What is a Print Server

What is a print server? Some time ago I had to setup a printer for a client at his office. He wanted to connect the printer directly to his PC so he can print directly to the printer.

"So, how do the other people in the office print to this printer", I asked him, while configuring the printer.

"They bring a USB stick with the document, or they mail me with the document and then I print it", he replied.

"Don't you use a print server?, I asked.

"What is a print server", he replied.

This used to happen a lot. People buy printers and connected it directly to their PC's and print to it. No problem with this. Unfortunately only this PC can print to the printer. If someone needs to use the printer, then they have to ask the printer person to print their document. Pretty printer prints paper alone. (Touch of humor)

I can hear you say, "Let him share the printer". Good idea. Then everyone in the office can print to it. What if he's not there and the PC is powered off? Then someone has to start the PC and make sure everything is working ok.

I can go on and on about this scenario, cause this is exactly what happened to our office setup a long time ago. The answer to this problem is simple.

Get a print server. The question is, what is a print server?

A print server is a device that connects to your printer and is accessible on the network so everybody can print to it. If you have a printer connected directly to your PC, and share the printer from Windows, then you also have a print server.

The problem with this setup is that if the PC is powered down, then no one has access to the server. The alternative is a, print server. Below is a picture of a typical print server layout.

What is a Print Server
Typical Layout
What is a print server

The print server is connected to the printer. You setup network information on the device such as IP address, netmask, default gateway etc. on the device and connect your printer to it. The connection to the printer varies. It could serial, parallel or USB. Serial is very rare and parallel is becoming very rare.

The most common is to connect USB. You also get wireless print servers. In this setup the print server connects to the network via a wireless connection. This makes it easier to move the printer around. Below is a picture showing this layout.

What is a Print Server
Wireless print server setup
wireless print server

Once you have setup your print server with the printer, you need to connect you clients. This is also a fairly simple step. In windows you add a network printer and specify the IP address of the server. Windows will then connect to the printer and ask you some setup info about the printer such as printer type.

Once this is done make sure you print a test page to see if it's working. That's it.

Some common problems you might pick up is that the driver software for the printer is not installed correctly on your client systems. Check the printer vendors website for drivers. Printer manufacturers also ship a DVD or CD with their drivers for the various printers and operating systems.

I have also seen that people sometimes specify the incorrect IP address for the print server. Just make sure. Windows will try to automatically detect the server on the network. If this does not work, enter the IP manually.

After everything is setup, everyone connected to the printer can print to it. Very cool. The print server does not go down unless you switch of the power. There is no need to do this. The print server will always be available.

You can even buy printers these days with a built in print server. You just connect your network cable, enter the relevant IP info, and your'e good to go.

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