What Are Remote Printing Options In The Age Of Hybrid Work?
Print workflows and IT infrastructure are key considerations when choosing between VPN and cloud printing to meet the needs of a hybrid workforce. Remote printing and even printing inside offices have long been a problem for users and administrators. But the Covid-19 pandemic and the sudden shift to near-ubiquitous work-from-home environments have forced companies to take a fresh look at printing technologies and procedures. To successfully address the challenges of remote and local printing, businesses must consider two critical factors: print workflows and IT infrastructure.
If, for example, all users in an organization are working remotely, it doesn’t make sense to send a print job to a printer in the office if no one is there to receive the printed documents or upload the paper printer. The administrator must find another location for the printer, such as another remote workplace. When employees return to the office and remote print jobs must be sent to corporate facilities, IT will need to review the print support infrastructure and possibly consider alternatives. Remote printing works best when using a VPN or cloud printing service, and the choice depends on cost, support, ease of use, security, and general appearance practice.
VPN Or Not?
Remote printing over a VPN connection might seem the obvious choice when a business already has a virtual private network. But printing through a VPN can be problematic for several reasons:
- Printer redirect. Besides remote printing, there will be situations where users will print to their local printer, even if only for personal reasons. Users will need to know how to direct print jobs to the appropriate destination, remotely or onsite. VPN client software often makes managing device redirection tricky.
- The printer drivers are missing. Users probably won’t have the required drivers installed on their devices. This issue is less of a problem than device redirection because drivers only need to be installed once. Chances are also that the corporate print server will be able to automatically install the required drivers the first time a user prints to a remote printer. Windows print servers, for example, will automatically install printer drivers to Windows clients.
- Security. The connection is likely to be secure if a user has established a VPN connection. But Windows printing still requires TCP ports 139 and 445 to be open and UDP port 137. Administrators can sometimes be reluctant to open additional ports in the firewall.
Although remote printing via VPN is almost exclusively done in a corporate environment, it is possible to use VPN connectivity in other situations – for example, when a user sends a print job to a printer located in another user’s home. Users who share their printer should create a personal VPN, but the lack of technical support and user expertise generally makes this option impractical.
Turn To The Cloud
Several cloud-based options can make remote printing easier. They’re simple for users and reduce administration hassles for IT, but they can introduce security vulnerabilities. Some cloud options are free; others are paid services based on flat-rate subscriptions or the number of pages printed. Fees can be substantial for companies that charge per page. Businesses should also consider how much control they want to maintain over their print infrastructure since cloud print providers do most of the print setup and management.
For printing from one remote location to another, consumer cloud printing services are often free and usually easy to set up by users without assistance. Yet companies need to consider whether these services provide the necessary security to print sensitive documents. Cloud printing services aimed at businesses rather than individuals allow users to securely print to corporate printers from anywhere, using any device. These services can significantly simplify remote printing for users and, in many cases, eliminate the need for users to install a printer driver on their devices. Some cloud printing providers also offer advanced analytics to help businesses better understand user printing habits and possibly reduce costs.
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