Multiple studies have revealed that the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated digital transformation and that more organisations are leveraging the cloud to support their DX initiatives. This month’s panel discusses the impact of Microsoft Universal Print
PrintIT Reseller: Will Microsoft Universal Print signal the demise of print servers and accelerate the shift to a cloud-native print infrastructure?
Jamie McClunie, Product Manager, PaperCut Software: “If we take the cloud adoption of other business tools as a guide (accounting software, for a recent example), it’s safe to say that the shift to print management in the cloud is inevitable.
“A recent Quocirca report suggests 73% of organisations expect to transition to cloud print management by 2025. And, in fact, another report points to the COVID-19 pandemic accelerating complete cloud IT adoption for businesses from 34% to 43% by the end of 2021.
“Add to that the emergence of cloud-native print management platforms such as PaperCut Hive, and there’s certainly enough evidence to expect an increase in adoption in 2021 and beyond.
“Of course, many customers will be excited about the move to Microsoft Universal Print, just like they were for AAD, as part of their M365 licensing bundle. You can see the appeal when you consider that the move will enable them to save on server costs and enjoy the benefits of cloud services instead of dealing with the hassle of managing their own infrastructure. But just like Active Directory, there are still a vast number of organisations who can’t or won’t completely abandon the control, resiliency and security of the local infrastructure they manage themselves, whether it’s for identity or print.”
Christoph Hammer, Senior Vice President Cloud Services, ThinPrint GmbH: “The aim of cloud printing solutions, like ezeep, in general is to get rid of expensive-to-maintain on-premises infrastructure. Microsoft now joining this development is a good sign for the whole industry.”
Hugo Marqvorsen, Sales Director and Co-founder, Printix: “Universal Print by Microsoft will certainly accelerate the demise of print servers and shift to cloud-native print infrastructure. It is a natural progression of their other cloud-based products since Azure was introduced.”
Adam Bishop, Strategic Marketing,EveryonePrint: “A lot of our customers have welcomed this advancement. What Microsoft Universal Print has done is to bring the concept of cloud printing and a single print driver to the mainstream. CIOs are now seriously considering the ongoing value of print servers and to some degree, the development will accelerate the decision to migrate print to the cloud, all of which creates opportunity for EveryonePrint.
“However, it will not signal the total demise of print servers, certainly in the short- to medium-term, many organisations require some information to remain local whether that’s due to bandwidth or latency issues or for security reasons, and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon.”
Peter Silcock, Business Manager for Business Imaging, Epson UK: “Since Microsoft Universal Print was previewed to the public in 2020, the cloud-based print solution has – along with the rest of the Azure platform – signalled a shift away from using traditional on-site servers in many businesses.
“Switching to Universal Print brings with it several benefits for IT managers, from eliminating the need to manage print servers and install drivers, to enabling users to print from anywhere (when connected to the internet). The cloud-based infrastructure helps centralise the management of all printing within an organisation, saving IT leads both time and energy.
“Although it won’t herald an entire demise for traditional on-site print servers, there is certainly now a compelling argument for more companies to consider switching to a cloud-based print infrastructure – and one which could mean print is increasingly considered a cloud managed business service.”
Liz Benson, Senior Strategy Director, Kofax: “We’ve seen digital transformation and workflow automation adoption rise across the board due to the new norms – distributed workforces and expectations for an effortless customer and employee experience, all while backed with enterprise-grade infrastructure and security.
“As organisations seek their own outcomes to increase agility and efficiency – like shifting to cloud-native print infrastructure – we’re happy to partner with Microsoft. We share a common goal of helping our customers digitally transform business operations and workflow to drive enhanced efficiency, productivity, and experience.
“Variables, including latency and bandwidth, are still influencing factors where an organisation may be on their journey to cloud-native print adoption. With Universal Print and Kofax ControlSuite, organisations can accelerate the transition while securely managing information for print, its capture, and routing with the ability for secure cloud-based print management in addition to the traditional print server solutions. As cloud print management grows, the use of print server solutions may be altered.
