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I'm looking for the best way to centrally administer (and track!) printing for our AD domain. I know Windows Server can be configured to be a "Print Services" server, but it's my understanding that this is simply to centralize queues, and doesn't really do accounting and reports (who printed what, when, how often, etc).

Our printers range from basic USB local printers (that may or may not be shared to nearby cubicles), classrooms with dedicated Win7 x86 boxes that sit in the corner and act as print servers (not attached to any individual machines, because many machines dual boot OSX and Windows Vista or Win7), and larger 'Big Copiers' that sit on the network natively.

Since being hired there recently I've begun publishing the shares into a standardized format in AD, but the system is pretty unorganized. I'd like to have a central print server that every box reports queues to, and that users can go to find any printer on the network when they want to add a printer to their machine (or I want to deploy to them via group policies).

I have spare Windows 2008 servers at my disposal to use if the Print Services thing is the way to go, or I'm comfortable building up a Linux CUPS box or whatever. I'm starting to dig around into how would be best to approach this, but figured this would be posted in the meantime if anyone wants to throw 2 cents in in the meantime.

Thanks.

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4 Answers

Windows and Active Directory do not natively provide any good way to handle auditing/reporting of print queues. Administration, however, is pretty easy, and it's completely built-in.

Some agencies use central print queue servers, but it's discouraged by many sysadmins. I personally prefer to have one or two print queue servers per building. Publishing printers in active directory is a great way to make installing printers on clients a breeze. Users can select "Add Printer", "Find Now", and it will automatically list all of the printers in the directory or all of the printers in their current site, depending on how you have group policy, sites and services, and the print queues configured.

I've also found that it's far easier to manage print queues when there are no network printers directly installed (using TCP/IP). We've instituted a policy that our network printers are to always have a queue created on a server, and then clients connect to that queue.

While I do prefer to use Linux for some things, print queue hosting isn't one of them. If you're using Windows clients to print, use a Windows server or client to host the queue.

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I manage the printing system that supports in the neighborhood of 1400 lab seats. We use Windows for our print-server exclusively. We also use a third party product to provide our print auditing, since at our scale simple paper and toner costs are serious money. Windows print logging is sufficient to build your own consumption monitoring system, but it is NOT a quota system; for that you're pretty much stuck with third party products. You'd have to turn on detail logging for printing and write your own event log parser. Third party products make this a LOT easier.

Windows makes this EASY. All the printers are on a very small number of print servers, and the configs are pushed out to the labs by way of Group Policies. Our lab-managers love that since they can have a single image be good for more than one lab and they don't have to do anything about printers. They just show up. It's great.

On our Faculty/Staff side, we're almost entirely direct-IP printing due to what we had in place before the Windows system. Which was balky, hard to use, and most importantly confusing to our desktop people when direct-Ip was much faster. Some areas have moved to the print-server/GPO model, but not all yet.

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Could you please share the name of the 3rd party software that you are using? –  jftuga Aug 7 '10 at 13:42
    
We're using PCounter (from pcounter.com) though there is also PaperCut out there that I've heard good things about as well. –  sysadmin1138 Aug 7 '10 at 14:36
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If your main purpose is print auditing, reporting and accounting for Windows AD, you'll have to buy rather expensive third party solutions ... or you are comfortable or adventurous enough to setup your own CUPS print server.

If you go down the CUPS route, your best choice for a (rather powerful) accounting software is PyKota. PyKota is Free Software, with source code available under GPL2 or later.

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Huh? Why the downvote?!? –  Kurt Pfeifle Aug 7 '10 at 22:30
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it's my understanding that this is simply to centralize queues

It also facilitates "point and print", which is where a user may right-click on the printer in Windows Explorer and select Connect. The Windows workstation will automatically download and install the correct driver, and the printer configuration. Note that point and print works as a standard user. Installing a regular printer without point and print requires administrator permission.

Regarding accounting, there aren't any built-in holistic solutions. But the information for print job/size/pages and document name is recorded in the event log. If you're feeling frisky you could easily export this to a file on a daily basis, massage the data, and upload it to a database. Then create a simple grid/treeview/pulldown list or whatever to display the data.

One note: Most people aren't aware that this information is recorded, so the document name may be sensitive (I.e., "resume.doc"). So you would want to ensure that only authorized users could access the data and if it is for regular user access, only access their print records.

Also, most decent printers have a syslog capability. You may want to investigate this a supplement for printers that may not be on a centrally hosted print server.

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Non-administrative users are able to install network printers (queue hosted elsewhere, not direct TCP/IP) via the "Add Printer" wizard; there is no requirement that they browse to the printer and hit connect. –  Stemen Aug 7 '10 at 14:18
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