Cloud Printing in Informatics – an Update.

Last year I wrote an article extolling the virtues of cloud based printing and announcing the intention to extend the use of cloud printing to those parts of Informatics where it was not already available. With one or two exceptions, this proposal was greeted with some enthusiasm and so over the next few weeks, the Xerox Multi Function Devices in the North East corners of the Forum and the Wilkie Building kitchen area will become cloud enabled. One part of the proposal that caused some dismay was the prospect of only having one printer on each floor of the Forum and so it’s been decided to locate A4 mono cloud devices in the South West corners of each Forum floor and in the ground floor reception area. These devices can also act as mono photocopiers and colour scanners.

For the moment the existing print queue names will continue to work but the intention is to disable these queues on the 1st of March and only have cloud queues within Informatics.

The one exception to this is for printers in admin offices. Though the introduction of cloud printing removes the need for these devices, the intention is for them to remain, at least until they irretrievably break down! These printers will continue to use their existing queue names since they can’t be cloud enabled.

Since the cloud print queues need to associate print jobs with your University UUN, the printing setup on non-DICE machines may need some adjustment. Full instructions on how to do this will be provided on computing.help before the switch over. Arrangements to provide Informatics staff and research students with a suitable amount of free print quota will also be in place by then.

If you have any questions, please leave a comment.

UPDATE: We’ve agreed to delay turning off the existing print queues until after the end of the current semester. This will afford you all an opportunity to compare both printing methods side by side, though you may of course find yourself waiting for your cloud print job while a job sent straight to the printer prints out!

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15 Responses to Cloud Printing in Informatics – an Update.

  1. rbf says:

    How will we know where to find our printing (it sounds like I will not
    be saying “lpr -Pif132c0 XXX.txt” anymore)? Bob

    • Craig Strachan says:

      That’s the beauty of the system. Soon, you will be able to go to any printer in the Forum and, assuming that the printer is able to handle the requirements of your job such as paper size and colour, print out your job on the spot. If you happen to be in Appleton tower, the Library or any of the many other University buildings which contain cloud printers, you can still access your job. The only change to your command would be that instead of saying lpr -Pif132c0… you’ll use lpr -Pcloudc0… All your other options will work as before.

  2. ht says:

    This feels like a classic “save admin time, at high cost to users” move. Now I print to my NE corner printer, read an email, talk to a student, then go collect my printout. Under the new system I print to the cloud, then have to go to the NE corner printer, wait for the copy job that’s printing, wait for the person in front of me, give up, go back to my office, rinse and repeat, until I finally get to a non-busy printer and then stand and watch it print. Multiply by 100s of staff per day, you get a _huge_ waste of people’s time 🙁 Why isn’t this a terrible idea?

  3. ht says:

    Follow-up: I just queued up 3 separate print jobs, and can now go collect (no waiting) all of them.

    • Craig Strachan says:

      Henry,
      Let me propose a counter-scenario. Let us suppose that you have emailed, chatted and strolled to the printer to find that it is currently on page 33 of a 200 page graphics crammed opus with your job queued up behind it. Currently, you would have no option but to retreat to your office and wait or, and I know this is not something an environmentally concerned person such as yourself would contemplate, send another copy of the job to a different printer, collect that, and not bother collecting the original when it finally emerges. Under the new scheme, when you find the nearest printer is busy, you can simply wander to the next nearest printer enjoying the magnificent views from the Forum and chatting with your colleagues, and collect your printout from there. Incidentally, should you have multiple jobs queued up, there is a convenient button to print all of them at once.

      I freely admit that this new system can be seen as a step backwards by those who are used to being able to send a job to a printer and find it waiting for them but the new setup holds the promise of saving the School the costs of the considerable amounts of printing which is done at the moment and never collected at all. Add to this the convenience of being able to collect a job from any printer in the School and indeed from most printers in the University and everyone benefits!

      If we do find that queues are regularly building up, we will obviously revisit the provision of printers but I have to say that there have not been noticeable crowds around the far more heavily used printers in the student labs since they were made cloud devices.

      Finally, to allay fears that the computing staff will all be sitting around twiddling our collective thumbs once cloud printing is fully deployed, I would point out that we are still running our own print servers to manage the cloud queues and are still responsible for managing and supporting the individual printers. The saving in admin time will therefore be approximately zero.

