Windows Server Updates and Hyper-V: A Good Start, but for Most, More is Needed

by Henning Volkmer

First, the good news: Windows Server 2016, along with earlier versions, is a great advancement for anyone looking to run a modern, reliable and efficient data center. Equally as reassuring is that Microsoft’s Hyper-V technology is a great way to virtualize servers, ensure they use available hardware as efficiently and economically as possible and provide nearly perfect protection against downtime resulting from server hardware failures.

If you’re running file servers, application servers, databases, etc., Hyper-V is a great solution. But this isn’t the case if the majority of your organization is (and it should be) running print servers.

You may not print very much personally, but your organization most likely thrives or falters with the quality and availability of print services. For example, trucks need bills of landings, patients need prescriptions and field service workers need work orders. Long story short: Printing is vital to most organizations, and there is simply no Windows Server out-of-the-box solution anymore that allows IT to ensure users can print whenever needed.

On their website, Microsoft justifies replacing print cluster services with Hyper-V. No doubt, there are some legitimate advantages, like not requiring a cluster-certified driver anymore – a necessity that significantly limited printer choices.

After my colleagues and I analyzed 17 years’ worth of data culled from a broad spectrum of organizations, we came to a clear conclusion. The greatest asset for this new generation of Windows Servers – guarding print servers against server hardware failures — is the most unlikely cause of failure and the least of your worries.

Instead, the print infrastructure is most likely taken down by intricate issues related to and rooted in the complex processes necessary to create a printed document. This could include, one driver corrupting another, printer mappings to users failing or print spoolers getting stuck. All of this can create a frozen, or at least buggy, performance of the print servers. This, in turn, leaves users waiting in vain for their printouts.

Mirroring servers, restarting services or reverting back to an earlier snap shot may provide short-term relief, but none of these fix the underlying issues. The only true answer is to implement an option that can fully monitor print-specific issues while delivering the flexibility to adjust to your organization’s high availability and performance needs.

Fortunately, those providing enterprise print management and optimization solutions have kept this topic front-of-mind. As customers prepare for the final demise of Windows Server 2003, third-party vendors have been hard at work building solutions that can not only fill the void but also expand monitoring to truly include print-specific health indicators.

What does this mean as you’re updating and operating your environment? You need to be aware of these out-of the-box limitations and understand if they pose a risk your organization can’t handle. If they do, you need to implement a solution that can provide true, print-specific high availability.

There are three main capabilities you should consider for print-specific high availability:

  • Monitoring servers for overall health, and even more important, print specific criteria. Is the spooler reacting fast enough? Are printer mappings to the users successful? If enough criteria point to an unstable or failed server, are users seamlessly redistributed to other servers in the high availability group without requiring any work from the users or IT?
  • Load balancing, so users get maximum print performance while the organization uses its resources most efficiently. Rather than manually distributing users to different servers, the determination should be made dynamically whenever users connect to printers based on the workload in the environment at the time.
  • Maintenance simplification by enabling IT to manually remove a server from the high availability group when necessary. If patches are needed or drivers and configurations must be updated, can that work be done without either impacting users or being confined to inconvenient time slots in the middle of the night?

Printing is more critical to your organization than your day-to-day life might suggest. Be sure to carefully weigh the risks of just relying on what’s included straight out of the box versus deploying a print-specific high availability solution that can provide the functionality you need.

Henning Volkmer is the president and CEO of ThinPrint Inc.

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