Host to Windows Printing - White Paper by Brooks Internet Software, part 2

Simple tools for connecting IBM-based data with the Windows world

As a side note, SNA has long been the preferred IBM host communication method, even though maintaining individual SNA connections can be expensive. With today's increased Windows connectivity requirements, TCP/IP is now favored. TCP/IP is the protocol underlying the data interchanges discussed in this article.

Although host-to-Windows printing is one of the most common connectivity tasks, software print servers are often put in place to enable multiplatform workflows.

One of the simplest, and possibly most useful, host-to-Windows tasks is printing documents on network or attached printers.

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Hardware Print Servers

Most hardware-based print servers are easy to install and set up: Simply connect the print server to the network and to your printer. Most can be configured (if necessary) through a Web interface, allowing you to fine-tune the process. As a general rule, hardware print servers function well as pass-through devices (receiving and passing jobs to the printer without modification to the data), but support only one connection at a time from the host and do not support printer finishing functions. Simple hardware print servers are generally less expensive than software counterparts, but if you have multiple printers that you want to print to from the host, a hardware server is required for each.

Cross-Platform Workflows, Connecting Applications

Compliance requirements, like those outlined in Sarbanes-Oxley, have highlighted another key feature of software print servers: the ability to archive print jobs to disk. Some software print servers allow a document to be saved to disk to comply with audit requirements. An institution in the financial industry has been able to print jobs from a mainframe to Windows printers while at the same time saving the jobs to disk. Another process archives the folder's contents to DVD periodically for future auditor access.

This same document archive feature is used as a bridge between host data and Windows-based applications. A print file residing in a watched folder is picked up by other applications, which can perform further functions on data, including parsing, converting to PDF, and passing the information to the next process. For example, many forms-generation packages use software print servers to gain access to host data, parse the data, format it, and burst the generated forms. In this setup, the print server is simply a go-between for platforms.

Supply chains can also benefit from these functions. A document flow facilitator uses server software to link ERP systems. The host sends jobs to the print server, which saves the jobs either to disk or “prints” to the receiving application. The print data is parsed and often converted to structured XML, which can be imported into the partner's ERP system. Some solutions will publish the data on the web in HTML or PDF format, so remote associates can securely access the information from anywhere.

So while software print servers are often the final step in host-to-Windows processes like printing, the same servers are just as useful as the first step in more complex workflows spanning many systems, platforms, or organizations.

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