“Universal Print offers an on-ramp to cloud-based print management as organisations initiate digital transformation programs. The shift to native Universal Print functionality will allow third-party vendors like Kofax to enable their products to manage devices through Microsoft Graph API connectivity, thereby reducing or even eliminating the need for on-prem print servers – realising an even more tightly integrated and seamless user and administrator experience.
Pietro Renda, Chief Marketing Officer, MPS Monitor: “Over the past few years, businesses of all sizes have shown greater interest in adopting a managed print service approach, and, in parallel, the need for cloud-based printing has grown. To reduce costs as a first goal, but also to plan and manage IT resources more appropriately.
“While cloud migration showed a significant growth trend over the years, the pandemic had a high impact on how the work is done, shifting employees to operate remotely and creating the need to develop stable and secure home environments.
“So, more and more, organisations are migrating to the cloud to reduce IT infrastructure and ensure better control over the distributed workforce. Universal Print in this context plays a central role, both for Microsoft and for the entire print industry. By making Universal Print a standard feature for Microsoft 365, the company effectively targets a broad customer base in large companies and the SMB, bringing users’ print activities into the Microsoft Azure cloud.”
Kerry Rush, Product Manager, Sharp UK: “The move to cloud-based services is definitely a major growth area for both IT and print, and it’s an especially hot topic during the pandemic. Microsoft is a front runner in pushing forward with evolution in these areas and Universal Print is a shining example of this.
“For businesses that already run Microsoft 365 and Azure environments, this is a quick and easy migration – one that could eventually see on-premise print servers becoming a thing of the past. It will aid our new agile work forces to transition between home and office work with ease.
“For organisations that don’t currently operate with Microsoft 365 or Azure, it may take a lot more time and investment to run their infrastructure via the cloud. We also need to consider security and how we can build trust in the cloud. Many customers feel secure knowing that their data is stored on-site in a physical box, rather than floating around in a cloud that they cannot see or touch.”
Andy Johnson, Solutions and Alliance Partner Development Manager, Brother UK: “The rollout of Microsoft Universal Print will make it easier for IT leads to switch to cloud-native systems, so we can expect to see a drop-off in the use of server-based print infrastructure.
“The switch to cloud provides a number of benefits – it negates the need to buy and maintain servers, it provides better protection against cyber-attacks and helps businesses shift the investment into a monthly opex as part of existing Office 365 subscriptions.
“Companies will also be looking to harness far greater flexibility with their print systems through cloud integration. Universal Print allows new devices to be added to print estates almost instantaneously without the headache of installing supporting server infrastructure.”
Eric McCann, Manager, Software Product Marketing, Lexmark: “Universal Print from Microsoft is a compelling technology for customers adopting the Microsoft ecosystem for services. We are eager to join Microsoft in this journey and enhance our printers with this capability, while also maintaining our current support for existing customers and/or those who choose not to implement this support.”
Howard Roberts, Distinguished Technologist, HP Inc. Office Print Solutions: “HP sees Microsoft Universal Print as an addition to tools that a network administrator has access to rather than a replacement for on-premise servers.
“Currently Microsoft Universal Print only provides access to a print path from Windows 10 clients through to Microsoft Universal Print-aware devices that are authenticated through Azure AD. The vast majority of devices on networks often do not have this capability and ability to be upgraded or made Microsoft Universal Print-compatible. This is why Microsoft has created the on-premise Microsoft Universal Print proxy server.
“In addition, the standard role of an on-premise print server provides administrators other control capabilities beyond those provided by Microsoft Universal Print in its initial release and it may be vital that those features are available to them. There are already mature solutions for attaching devices to cloud-based print paths and Microsoft Universal Print is a welcome addition to that portfolio.”
James Pittick, Partner Channel Director, Canon UK: “Digital transformation is as high on the agenda for businesses as it has ever been, so the desire to migrate to more cloud-based solutions is continuing to grow in popularity and printing is no exception.
“Ultimately, deciding whether to migrate to a cloud-native print infrastructure depends on the needs of the customer. Whilst some businesses are looking to transition to an entirely cloud print infrastructure, others will choose to remain on-premise or look to employ a hybrid model. Microsoft Universal Print can therefore help customers who are looking for greater autonomy in their cloud-based solution.
