Cutting the Cable on Print Servers
This week we'll show you how to add a bit of mobility to your office printers as well as suggest a network operating system which might benefit a small office with a limited IT staff.
By Ron Pacchiano
Q. Our office has recently expanded to include the office space down the hall from us. In order to get this new location online and to keep expenses down, we decided to add a wireless access point and a repeater to our existing network. This addition extended the range of our network to cover the new office location. We installed about 8 PCs in this location along with two printers. We connected the printers to two of our desktop systems and shared them out, thus allowing everyone to print.
The problems with this setup are that it uses a lot of system resources and the two printer-attached PCs must remain on at all times. Lately these printers have been getting a lot of use, and we have been experiencing problems. Sometimes one of the printer-attached PCs locks up, preventing people from printing. At other times, print jobs just seem to get hung up in the queue and never print out. I've tried to get around this on a number of occasions, but with limited success.
I have considered connecting the printers to a print server to alleviate the problem but haven't been able to do so. My superiors are refusing to give me permission to have some network lines installed, due to a problem we're having with building management. Meanwhile, the problem is getting worse. So I was wondering if you had any suggestions on what I could do to increase the reliability of my printers until I can get them wired.
A. As a former IT Director myself, I am all too aware of the problems you can run into when dealing with management, especially when trying to get around technical problems. My staff and I often had to come up with some pretty creative solutions in order to get the studios functional.
Using shared printers, particularly off of a workstation, can be very problematic, and there's never a clear smoking gun as to what the problem might be. So instead of investing tons of time and energy into tracking down what could be causing your problem, I think that your idea of connecting them to a print server is without question the better way to go. Even without an available wired Ethernet port, it is still the simplest and easiest way to solve your problem, so I wouldn't abandon it quite so quickly.
Since you already have a wireless infrastructure in place, I think you should look into a wireless print server. These work exactly like their wired counterparts but without the need to be anchored to an Ethernet port. They're relatively inexpensive and could be installed and configured in a matter of minutes. This gives you the added benefit of being able to place your printers wherever they are most convenient for your users. A number of vendors today produce print servers that work with the 802.11b wireless standard.
One of the best examples I'm aware of is one I reviewed a few months back. It is made by Linksys Technologies and retails for about $120. The nice things about the WPS11 Instant Wireless PrintServer are that it offers a web-based configuration interface and that it works with both wired (via an RJ-45 10/100 Ethernet port) and 802.11b wireless clients. It is also compatible with virtually any parallel-based printer, be it laser or inkjet, and it supports most operating systems, although it doesn't feature USB support. My review of this product can be found at http://www.80211-planet.com/reviews/AP/article.php/1150591.
Since my initial review of the Linksys WPS11 product, many more wireless print servers have become available, including a Jetdirect from HP, the undisputed leader in external print servers. The HP Jetdirect 380x 802.11b wireless external print server is designed to help small workgroups easily share network-capable HP printers and multi-function peripherals across an 802.11b wireless network. Unlike the Linksys model, this product is designed to work with peripherals that use USB ports. Additional information on this product can be found at http://h10010.www1.hp.com/wwpc/us/en/un/WF05/18972-236253-64302-34210-87208.html.
Q. We have a small office made up of 8 employees. We are currently using a peer-to-peer network configuration. All of our workstations are using Windows 98SE. Over the last few months we have had numerous problems with the reliability of our network. Our PC consultants have been trying to persuade us to abandon the peer-to-peer model and move to a client/server configuration.
In light of all our recent problems, we are just about ready to take the plunge, but are unsure as to what operating system we should use: Windows 2000 or Novell Netware. We are a small office and don't have a full-time IT guy, so we'll have to perform basic stuff like adding and removing users from the network ourselves. We don't plan on hosting our own website or e-mail, but we might want to do so in the future. With that in mind, which OS do you think would work best for us? Thanks for your input.
A. Installing a new network server is neither a trivial nor an inexpensive matter, and the choice of which operating system to use should be carefully considered. The most important element to keep in mind when designing your network is to make sure that it will meet your users' needs today as well as for tomorrow. That said, I think both Windows 2000 and Novell Netware would work well. However, for the type of environment you have described above, I would suggest another possibility for you to consider -- Microsoft Small Business Server 2000.
Small Business Server is designed for companies with up to 50 employees and includes all of Microsoft's big server packages. It is based on Windows 2000 Server for user management, security, and file and print services, and it also includes many of Microsoft's other server products, like Exchange for e-mail and SQL for databases. If you purchased these products separately, they would be very expensive, and even if you don't have a need for all of these products now, you might want them in the future.
The other nice part about SBS2000 is that most common administrative functions have been automated through Wizards, which means setting up new users, printers, e-mail accounts, etc. can be performed by someone with a minimal amount of IT skill, a key consideration for an office like yours. Novell Netware on the other hand really needs to be supported by a Certified Novell Engineer (CNE). And unlike Netware, your Windows 98SE workstations will work perfectly well with SBS2000, without the need to install additional client software.
Additional information on SBS2000 can be found by visiting Microsoft's site at http://www.microsoft.com/sbserver/default.asp. Best of luck!
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