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We heard the message loud and clear: organizations want to start using Universal Print today. Learn how to start sharing existing printers across your organization using the Universal Print connector.
The future of print
Universal Print moves printing to the cloud by removing the need for the on-premises print servers and Active Directory domain controllers that have been traditionally necessary for printing. Instead, Universal Print uses Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) and enables IT administrators to share printers across their organization, regardless of where end users are located.
For the best experience with Universal Print, organizations should look to Universal-Print-ready printers—intelligent printers that can communicate directly with Universal Print to fetch print jobs and report statuses. Major printer manufacturers are partnering with Microsoft to create new printers that have these capabilities as well as provide firmware upgrades for existing printers that organizations are using today.
The temporary need for a connector
There are many organizations; however, that want to use Universal Print today, without having to wait for Universal-Print-ready printers to be widely available in the market. Some have recently made investments in printers that they do not expect to replace soon, while others simply want to start taking advantage of cloud-based printing.
The connector was created to enable companies to use existing printers with Universal Print. Some printers will receive firmware updates from the printer manufacturer. For other printers; however, the connector acts as a proxy between the Universal Print cloud service and the printer installed on Windows. Once these printers are replaced with newer, Universal-Print-ready versions or updated with the ability to communicate directly with Universal Print, the connecter will no longer be required.
The connector is made up of two major components:
- A cloud service interface
- A printer interface
The cloud service interface handles the communication with Universal Print. It performs tasks, such as registering printers in Universal Print, managing device authentication with Azure AD, fetching print jobs from the cloud, and communicating printer and job status to Universal Print.
The printer interface handles communication with the physical print device. It performs tasks, such as submitting print jobs to printers and getting status information from these printers.
Communication with Universal Print is based on the public Internet Printing Protocol (IPP) standard from PWG and the Microsoft Microsoft Graph API. The cloud service interface of the connector is a communication client of Universal Print. It uses the same protocol and API.
The connector printer interface could be implemented using any API that is suitable for communicating with the target device or group of devices. For example, if the connector is running on Windows, then the Windows print APIs could be used.
Although Microsoft created the first connector implementation as a background service that runs on a PC, the two components of the connector could be implemented by any software developer. As a result, some Microsoft partners have already created their own implementations of the connector, offering features that the Microsoft Universal Print connector does not provide, and vice versa.
For example, as Bruce Leistikow, Product Marketing Director at Y Soft, states:
“On July 21, Y Soft announced a new Universal Print solution comprised of YSoft OMNI Bridge™, a serverless edge device, and YSoft OMNI UP365™. This combined solution instantly and cost-effectively connects in-market multifunction devices and printers to Universal Print. Additionally, Y Soft simultaneously announced that YSoft SAFEQ also offers a connector for Universal Print as a free extension; thereby creating additional value for all SAFEQ on-prem and cloud customers and any business who wants to take advantage of the new Universal Print feature in their Microsoft 365 subscription as part of a print management solution.”
Partner connectors are typically designed to better fit into the partner’s existing solutions, as noted by Jamie McClunie, Product Manager at PaperCut:
“We wanted to make it easy for admins to use, so we’ve implemented all the connector functions natively in our print management software PaperCut MF and NG, meaning one less thing to install and manage. Plus, we’re adding a few enhancements of our own, like the network printer discovery we use in Mobility Print and some of our high availability features for resilience.”
Deploying the connector
Instructions on how to download and install the connector, and a short list of prerequisites, can be found in the Universal Print connector quick start guide.
To act as a proxy for printers, the Universal Print connector must be located on the same network as these printers. The printers need to be installed (i.e. via the Settings app or the Print Management app) on the device that hosts the connector service. Additionally, the connector needs to have an outbound connection to the internet to communicate with the Universal Print service in the cloud.
There are many deployment configurations for the connector:
- On the Windows print servers on which the organization’s printers are already installed.
- On dedicated virtual machines at each site where printers are located.
- On virtual machines in Azure that have VPN access to the sites where the printers are located.
For example, an organization that uses a multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) network to connect its sites could install connectors at a central data center. An organization that uses network appliances that can host virtual machines could install connectors on these appliances at each site.
We want to hear from you!
The Universal Print connector was developed in response to requests and feedback received via our Universal Print feature requests board on Tech Community. Please continue to add features you would like to see in the connector on that page or upvote ideas that are already there.
If you have questions about the connector, please check out the Universal Print Community to find an answer or post your question for our team to answer.
Brought to you by Dr. Ware, Microsoft Office 365 Silver Partner, Charleston SC.