      Craig.

  4. ht says:

    Yes, I find that about once a year I arrive to collect my output and it hasn’t come out yet because someone is printing 80 copies of a 10-page handout. But I print multiple documents and collect them all at once much more frequently: any time I go on a trip, for example.

    And I apologise for the implication that it was CST’s time that was being prioritised, I was thinking of other recent changes from higher up and further away.

    _But_, it still feels to me that you’re discounting the value of users’ hanging-around time: People’s time is, I contend, much more valuable than wasted paper and toner. We often criticise central IS for making changes without doing requirements capture because “they know what we need without asking”. Did CST ask staff before instituting this change?

    So sure, please provide cloud printing for those who find it convenient, but please _don’t_ take away the existing functionality.

    • Craig Strachan says:

      Cloud printing offers so many advantages to users, and has so few drawbacks (I firmly believe that you will find the extra time you spend waiting for your printouts to be negligible) that it simply never occurred to us that there might be objections. Added to that the major cost savings and considerable pressure from the centre to fall in line with the rest of the University and it seems an obvious move.

      Let it not be said however that we do not listen to feedback from our users. We have agreed to delay switching off the old individual queues until after the end of the semester to allow users time to become used to the new system without the pressure of teaching. This will allow people to compare the new and old printing methods and hopefully find that the new system has many advantages and none of the feared drawbacks.

      Craig.

  5. Re remark in previous post “cloud print is more secure”, there seem to be several new security problems we didn’t have before.

    First, “cloud” usually invokes fear of not knowing where data is kept. So where are the print jobs stored in this model before they are printed, is there any difference to before (presumably documents going to IS servers rather than Inf ones). Any special guidance for handling highly sensitive documents?

    • Craig Strachan says:

      All jobs sent to the Cloud print queues are stored on IS managed servers within the University and remain behind the University firewall at all times. I was going to say that there should be no change to the security of printing but in fact cloud based printing, at least as implemented by the University, is considerably more secure since there is no danger of sensitive documents being printed out and then left for all to see until they are finally collected.

  6. Craig Strachan says:

    I’m on holiday from the 19th to the 23rd of February and won’t be able to respond to comments or questions until I get back.

    Craig.

  7. sgwater says:

    I am generally in favor of this move, for several reasons: because of not having to potentially leave around sensitive documents; because of savings of money/paper/ink; because of not having to wait behind a long doc already printing. However, I can think of a couple of use cases that seem problematic:

    1. The most of my printing is short and I don’t mind waiting, Henry’s complaint would hit sometimes, in cases where I am printing a large quantity of material (eg very long document or a bunch of handouts for a class – though the letter happens less frequently now that students seem happier to just use PDFs). In this case it would be nice to be able to send to a specific printer before I show up there. Perhaps we could have a way to do this that is enabled only for large jobs?

    2. Related to the “printing many handouts” scenario: when I’m doing something like this, I typically try to print out a single copy first to make sure everything is ok, then go ahead with the rest. At the moment, this requires running back and forth to my office, and I guess that would still be true under the new system. Any chance of setting up something where you could go to the printer, print one copy, and then have it ask if you want to print the remaining copies?

    • Craig Strachan says:

      Hi Sharon,

      Your first point is something several people have brought up. It may be possible to come up with some solution along the lines you suggest. We’ll look in to it.

      For point 2, one way to to this would be to send a print job comprising a single copy to the cloud followed by another job with the rest of the copies you wish to print. When you tap your ID card on a cloud printer’s card reader, you are given a list of all the jobs you have in the cloud queue. You could simply select the job with the single copy for printing, check it out and then if you are happy print out the job with the other copies. If you aren’t happy with the result, you can delete the job with the multiple copies from the queue at the printer. No trip back to the office required!

      Craig.

