Third Party Printing Solutions - Citrix MetaFrame XP

Fortunately, there are several third party printing solutions that are available to address printing issues.

At this point we have examined all of the aspects of printing in MetaFrame XP environments. We have looked the various tools and techniques available from Citrix and Microsoft. Even considering everything we've seen so far, there are printing scenarios that can still cause trouble. Among these are the following:

  1. Printer drivers must be installed and managed for each client printer on every MetaFrame XP server.
  2. Client printing performance is poor. The universal print driver helps in some situations, but it has major drawbacks, including the fact that it only works for 32-bit Windows clients, it requires Feature Release 1 or 2, and it is limited to 300 dpi monochrome.
  3. There are no good solutions for situations where ICA clients and printer servers are on one side of the WAN, while MetaFrame XP servers are on the other.

Fortunately, there are several third party printing solutions that are available to address these issues. Let's look at the four most popular companies now, in alphabetical order:

  • Emergent Online is a fairly large consulting and training company that also creates various software packages to help administrators with many thin-client situations. They have several printing products that can help with many different aspects of printing. Their website is www.go-eol.com.
  • FutureLink Canada should not be confused with the US FutureLink that went bankrupt in 2001. FutureLink Canada is a completely separate company. They own the UniPrint family of MetaFrame XP printing solutions. More information is available at www.uniprint.net.
  • ThinPrint is a German company with a large US presence. As their name implies, they focus entirely on printing in thin client environments, and they have several good products. You can find them at www.thinprint.com.
  • triCerat Software has several products that can help you manage server-based computing environments more effectively. These include several printing products. More information is available at www.tricerat.com.

These four vendors are extremely competitive. Because of this, they are constantly coming out with new and updated products. Also, these four vendors are not very large, which means that they will go out of their way to support you and to give you their products at an attractive price.

Because there are some very real drawbacks with MetaFrame XP's out-of-the-box printing solutions and because these third party tools are so popular, it's definitely worth looking at them. As for recommendations, we're going to study the printing challenges and how third party tools are used to address them from a technical standpoint. We are not going to study each of the vendors' different products and provide reviews.

After you read this section, you'll have a true understanding of why these products are needed and how they can help. This will enable you to be able to go to the different printing vendors and accurately assess their products and offerings. All four of these vendors offer 30-day trial versions of their products, and there is a wealth of unbiased, up-to-the-minute reviews of all of these vendors and their products at http://thethin.net.

The technical design information provided in this book, coupled with the online information about these four vendors should provide you with enough information to be able to make an informed decision that allows you to support the MetaFrame XP printing challenges that arise in these problem scenarios.

Now, let's take a look at how these third-party tools address each of the MetaFrame XP printing problems outlined previously.

Problem 1. Multiple Printer Drivers must be Managed

Whether you use client mapped printers or server printers, you need to have the appropriate printer drivers installed on every MetaFrame XP server. While there are steps you can take to help alleviate this, each has its problems. MetaFrame XP printer driver replication has serious performance issues. Manual replication is a problem if you have a lot of servers or a lot of users. The alternatives to using many drivers, such as the universal print driver or alternate driver substitution often come at the expense of printer functionality.

Since the early days of MetaFrame, there has been a call for an easy way to manage printer drivers on multiple servers. This is where the third party tools come in. These vendors offer products that allow you to package and distribute any number of printer drivers to multiple MetaFrame XP servers. This Your servers will then have the necessary drivers installed to support the needed number of network and client mapped printers. By having these printer drivers preinstalled on MetaFrame XP servers, you can dramatically reduce the administrative effort of supporting auto-created client mapped printers.

These third party tools also offer better performance than the standard MetaFrame XP printer driver replication as well as an easy way to remove drivers.

Advantages of Third Party Printer Driver Management Tools

  • Printer drivers can easily be installed and removed from MetaFrame XP servers.
  • No performance degradation.
  • Multiple drivers can be installed simultaneously.

Disadvantages of Third Party Printer Driver Management Tools

  • These tools represent an additional cost.
  • These tools do not address the fundamental driver requirement problems associated with client printer mapping.

Problem 2. Client Printer Performance is Poor

Ideally, printing in a MetaFrame XP environment should not be something that you should have to worry about. Most users already have their printers configured locally on their workstations before they ever connect to your MetaFrame XP servers. The users are familiar with their printers. They know where they are located and how fast they print.

