Managing Printer Drivers In VDI Environments

VDI environments can prove to be difficult when managing printers and print jobs. It is inevitable that the growth of VDI environment solutions is likely to become more commonplace in the IT department‘s thinking when it comes to efficiently printing in the workplace.

IDC expects the desktop virtualisation market to make significant gains in both revenues and total customer count well into the second half of the decade. The main reason to introduce virtual desktops is to increase greater efficiency, mobility and the potential to lower costs.

However, what seems to be overlooked is what gives IT departments headaches within this framework: making print functions available in the VDI environment. To understand and overcome the complications, making the print function available and managing the printer drivers, we must look at two things: the paths of printing processes and the provision of the desktops.

The Print Process On PCs And In VDI

When using a PC, the print path goes directly from the PC, via a local area network (LAN), to the local printer or via the print server to the network printer. In each case the print job is generated on the PC. In VDI printing, it is different. The print job is always generated on the virtual desktop in the data centre, usually with longer distances than in the use of physical desktops because the virtual machines (VMs) are all centrally located.

If the users aren’t sitting in the same building as the servers, a print job must be transported over a wide area network (WAN) connection. Since print jobs quickly reach ten times the size of the original file, the network’s bandwidth is considerably burdened. This means solutions for compressing the print jobs and also for bandwidth control are a must. Without compression and bandwidth control, productivity and usability suffer.

Providing And Managing The Printer Drivers

Another major and important issue in VDI networks is the provision of printer drivers. In the interests of reducing the workload for IT and, above all, saving precious storage space, a golden image is often created for as many user groups as possible. The users then draw from this pool whenever they open a session. Individual data, like the desktop background and other profile settings, are stored in a private area.

In this scenario, printing quickly becomes a time-consuming and nerve-wracking procedure. This is because the provision of the printer drivers must be regulated differently than when using physical desktops. When a PC without VDI is used, the printer drivers are installed on the PC. This applies to local printers as well as the connected network printers. All printer drivers required to perform work on this PC are thus only available locally.

VDI also requires that the drivers be installed on the desktop. But in contrast to the PC scenario, many employees receive practically the same identical PC. Must all printer drivers then be locally available to all employees on their various workstations? How do you make all of the printer drivers available in this case?

Option 1: All Drivers Are Installed In The Pool Of Golden Images

One complicated way to make printer drivers available in VDI is to install all drivers of printers used throughout the company in the pool of images. If a printer is changed or a new one is added, everything must be completely installed again. The same applies to updates. In large heterogeneous environments, this unnecessarily enlarges the image.

Option 2: The Drivers Are Installed In The Employee’s Personal Space

The second option for providing employees with the right drivers is to install them in the personal space of each respective user. This means, the user can still use the central template, but is also provided with the appropriate drivers from the personal space. This personal space is located – like the virtualised desktop – in the data centre.

But there is a catch… Perfectly ordinary printer drivers, so to say, also quickly reach sizes of over 70 MB. When this approach is considered, every employee then needs multiple drivers on their personal space. It becomes clear then that this cannot be the ideal solution either. The intention of lowering costs through VDI is quickly reduced to almost nothing.

Option 3: Installation Of The Printer Drivers Using “Point And Print”

The third option is to allow the drivers to be reinstalled at every session with “Point and Print.” This process practically repeats itself at the start of every session. But even here there is a serious drawback: all of the user’s settings are lost at the end of the session and must be re-entered each time.

How To Set Up VDI Printing With As Little Management As Possible

Manufacturers of VDI software also recognise the problems described above. All solutions have the common goal of eliminating the need to install manufacturer printer drivers on the virtual machines (if possible) and of accelerating the transmission of print jobs through compression so that employees can print with the usual speed even from remote locations.

For example, Citrix uses its universal printer drivers, which support different print formats in each case. The one most frequently used here is UPD3 with the device-independent enhanced metafile (EMF). VMware depends on external know-how and has integrated a virtual driver, which is also based on EMF.

In both the Citrix and VMware cases, the print job is created using the virtual driver on the virtual machine and then prepared on the PC with the original printer driver. The advantage of this is that there is no need to install the drivers on the virtual desktops. The drawback, however, is that the driver installation and the printer allocation must be performed on the PC.

In addition, Windows PCs can be used exclusively, whereby thin clients are eliminated. And finally, the administration is extremely difficult, especially in large environments – a fact companies actually want to avoid by using VDI. A further bitter pill is that universal printer drivers do not support any enhanced print functionalities. Thus, you must again resort to the installation of manufacturer drivers if you want holes in your printouts.

This approach also raises the question of why print jobs must first be routed through the PC when you want to print to a network printer and not to a local USB printer. A better approach (not just) in VDI environments then is the use of central print servers. In its current version, Citrix also launched its first attempts in this field with its own print server in order to centralise printer drivers.

Another topic that should be considered is the increasing use of tablets in companies. If these devices are to be integrated into the VDI environment, a suitable cloud printing solution is required because in VDI environments only the network printers mapped in the session can be used. With a free app, there is the ability to print documents digitally in the cloud and to print the document in paper to the printer of their choice.

In the case of tablets and other mobile devices, it is important to choose a cloud printing solution that allows you to print instantly as needed, for example, in a hotel lobby. Unfortunately, HP ePrint only works with selected printer models, which must also be registered. Google Cloud Print only works with a few selected printers, and the Chrome browser must be distributed to all devices, while the print job must be routed through a computer.

Without a computer turned on, there is no printout. However, there are interesting cloud printing approaches for an array of mobile devices and printer models from the Cloud Printing Alliance, whose members include well-known printer manufacturers such as Brother, Dell, Develop, Kodak, Konica Minolta Business Solutions Europe, KYOCERA Document Solutions Europe B.V., Lexmark International, OKI Printing Solutions, Samsung Electronics America Enterprise Business Division, Sharp and Toshiba TEC.

In conclusion, VDI environments can prove to be difficult when managing printers and print jobs. It is inevitable that the growth of VDI environment solutions are likely to become more commonplace in the IT department‘s thinking when it comes to efficiently printing in the workplace.

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Charlotte Künzell is COO and CIO of Cortado AG, and a member of the management board. In this capacity, she is responsible among others for the technical design of ThinPrint’s range of products created for print optimisation. With many years of experience in the IT environment as a system engineer and consultant, and over 13 years of ThinPrint experience, Charlotte Künzell is a leading expert on printing in Windows networks. Due to her profound knowledge in developing business solutions, she has significantly contributed to the development of Cortado’s cloud desktop technology.