From the principal's office to the classroom, printers remain every bit as critical as the computers to which they are connected for accomplishing day-to-day tasks. As with any core hardware, it remains in the best interest of the IT department to simplify administration and deployment wherever possible so that users can hit the ground running and keep operating with minimal disruption. Whether your help desk supports 50 or 500 users, the following five steps can help position your staff, teachers and students for printing success.
1. Do Your Homework
Most IT decision-makers readily agree that one of the most important factors to consider when adopting a given PC or notebook platform is availability. Few purchasers consider standardizing on a particular model without first checking its manufacturing roadmap to ensure future accessibility. Given the rapid rate at which printer models typically change, it's all the more important to ensure consistency districtwide. Try to avoid one-off purchases, and buy in bulk whenever practical.
2. Use Group Policy
Deploying shared print queues to workstations used to be an arduous and time-consuming task. Now, newer versions of Microsoft Windows Server (2003 R2 and above) allow administrators to deploy print queues to user workstations using Group Policy. Admins can use the Deploy with Group Policy function of the Printer Management console on a given server, define the printer to be deployed and then specify the target user(s) or workstation(s) to receive the queue. Once preparations are made, the printer is effectively pushed to the workstations using a simple tool that's copied when the login script runs during the next user session.
3. Preconfigure Whenever Practical
If your district uses external print servers for dot-matrix or special-purpose printing at remote locations, consider having new printers shipped to those destinations and sending their external servers directly to corporate IT staff for configuration. In the long run, any additional shipping charges incurred for this pit stop will quickly be reconciled by the elimination of time and frustration involved in remotely configuring equipment that your staff can't touch.
4. Stick with Major Brands
While it isn't difficult to find clearance models or less familiar brands of laser printers at deep discounts, keep in mind that you will eventually need to find a company to service and repair these units. Buying off-brand or bargain bin models can make this task more difficult than it should be – if not impossible – and can ultimately result in that bargain going straight into the dumpster at the first sign of trouble. Avoid unnecessary downtime and waste by investing a little more money in a popular model manufactured by a major brand. Not only will this put you on track for ready support and service for the life of the unit, but it also guarantees cheaper, easier-to-find consumables.
5. Be Genuine
Many office supply companies offer “refurbished” or refilled toner and ink cartridges at a discount. While the perceived savings might initially seem attractive, most printers were designed to work with genuine, single-use OEM cartridges. Conversely, those refilled cartridges were originally created, tested and guaranteed for one use. Pushing any equipment beyond its intended purpose is just asking for trouble (and in this case, also would void your manufacturer's warranty).