“Going forward, businesses should work closely with their customers to find the best solutions to fit their needs. Whether that is on-premise, cloud or a mix of the two – Microsoft Universal Print is another tool that can help businesses to get this mix right.
“Within our own technology portfolio for print management, we are already seeing a shift from server based uniFLOW installations to uniFLOW Online – as customers look to reduce the number of servers they purchase and manage or reduce overall infrastructure costs.”
PrintIT Reseller: How can organisations that wish to utilise Universal Print within their environment benefit from the native support built into your offering?
Jamie McClunie:” For Microsoft customers who’ve been held back from cloud migration by Windows Print Server, Universal Print is a fantastic option. They can enjoy all the benefits of cloud print infrastructure, as well as Microsoft’s Universal Print driver that’s now part of Windows 10 and is able to be deployed to other devices via MS Intune.
“Universal Print offers users a solid print infrastructure and print enablement. But just like Windows Print Server, Microsoft isn’t offering print management. So, when customers need secure print release, Find-Me printing, policies, quotas, charging or comprehensive reporting, PaperCut is still the best print management solution, as we always have been on Windows Print Server.
“What puts us head and shoulders above other management products for Universal Print is what every business wants; ease of use. Our connector integration replaces the default Microsoft connector software component (the piece on your local network that handles communication between printers and the cloud), by building that functionality right into PaperCut MF.
“With the official launch of Universal Print, every PaperCut MF licence includes our Universal Print connector at no extra cost. And from our upcoming version PaperCut MF 21.0, the connector will be included out of the box, without needing an extra download. By using PaperCut to manage their Universal Print environment, customers don’t have to install, manage or maintain any extra software applications or network black boxes. PaperCut MF does it all, in one place, in the easy, powerful interface customers know and love.
Christoph Hammer: “We provide a special version of our ezeep Hub called Microsoft Universal Print Connector by ezeep. The Microsoft Universal Print Connector by ezeep allows organisations to use Microsoft Universal Print immediately with all of their existing printers and removes the need for a local print server, saving organisations up to $2000/year for each print server.
“Denying printers to communicate directly with the internet and using the Microsoft Universal Print Connector by ezeep as in-between instead increases security. Data leaking outside the organisation or unintended external access to printers due to misconfiguration, is an often overlooked security risk that ezeep mitigates effectively.
“Any Microsoft Universal Print Connector by ezeep not only supports Microsoft Universal Print but can also be upgraded to a full-featured ezeep Hub. So whenever there is need for additional management, or mobile, Mac or Chrome printing support, the hardware is already in place.”
Hugo Marqvorsen: “As a Microsoft Azure-hosted cloud service, Printix utilises the Microsoft Graph API to provision deep and seamless integration with Universal Print, without the need to add connectors, hardware, or complexity.
“Printix integrates with Universal Print to deliver cloud print management, secure print and mobile print from any device to any printer. Organisations running Universal Print can extend the capabilities with Printix, supporting all current printers and operating systems, including Windows, Mac, Chromebook, IOS and Android.
“Features include: Secure Print Release. Use Printix App for secure print release of Universal Print jobs. Printix App is available as a web app that runs in a web browser and as a native app for Android and iOS/iPadOS phones and tablets. If Printix Go is installed on the printer, users can sign in with card or ID code and release documents from the touchscreen control panel of the printer. Mobile Print. Print from phones and tablets, Android and iOS/iPadOS, to Printix-managed printers. Direct IP Print. Print direct to any printer, including UP-compatible printers. Keep documents local and ensure print availability when there is no internet connection.”
Adam Bishop: “Organisations looking at Universal Print will do so because it solves a very Microsoft-centric set of problems. But one-size-does-not-fit-all – Microsoft isn’t offering print management so as businesses look to address their secure print and pull print requirements, to enable printing from other operating systems especially mobile devices, or authentication for example Okta, they will see a need for third-party solutions. Universal Print will cater for all of these needs, but that will be reliant on a number of third-party connectors.
