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Release the Citrix Universal Print Server Now!

While browsing through the Citrix downloads section, I noticed that the Citrix Universal Print Server (UPS) snuck up on me, peeked its head out and said hello. Well, hello back! You are finally here? No, not yet, I am still a technology preview. Darn it.

So what the heck is the Universal Print Server? UPS brings the Universal Print Driver's Enhance Metafile format functionality to network print servers. (In English, Eli, English, you might be saying...)

Let's take a stroll down memory lane and see what we have today. Citrix has had a Universal Print Driver for a while now. The functionality of the UPD delivers a stable print driver that would work across printers regardless of make or model. Why? Well, for those of you that don't know, printer drivers are the source of all evil when it comes to server-based computing, especially Remote Desktop Session Host, a.k.a. Terminal Server and Citrix XenApp. Print drivers that are not compatible could cause services to crash, applications to open or perform very poorly, etc.

Using Citrix's UPD ensures a stable environment. The Citrix UPD is based on Windows EMF, which means you no longer have to install any native or third-party drivers on the client device in order to print to a printer. It provides for true device independence. The problem, however, is that this technology was only available for client printing, not for printing through a network print server. As a result, printers that were attached to the client device could use UPD, whereas printers going through a network print server still needed the printer driver for printers installed on XenApp servers.

Here's where the problem lies: In many organizations, the Citrix team does not control or have input into which drivers get deployed to the network print server, and these drivers do not get tested for stability or compatibility with XenApp or RDS for that matter. The result is a printer driver that get automatically installed on the XenApp Server that may or may not be compatible with XenApp and causes all sorts of apparent and very devious issues.

Of course, one can take any number of precautions to map different print drivers through XenApp, work with the other teams to test and deliver stable print drivers, etc. There is a lot one can do to address and mitigate the issues, but wouldn't it be nice if there was a way to print to network print server-based printers independent of native and third-party print drivers? That is exactly what the Citrix Universal Print Server gives -- device independence. You no longer need to install or test any drivers on XenApp, you can use Windows EMF format to print directly to the printers.

The installation and configuration of the Citrix UPS is very straight forward. You can install the server component on a XenApp 6.5 Server or XenDesktop 5.5 VM. It installs two Windows services, UPS and CPG. After the installation is complete, you will notice that the Citrix (JDX) Policies have been updated and you now have the ability to configure UPS. Configuration is very simple: enable or disable is one option, and the other option is to enable UPS with native failback. The latter means that if the UPS policy is enabled but the server components were not detected on the endpoint, it will revert to using the old native approach of requiring a driver. There are other configurable parameters that deal with port numbers and so on, but from a functionality stand point, you only have to worry about configuring two settings.

I am a little disappointed that the technology will only be available for XenApp 6.5. I think many customers could use this functionality in their environments today and not everyone has made the transition to a 64-bit operating system yet. All in all, this is a welcome and overdue technology, so I hope it gets out of preview mode soon.

Posted by Elias Khnaser on 11/17/2011 at 12:49 PM


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