  8. jcheney says:

    I have been visiting another university (King’s College, London) where they have moved to cloud printing across the whole university. I have visitor access to it which is slightly restricted (you can’t print multiple things at once, for example). However, I can confirm that the scenarios Henry and Sharon mention above, where queued printing is better, do arise:

    – if you want to print several things (or a large thing), at least as far as my visitor access goes, I have to wait around the printer and enable each job, and of course it doesn’t start printing until I am there, so once I am there it makes little sense to wander back to my desk because I am “logged in” to the printer for the duration of the print. Pure productivity loss/timesink – we are turning a concurrently-writable resource back into one where only one person can use it at a time.
    – You do wind up spending a lot of time standing by the printer. Maybe (like open plan offices) that’s good for increasing human interaction but not for productivity. And it’s especially bad if you’re in a hurry – while it’s also possible for a job to be stuck behind a paper jam or another large job, and that’s frustrating too, I think cloud printing makes “wander around the Forum looking for a working/free printer” required every time rather than required only when your usual nearby printer is not in use. And because everyone now has to stand by the printer and wait, the nearby printers will be in use much more often. Especially bad if you and several neighbors are working to the same deadline!
    – again, depending on how things are configured, you may be at the mercy of whoever last changed the default settings regarding whether things print one or two sided, etc.
    – It’s also unclear how to proceed if you want to print something unusual, such as an A3 paper size – if you go to a printer that doesn’t support what you want, what do you get?

    Overall, I think the basic problem is that cloud printing requires human inactivity during the printing job. Perhaps this is fine if print jobs are infrequent and/or small or the value of the person’s time is small.

    I have the strong impression that for a typical academic workload, cloud printing trades valuable academic staff time for unskilled, boring labor (standing around watching a printer print out a document does not require an advanced degree.) I have the same impression from 1-2 people I’ve talked to there.

    I would very much like to see a convincing analysis comparing the savings in avoiding wastage of printer paper/toner from cloud printing with the productivity loss (e.g. amount/value of time that would have been spent on productive work that is now lost to printer babysitting) if cloud printing is the only option. All of the discussion so far seems to be anecdotal. If there is no such evidence, perhaps we could ask for volunteers to use each approach for 1 month and ask them to keep track of their time usage relating to printing.

    Cloud printing definitely sounds like it has some benefits, such as allowing you to print from whatever printer is convenient (e.g. on the other side of campus) and ensuring that you can pick up critical jobs as they are printed instead of running the risk of someone accidentally grabbing something important/confidential. I strongly suggest that the existing system should be kept as an option (perhaps with higher print “costs”) as long as people find it preferable for some tasks. If cloud printing is superior then everyone will start using it; if people continue to prefer to previous approach despite cloud printing’s purported benefits, then I think one has to question those benefits.

    • Craig Strachan says:

      Hi James, sorry for the delay in getting back to you.

      maybe the system at KC is different but with the system in use at Edinburgh, you don’t have to stand over the printer while a long job or series of jobs is being printed out. As soon as you have identified yourself to the printer and sreleased the jobs you want printed out (and you can release as many or as few jobs as you like, there is a single button for releasing every job you have in the queue), you can log out and leave the printer to it. I believe you can even release jobs while the printer is printing out a previous user’s printouts. Settings are set individually for each job so your predecessor’s settings shouldn’t have any impact on your job. If you can print successfully to the existing Xerox devices in the School, then you shouldn’t have any problem printing to the cloud devices. Your question about A3 printing is a valid one. I believe that currently if you release a A3 print job on a device which doesn’t support A3, it simply disappears. This is obviously less than ideal and I have raised the subject with Information Services, who manage cloud printing.

      I like your idea of charging more for printing via the legacy queues to encourage cloud queue use but since we don’t actually charge for printing, I fear the effect would be minimal!

      As you may be aware, we now have cloud devices up and running at the Forum reception and the stub corridors at the SW corners of level one and two of the Forum. I encourage you to give cloud printing a try!

  9. jcheney says:

    Hi Craig,

    I will try the service when I have a chance (I’m traveling a lot just now).

    If it were possible to release jobs to a specific printer (perhaps on occasion with authorization or doable by admin / ITO) then that would address my concern. Since my desk is a maximal distance away from any printer, I think the hassle of getting up to authorize, coming back to desk, and then going to the printer again to check whether the print job successfully completed is still strictly worse than current queue practice (which I agree is not ideal either). That is, right now I have to visit the printer once no matter what, with some probability of something going wrong and needing to go back to cancel/resend elsewhere, whereas with the new approach I definitely need to visit a printer twice no matter what. If I know the printer I want to use is working and not busy (which is possible to tell using lpq or at least used to be) then the old way still seems better. But I’ll try the new way and renew my complaint if I’m not wrong.

    –James

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