“Our Hybrid Cloud Platform solution is probably more flexible and customisable than Universal Print in terms of where workload sits, so customers can choose to maintain some level of local authentication services or local print job storage, in a way that Universal Print doesn’t necessarily give them the flexibility for. So for the end customer, they have to choose between a platform that needs third-party solutions to tick all of the boxes or do they just stick with one platform that does everything they need, across all devices?”
Peter Silcock: “Epson devices will benefit from all of the advancements and features the Microsoft Universal Print platform is offering. As we continue to develop our programme, we will ensure our devices offer the benefit of almost identical services, whether the device is cloud hosted or uses an on-site print server.”
Liz Benson: “Kofax is partnering with Microsoft to deliver an effortless customer and business experience, which is a priority for CEOs and business today. COVID-19 has only accelerated companies’ adoption and embrace of providing this effortless and unified experience.
“By Kofax and Microsoft partnering, we deliver a seamless experience through Microsoft’s cloud-based Universal Print and Kofax ControlSuite’s single integrated solution for print management, intelligent capture, and mobile workflow automation across the enterprise. These solutions result in reduced cost of ownership and improved, secure experiences for employees, overall improving business operational capacity and efficiency.
“Kofax ControlSuite delivers document workflow automation with seamless connections to an extensive set of business applications and a wide range of printers and MFDs providing a unified user experience. Customers benefit from Kofax ControlSuite’s advanced content-aware print and capture capabilities to automatically initiate workflows which maximise security, drive efficiencies and productivity as well as reduce costs.
“With Kofax ControlSuite’s content-aware capabilities, customers ensure document security and compliance by automatically applying business rules and data protection policies like redaction, watermarking and rule-based printing – allowing end-users to maintain security and compliance while leveraging the convenience of the Microsoft printing service.”
Pietro Renda: “Thousands of dealers and managed print services providers using MPS Monitor can now help customers to move their print infrastructure to the Microsoft 365 cloud and have all their print fleet managed by a single SaaS platform.
“Using our native integration features, customers can enable all Universal Print functions for their users with extreme ease. Printer sharing, print queues and pull print functionalities are available for all customers who have a suitable Microsoft 365 subscription and access the MPS Monitor Portal.
“Dealers and MPS providers can perform automatic registration of managed devices on Azure AD, and manage printing users and print queues from inside MPS Monitor. This allows the consolidation of remote monitoring and management, user management, and job tracking in a single, integrated, and fully secure SaaS service.”
Kerry Rush: “Sharp’s development strategy puts cloud and mobile support as a major priority. Our next generation of MFPs and printers will support Microsoft Universal Print out of the box so integration will be seamless. Older products do have Sharp’s native universal print which works across the Sharp fleet and allows ease of use and consistence. We are working on developments for our older models that will allow them to integrate with Microsoft Universal Print.”
Andy Johnson: “We’re working alongside Microsoft to ensure native printing from Universal Print. And the benefits of switching to the cloud, from changing payment models to providing enhanced security and scalability, nicely complement the offering that we’ve grounded into our product and services portfolio.
“For example, our managed print services have supported IT departments to turn capex investments in print infrastructure into opex spending for almost a decade. Where MPS facilitates the delivery of easily scalable print estates, Universal Print now underpins the supporting infrastructure – removing the need for time and money to be spent on the installation of server hardware.
“While Universal Print removes some of the jobs of managing a print estate, we can do the rest – whether that’s through supplies replenishment as part of an MPS, or maintenance support made available direct through a printer’s interface with our free Remote Panel add-on.”
Eric McCann: “Microsoft developed the proxy connector so that any printer can participate in their solution. Lexmark was able to integrate the device registration directly through the device for a one to one connection with no PC required. This enables a direct connection with Microsoft and the device to allow for seamless printing.”
Howard Roberts: “HP’s in-device Microsoft Universal Print offering will allow users to authenticate a device, identify the print jobs which they have sent to the Microsoft Universal Print queue and release them at that device. They also have the ability to delete jobs if no longer needed. HP also currently offers cloud-based solutions allowing users outside of Windows 10 (for example, Mac OS, Android, Chrome) to print to devices connected to an HP cloud. Those devices can also be Microsoft Universal Print-enabled allowing a cloud-native experience from all common user environments.
