Trust Your Results
Throughout my IT career, I never gave much thought to printing. I took it for granted as a background process much like internet connectivity or telephone reception. With the advancement of printer equipment, computers, and operating systems, it really is plug and play. However, during the past few weeks, I saw when printing goes wrong, it can cripple a business.
As part of our computer refresh project, new hardware and operating systems are being deployed throughout the company. On top of that, we are using a third party print management application to manage our network printers. Long story short, a consulting company designed our new print solution using a Windows 2012 print server combined with a third party print bridging server.
Since we had an aggressive upgrade schedule, my team deployed the new systems to many departments in a short period of time. Soon after, reports of printing issues slammed us from all angles. Reports that were normally instantaneous were taking 15 minutes to print. Due to the long delay, users would print the report again thinking that the first job didn’t go through, wasting a lot of paper. The worst part was print jobs that contained pictures sometimes totally failed. The user would be forced to scramble and reprint the job from an old system or reroute the job to an old print server.
It has been a nightmare troubleshooting this problem because of all the variables. We had different printers, different models, different print drivers, different print servers, different versions of print rendering engines, and different documents. When we started digging deeper, the third party vendor balked at the consulting company’s setup procedure. To increase speed of deployment, the consulting company used generic universal drivers. However, the third party vendor’s best practice was to use the specific print driver designed for the printer to avoid print performance issues. I didn’t know who to trust anymore!
After tons of testing, while working hand and hand with the third party’s senior engineer, we finally discovered that the combination of a certain brand of printer and Windows 2012 print server caused print performance degradation over time. No matter what you sent, even simple text test pages, after three jobs, the fourth would grind to a halt. The only way we got things back to normal was restarting the print server spooler service and restarting the printer.
The frustrating thing about it all was my independent testing several weeks ago generated a similar result. I had a theory there might be an issue with Windows 2012, but when the heavy hitters from the consulting company and the third party got involved, their testing process focused on all the other variables I mentioned above. The problem was intermittent as well because of the constant restarting of the print spooler and printers. Our final solution was setting up an older Windows 2008 print server to work with the third party print bridging server.
Hindsight is 20/20, but if I had trusted my own test results, we could have implemented this solution sooner. It was a difficult situation because the consulting company, who has very experienced engineers, recommended using Windows 2012 for their additional print features. The third party vendor was fixated on the not best practice setup of using generic universal drivers. This caused us to test and retest multiple flavors of specific print drivers. I myself was trained to use and trust the latest and greatest operating systems. I’m making strides in trusting my instincts. But when push comes to shove, I need to trust my results. I know what I saw. I shouldn’t so easily dismiss my personal theory because it disagrees with a consulting company that I trust, a third party vendor, or even Bill Gates.