What is a print server?

Printers are one of the most essential peripherals in any office or home. They allow us to print important documents, photos, and other materials.

It's fair to say most office workers have a love-hate relationship with printers. However, what most office workers are not aware of is what goes on behind the scenes to make it possible for modern printers to do their job. This is where print servers come in.

From Wi-Fi print servers to USB ones, from Windows to Linux print servers, there are many options out there. This is why it’s important to know what to choose and how your business can make the most of it. 

In this post, we will walk you through everything you need to know about the server used for your printing device suite and how to monitor it.

What is a print server?

A print server is a network device or a software application that connects multiple printers to computers, or multiple computers to a printer. It is a replacement for direct IP printing in organizations that have a more complex IT infrastructure.

Such a server not only manages printing requests between the printing device and the computer but also manages files in the print queue, making their status information available to network administrators and end users. 

Depending on the size of the organization, as well as the number of devices and end users, the printer server may be a dedicated computer that manages hundreds of printers or a small device similar to a network hub. Additionally, some printers may also have built-in servers.

What is a print server used for?

A print server organizes printers into queues, which are then assigned to specific computers. In a Windows environment, for example, when you try to print a document, the print job is first sent to the print server, which then forwards it to the printer.

The server also manages the order of print jobs, so if there are multiple users trying to print at the same time, it will ensure that each job is printed in the order it was received.

A print server can also be used to share a printer with multiple computers. This is especially useful in small businesses or home offices where there is only one printer but multiple computers.

Large organizations usually have multiple print servers, each one managing a group of printers. This allows the organization to manage its printers better and ensures that if one server goes down, the others can still handle the print jobs.

How do print servers work?

Print servers accept jobs from the existing computers and send them to the available printers. This way, when requests arrive more quickly than the printing devices can handle or all at once, the server queues tasks and might even prioritize those received from higher-privilege users.

Depending on how they are configured, print servers may also inspect the print queues of jobs that need to be processed, as well as reorder and delete waiting jobs. Additionally, they can perform accounting tasks, like counting the pages of a document, or enforce organizational rules and regulations, like user authentication, color printing quotas, or watermarking papers.

Monitoring services of a printer in Checkmk

Benefits of print servers

Unlike direct IP printing, which might not require a dedicated server, network printing requires specific hardware or software products that act like servers for your on-site or network printer range.

Print servers have multiple benefits that add up to the functionalities of basic operating system printers. These include:

  • Ensuring a centralized form of control over the organization’s print requests, enabling IT administrators to monitor the printer’s state, control printing settings, and keep up with software updates to ensure bottlenecks are prevented or solved before they escalate. 
  • Enforcing printing permissions among a company’s employees and client devices.
  • Managing an organization's large print volume to ensure a smooth printing experience for end users, thus reducing the volume of work associated with IT teams. 
  • Enabling auditing and reporting, showcasing how an organization’s resources are being used and whether printing policies are respected. 
  • Offering scalability. While direct printing isn’t scalable, print servers help you keep up with your company’s growth, enabling you to add and delete new users, update print permissions and handle an increased print load that may be directed toward a single printer. 

Benefits of print servers vs. direct IP printing

The difference between a print server and direct IP printing is that the former uses an intermediary device or software to manage print jobs, while the latter doesn’t. Direct IP printing is the simplest way to print, as it doesn’t require any extra steps. You simply need to connect your printer to the network and configure it with an IP address.

However, the security risks are higher, and there’s no centralized form of management, which might become an issue as a company grows. On the other hand, print servers offer a plethora of benefits, as they help you manage your printers more efficiently while also ensuring a higher level of security. Because of this, in many organizations, print servers are also used to support industry-standard printing protocols.

What types of print servers exist?

Wireless/Wi-Fi print server

A wireless print server is a physical device that connects your printer to the network without the use of cables. It usually plugs into the USB port of the printer. Wireless print servers are recommended in cases where you can’t or don’t want to run cables through your office or home. They’re also perfect for locations where multiple people need to print from different devices, as they enable users to share a printer wirelessly.

Ethernet print server

An Ethernet print server is a physical device that uses cables to connect your printer to the network. It plugs into an electrical outlet and has one or more ports that you can use to connect the printer using an Ethernet cable. Ethernet print servers are recommended in cases where you want to ensure a faster and more reliable connection between the printer and the network.

Software print server

A software print server is a program that’s installed on a computer and enables it to act as a server for one or more printers. Software print servers are recommended in cases where you want to use an existing computer as a server for your printer or printers.

Windows print server

A Windows print server is a computer, running the Windows operating system, that provides users with the necessary printing drivers. It also offers other services, securing and auditing printer access.

Linux print server

With CUPS (Common UNIX Printing System), a modular open source printing system, Linux computers may be turned into print servers. A Linux print server accepts print jobs from user terminals, processes them, and ensures they are sent to an available printer.

Cloud print server

A cloud print server connects different types of terminals, from mobile devices to laptops and workstations to printers, through the cloud, eliminating all need for printer drivers and other devices.

Virtual print server

With a virtual print server, the server software runs on an existing physical server or in a virtual machine. Because virtual servers are easy to deploy, virtual print servers can be easily scaled to handle high print volumes. This enables efficient and flexible print management in network environments – from small offices to large enterprises.

How do I find the best print server for my needs?

Finding the best print server for your needs depends on a few factors such as the type of printer you have, how many printers you need to connect, the number of users that need to print, and your budget.

If you have a single printer that needs to be shared among a few people in your office or home, then a wireless or Ethernet print server should suffice. However, if you have multiple printers that need to be shared among many people, then you might want to consider a cloud print server.

You'll also need to understand the type(s) of printers that you have. Some print servers are designed for specific types of printers, such as laser or inkjet printers.

If you have many users that need to print, then you’ll also need a print server that can handle a high number of print requests. Additionally, print servers can vary greatly in price, so it’s important to find one that fits your budget.

Why should I monitor print servers in my network

Monitoring print servers is crucial because it helps ensure that an organization’s employees enjoy a smooth, efficient experience. By tracking the existing jobs in real time and reaping the benefits from report access, administrators can identify bottlenecks before they escalate.

Moreover, monitoring print servers enables admins to keep track of several logs, such as the number of print jobs, the queues, and potential errors. It also helps organizations keep track of the consumables, see whether the toner and paper levels are within the agreed parameters and whether the device is defective.

Although printer manufacturers often provide their own monitoring tools, it is easier to include your print servers in your general server monitoring. Checkmk, for example, supports most network print servers, so you can monitor all metrics and activity

Wrapping up

Many system administrators rely on print servers to protect their organizations from printing errors and bottlenecks. Unlike direct IP printing to local printers, print servers help conserve resources and enable efficient management of an organization's printer fleet and print jobs.

By queuing and prioritizing jobs and monitoring jobs and supplies, print servers reduce user frustration and ensure smooth operations.

To get the most out of print servers, system administrators must not only select the right server for the job, but also monitor the server and printer to ensure they are up and running.