James Pittick: “Last year, we announced a partnership with Microsoft to support the integration of Universal Print into our products. As a result, we have been working hard to help users transition to the cloud in a holistic and streamlined wa y.
“By combining our uniFLOW Online product and Universal Print, we can offer customers a truly unique proposition. Users can migrate their system to Microsoft’s cloud technology, removing the need for local servers and providing a complete cloud solution. Customers can also benefit from a range of additional capabilities from Canon, such as native cloud scanning applications, which help to digitise document management at every step of a document’s lifecycle.
“In terms of hardware, the imageRUNNER ADVANCE DX and third-generation imageRUNNER ADVANCE both support Universal Print. This brings cloud technology to a wider range of users, and the devices can also be registered to uniFLOW Online in bulk, easing administration burdens. Using these cloud-native devices, users can also select supported finishing options such as duplex, hole-punch and multi-position staples, from either the Windows print dialogue or the Canon device panel.
“For many manufacturers, a firmware update is required to make their devices Microsoft Universal Print capable. Solutions like uniFLOW Online can help to manage the device connectivity, making it easily compatible with a range of products via the cloud.”
PrintIT Reseller: To what extent do you believe Universal Print-compatible hardware/software will simplify IT leads’ printer and fleet management duties?
Jamie McClunie: “The benefits here are similar to what we’ve seen with customers moving from local AD to Azure AD. And it’s the same benefit our customers are seeing already when they move their print management to the cloud, hosting PaperCut MF in their Azure, Google, or AWS environments.
“They spend less time building, patching, and maintaining servers. They spend less time designing and supporting resilient, scalable architectures, and way less time dealing with the user and business impacts of downtime, outages, and maintenance windows.
“SaaS print infrastructure has been the market direction for years and we’re excited to partner with Microsoft as they join the party. We’ve known cloud-native print infrastructure was the future for a long time, and have been pushing the boundaries of possibility with things like PaperCut Views, Google Cloud Print support, and more recently with Mobility Print and our cutting edge cloud-native PaperCut Pocket and PaperCut Hive solutions.
“Microsoft is adding print infrastructure to their powerful portfolio of M365 services, and PaperCut MF is right here, adding powerful print management hand in hand. Cloud services like Universal Print mean customers can do more with less, and the larger their local print infrastructure is today, the more time and money they can save by moving to the cloud.”
Christoph Hammer: “Probably not much. Delivering a document from a user’s PC to a printer via the Microsoft Universal Print service has little impact on printer fleet management, consumables, predictability of maintenance, etc. The partner ecosystem of MS Universal Print, however, will be interesting to watch in that regard.”
Hugo Marqvorsen: “Until there are UP-enabled devices on the market, and to work with non-UP devices in the field, Microsoft has the UP Connector hosted on a VM in the cloud or on a local Windows machine. As an advanced option, Printix provides customers with direct print via Printix Client, so Universal Print can be used on existing printers without using the Universal Print connector on a local machine and without an expensive server. This also keeps print local to minimise traffic and prevent conversion in the cloud.”
Adam Bishop: “I think in the long-term it will lessen the load on IT, but not so much in the short-term as they will need to manage a number of Universal Print connectors as well as native applications.
“Undoubtedly Universal Print will dramatically simplify Windows print queues but it won’t really touch fleet management, think meter readings, consumables, predictive maintenance and configuration of firmware on devices, for example. IT leads will still be managing a potentially still complex environment, so whilst removing print servers will free up time, it won’t address all of the other areas that will still need to be managed.”
Peter Silcock: “For IT leads, Microsoft Universal Print will definitely bring about several positives. The built-in monitoring services, centralised fleet management capabilities and universal driver all allow for minimal intervention and administration after initial implementation, in both singular and mixed manufacturer print fleets.
“A cloud-native print infrastructure established with Universal Print is also scalable, making the process of adding new devices to an existing print fleet far simpler for IT teams.”
Liz Benson: “As the technology solutions shift to enable native Universal Print functionality, organisations will be able to realise an even more tightly integrated and seamless user experience. Moreover, the administrative experience improves with greater control, visibility, and improved total cost of ownership with simplified driver rollout and deployment.
