carefully.
Tray type Tray types include semi-cassette and cassette types.
Semi-cassette types protrude out of the printer.
Cassette type is more reliable.
Warranty Check whether warranty is onsite or return to bench, 1 year or 3 years.

Anil Patrick can be reached at anilpatrick@networkmagazineindia.com

 
     
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