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We have 3 network-printers to manage for about 50 users.

Until now we have used a Windows 2003 Server Domain Controller with print service as our print server, but we are migrating many services to the cloud (e-mail, file storage, databases, dns, web).

We will probably be eliminating Active Directory for user authentication as part of that migration, so I'm wondering if there is any reason to keep the Windows Domain Controller as a print server when network-printer drivers could be installed on each computer or we could use print service such as Google Cloud Print

As more general question: why do people use print servers instead of network print drivers?

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I guess you've never had someone print off War and Peace on your color laser, huh? –  NickW Jan 24 at 15:29
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I'm surprised nobody has mentioned the fact that a print server gives you a centralized print queue. Sometimes people get really nasty stuck print jobs that will reprint until you forcibly cancel them. If you have the printer installed per PC, you have few options other than manually checking the print queue on every PC to clear the job. –  jlehtinen Jan 24 at 15:32
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@Douglas it may be a waste of time for your organization, but see my answer below. Any organization that prints certificates or legal documents on special watermarked paper almost needs that functionality. –  MDMarra Jan 24 at 15:32
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I think that the more alarming part of your question is that you have 50 users and want to do away with Active Directory. Woah boy. –  MDMarra Jan 24 at 15:41
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@Douglas if you don't have the funding to do remote access and management correctly, there's not a lot to gain. When you have the ability to spend actual money to do things right, AD is a building block that things like patching, GPO, software deployment, etc are built on. If you don't do any of that, none of it matters. –  MDMarra Jan 24 at 16:10
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4 Answers

up vote 11 down vote accepted

You don't really need a print server in your situation, given the small number of printers you've described. You've justified it yourself. Nobody is forcing you to use one :)

But in general, people use print servers to streamline client deployment, offer central management and to ease print driver maintenance. It's all about scale.

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There are a few reasons, none of which may be especially compelling at your size, but they are important to larger organizations.

  1. Driver version control. Since your clients will automatically download the proper driver from the print server, you can be sure that your organization is standardized on a "good" version of whatever drivers you use. There were a lot of "bad" versions of the HP UPD in the early days.

  2. Driver deployment. Similar to the above, you don't need to mess with installing drivers on each computer, you simply install it on the server and are done with it.

  3. Centralized control of print settings. If you just have a bunch of B&W LaserJets, this doesn't matter much, but once you get into the MFP territory with multiple trays, virtual printers, and Printer Mailboxes, you start to see the value of configuring these settings once on the server rather than at every workstation.

  4. Auditing. In certain regulatory situations, you may need to keep a record of who printed from a specific tray. For example, I worked for an organization that certified medical professionals to practice medicine in the United States. Who could print to the certificate paper (safety paper) was tightly controlled, as that document is literally life changing to the person who receives it. A print server allows for retroactive compliance auditing, as well as the initial restriction on who can print.

  5. You can be sure that only authorized users are printing where they should be. Almost all printers have the functionality to only accept print jobs from specific IPs. When using a print server, you can configure the printers to only accept jobs from your print server(s) and use Windows permissions on the printers to ensure that users from the Marketing department aren't constantly printing to Finance's printer. This doesn't happen in smaller environments, but in larger ones where departments are responsible for their own toner, this causes bloodshed.

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1 is not that bad since WIndows 8's new driver model. As in: I can not really remember installing a driver anymore.... all printers I saw were coverd by windows. Not The other ones are hugh, though. –  TomTom Jan 24 at 15:52
    
@TomTom right, but as with any new OS, once it's 2-3 years old and new models are out, the baked in drivers aren't sufficient. I remember installing Win7 the day it went RTM and was like "woah! I dont need any drivers!" but thats not the case now. –  MDMarra Jan 24 at 15:57
    
actually it may be. MS changed the driver model and have one nw that basically is ONE driver "to rule them all" - search online for it, they got extremely versatile. Plus that is just a minor point actually - the rest is right. Just pointing that out. WIn7 and older - man, drivers were a pain. Did not help that some manufacturers tries to be in the "bloatware and crap programming" contest trying to be on place 1. –  TomTom Jan 24 at 16:47
    
@TomTom I didn't know that. I'll have to check it out. –  MDMarra Jan 24 at 16:47
    
@NDNarra a good read on that topic: blogs.msdn.com/b/b8/archive/2012/07/25/… - they also did it for WIndows RT. Remember, that one has no install point for drivers - windows has to provide them ;) –  TomTom Jan 24 at 16:54
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Generally speaking, print servers are an act of kindness to those who manage your desktops. Printers can be mapped through group policy and/or added script-o-matically. You could pay someone to lay hands on 50 computers any time there's a change, but why?

Edit--What MDMarra said about driver versions. I've seen drivers crash Word, for example. You can send someone to lay hands on all those PCs, or you can update the driver on the server. Voila!

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Keep in mind you can add printers via GPO even if they aren't managed via a print server... –  jlehtinen Jan 24 at 15:27
    
Yeah, but the people who lay hands on the desktops may or may not have access to that. –  Katherine Villyard Jan 24 at 15:30
    
Well, if we change a printer every 5 years it's less painfull and expensive than to follow and maintain hardware for patch support, maintain security, and backup on print server. More over with a server you got a single point of failure. –  Douglas Jan 24 at 15:34
    
If, on the other hand, you have 5000 desktops, five print servers with over ten printers each, and Department A is outraged that Department B is using their printer... –  Katherine Villyard Jan 24 at 15:43
    
@Douglas if SPOF is a problem, you can cluster the print services role - that said, that's likely not viable at your size. –  MDMarra Jan 24 at 15:45
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Assuming you are running a mostly Windows network you can use Group Policy Preferences to deploy printers, and a specific driver without requiring that you have a print server. Depending on the printer it is also not to hard to deploy settings by just deploying a specific registry blob, again via GPP.

Authorization/Auditing would may require a print server for dumb printers.

Some larger work group multi-function devices the Printer itself can do Authorization and Auditing. For example our Canons are configured to require a login (via a PIN), and print jobs associated with that PIN are logged.

So if you have the correct hardware, and a all Windows network you may be able to go without a print server with no loss of functionality/features.

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