“These capabilities represent the future of work – including flexibility, scalability, and security. Kofax is glad to be innovating in lockstep with Microsoft to make it easy for our customers to use our technologies together.
Pietro Renda: “Improved efficiency can be reached through a seamless and easy transition from costly and complex on-premises infrastructures to transparent and integrated cloud-based services, which provide the same or greater service levels with additional security capabilities and control.
“The optimal scenario will be reached when all devices will be fully cloud-connected: all the software services will be entirely resident in the cloud, so customers will not need any on-premises proxy component. Unfortunately this is more a long-term vision than an immediately available option, because most hardware and software providers still rely on locally installed devices and services, which are still needed to enable the connection with the cloud.
“In the current landscape, solutions like MPS Monitor can greatly help, by consolidating multiple processes in a single platform and accelerating the transition by streamlining deployments. As an example, the MPS Monitor DCA connector not only provides device monitoring and consumables management, but it also performs all the Universal Print tasks on the customer’s network, without any need for installing additional connectors.
“From a security and configuration perspective, an all-in platform like MPS Monitor provides integrated and centralised credentials and security management as well as print queue and pull print configuration with granular access rights customisation capabilities.
“This integration also provides optimal support for home and remote workers, as it allows them to seamlessly print to office and home devices and ensure efficient business operations, regardless of employee location.”
Kerry Rush: “Universal Print and wider cloud services bring many benefits for print and fleet management alike. Having information in the cloud means you have no physical hardware – which can be expensive to maintain or replace should failures occur.
“Management via the cloud can also be much simpler as many of the functions can be automated and communication can take place in real-time. The cloud is much more administrator friendly because it stores all of the information on your print devices and fleets in one location, allowing them to monitor errors, resolve issues, update firmware or keep an eye on general workings and fleet use.
“Maintenance from the cloud can also be done from anywhere, and at any time, so physical constraints are reduced, saving time and money.”
Andy Johnson: “The pandemic will result in a permanent change in working behaviour, which has already complicated the work of IT leads when it comes to managing their print estates.
“But the rollout of Universal Print will make this task simpler. Printers can move around between homes and offices without the need for reconfiguration and maintaining the same high level of security, while users get the flexibility to print wherever they want within a network from any location.
“While Universal Print is set to become more sophisticated with time, cloud print management and MPS vendors still have a key role to play in relieving IT leads of other fleet management duties, such as reporting, maintenance and repair and supplies replenishment.”
Eric McCann: “For the early adopter customers we have worked with this technology is intriguing. Many of them are on different stages of implementing Microsoft services, so that seems to be the first step. The idea of allowing your print queue to follow your Azure AD credentials for printing and the maintenance of that being removed is a key story to this support going forward.
“One of the biggest keys to monitor with Universal Print is the integration with other partners (Google, Apple, etc.) for the print submission path. If this continues to be a latest only support this will require updates on the customer side and that may delay the adoption. We’re excited to join Microsoft in their efforts to easing the print burden on IT.”
Howard Roberts: “In the world of office print, it’s rare to have a totally uniform client base. It’s unrealistic to expect 100% of a fleet of client devices to be Windows 10, especially with the growth in mobile devices. Adding Microsoft Universal Print-compatible devices will simplify some aspects of the management of print paths from Windows 10 devices, but they will still need to ensure that all users, with a diverse range of client devices, have access to both on-premise and cloud-native print.”
James Pittick: “Universal Print streamlines and simplifies printing, whilst also helping businesses to lower their print volumes, reduce time and costs and ultimately improve the bottom line. This means that IT professionals no longer need to manage printing infrastructure, which can free up more time for critical support areas. Moreover, there is a reduced need for physical hardware for print server infrastructure, which further drives down spending.
“These cost-saving benefits will be especially advantageous for SMEs who are looking to save money on print and infrastructure costs, as it now wraps up in their Microsoft 365 subscription. Equally, as more and more businesses adapt to long-term hybrid working, Universal Print will appear increasingly attractive, as cloud software supports a dispersed workforce printing from a multitude of devices and servers.”