Remember how the standard MetaFrame XP client printer mapping works? It gives the users the ability to print to their own printers, except the performance is poor. The large spooled print job is sent across the network to the user, which could take some time.

As an alternative to this, all four printing software vendors have products that allow users to quickly, easily, and seamlessly print to their own local printers. These products install as printer drivers on the server and a small client component on the ICA clients. To understand how this works, think back to how standard Windows printing works. The application generates an EMF file that is small and efficient. The print spooler uses the EMF to generate the spooled print file which is large and printer-specific. The spooled print file is transmitted to the ICA client.

These third party printing tools operate by intercepting the print job after the EMF is created but before it is sent to the print spooler.

Figure 7.8: Third party printing software installed on ICA clients

  1. The user prints from an application on the MetaFrame XP server.
  2. The application, via the GDI, generates an EMF file.
  3. The third party software component running on the MetaFrame XP server receives that EMF file.
  4. The third party software transmits the EMF file to the ICA client.
  5. A third party software component on the ICA client receives the EMF file.
  6. The third party software transfers the EMF file to the local print spooler on the client device.
  7. The client device's local print spooler spools the print job.
  8. The print job is transmitted to the client's printer, just like any print job in a non-MetaFrame XP environment.

Another thing that you may have noticed in this diagram is that if you use this type of third party tool, you do not need to have printer drivers installed on your MetaFrame XP servers. The printer drivers are not invoked until after the print job is sent to the client device. At that point, the client's printer drivers are used.

Advantages of Using Third Party Client Printing Products

  • Any client printer can be used.
  • As an administrator, you do not need to worry about printing.
  • Individual printer drivers do not need to be installed on the MetaFrame XP servers.
  • The third party client software can be scripted to automatically install from an NFuse web page, just like the ICA client software.
  • These tools can be used with all client platforms.
  • These tools do not require Feature Release 1 or 2 (or MetaFrame for that matter).

Disadvantages of Using Third Party Client Printing Products

  • These third party tools represent an additional cost.

As you may have noticed, these third party tools are similar to the universal print driver functionality of Feature Release 1 or 2. (Actually, the universal print driver is similar to these tools, because they have been around a lot longer than Feature Release 1.) Even though they represent an additional cost, these tools have several benefits over the universal print driver of Feature Release 1, including the fact that they work on any client platform (instead of only 32-bit Windows) and can produce full color print jobs at any resolution (instead of being limited to 300 dpi monochrome).

Problem 3. Printing in WAN Environments

Often, MetaFrame XP environments are designed so that the users are at one location, and the MetaFrame XP servers are at another location. This is the preferred design in many cases because it's desirable to place the MetaFrame XP servers close to the data sources which are usually located at corporate offices. One of the problems with this architecture is printing. Typically, the location that houses the users has its own print server. This is often the case with remote offices or factory floors, as shown in Figure 7.9.

Figure 7.9: MetaFrame XP in a WAN environment

The problem with this environment is that the WAN is not used efficiently. If client printers are used, the MetaFrame XP servers will spool the entire print job before it's sent to the client devices. The clients then transfer the print job to the local print server. Alternately, the printer could be configured in MetaFrame XP as a network printer. This would still mean that the print job would be spooled on the MetaFrame XP server, but in this case the spooled print job would then be sent directly to the print server instead of routed through the client device. Either way, inefficient print traffic is sent across the WAN.

The third party tools offer a solution where efficient print jobs are sent from the MetaFrame XP server directly to the print server. This is similar to the solution posed for Problem 2, except that the third party client software runs on the print server instead of the ICA client device.

Figure 9.10: Third party software used with remote print servers

  1. The user prints from an application on the MetaFrame XP server.
  2. The application, via the GDI, generates an EMF file.
  3. The third party software component running on the MetaFrame XP server receives that EMF file.
  4. The third party software transmits the EMF file to the network print server.
  5. A third party software component running on the print server receives the EMF file.
  6. The third party software transfers the EMF file to the local print spooler on the print server.
  7. The print server's local print spooler spools the print job.
  8. The print job is printed without the large spool file ever traversing the network.

Advantages of Third Party Print Server Software

  • Perfect solution for ICA thin client devices that cannot have third party software installed locally.
  • Keeps large print jobs from traversing the WAN.
  • No software needs to be installed on the users' client devices.
  • Process is completely transparent to the users.

Disadvantages of Third Party Print Server Software

  • These third party tools represent an additional cost.

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