Host to Windows Printing Whitepaper

A major challenge for IT managers and system administrators is that much of the data they need to access and use in Windows environments is stored in iSeries and Mainframe host systems running critical company applications...

The hardware and software print servers discussed in this article are inexpensive, easy to configure, and easy to maintain. The main advantages of using print servers, software print servers in particular, to connect hosts to Windows environments are minimum host-side modifications, simplified print job management, advanced formatting and finishing capabilities, and connectivity.  

  • Minimum host-side modifications: Putting a print server in place requires little change to the host. In most cases, the host printer simply needs to be redirected to the server's IP address. Generally, no additional software is required on the host system.
     
  • Simplified print job management: Managing print jobs in the Windows environment reduces host system operator's expense.
     
  • Advanced formatting and finishing capabilities: Host data can be formatted for a specific Windows printer allowing full use of all printer finishing functions, including double-sided printing, stapling, hole punching, n-up, watermarks, etc. Margins, fonts, and text compression are generally supported. Other data massaging options can be supported, including PCL removal, ASA/Fortran, string translations, EBCDIC and other code page conversion, and SCS to ASCII.
     
  • Other connectivity: Even though most print data comes from an IBM host, environments often contain other systems, including UNIX, Linux, and other operating systems. A software print server is capable of receiving (and transforming) data from these other systems. Multiple inbound connections and protocols can be supported.

Simplifying Document Workflows

...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.

A major challenge for IT managers and system administrators is that much of the data they need to access and use in Windows® environments is stored in iSeries® and Mainframe host systems running critical company applications. Traditionally, unlocking this host system data and making it available in Windows environments for printing or further processing has involved major reprogramming on the host side and significant investments in hardware, software, and other resources. There are, however, simple, inexpensive solutions that address this data divide, the jump from host to Windows.

Why Windows?

First off, what are some advantages of making host data available in Windows environments?

Increasing data availability

When host data is available on Windows PCs, say on an end user's desktop, or servers accessible on the network, the information can be used in documents or presentations, easily analyzed for business decisions, or made available for remote access and review. When information is available and easily accessible, it becomes a driver for key business processes.

Connecting cross-platform applications

The heart of most organizations is an IBM host running critical business applications. But at the same time, peripheral applications reside on Windows PCs or servers, and these applications need access to the data residing on the host. Creating a reliable, flexible data bridge is essential.

Lowering printing costs

Windows-based printers are common, inexpensive, and relatively easy to maintain. Being able to print mainframe or iSeries jobs easily to these resources lowers printing costs.

Increasing printing convenience and flexibility

Windows-based printers can be placed conveniently next to a PC or in high-traffic areas. New printers can be added to the network when needed, either when one is down or when more resources are needed. This kind of flexibility is available in Windows-based print environments.

Solution: An Information Bridge

In theory, connecting two systems should involve simply opening a pipeline and pushing information through to the receiving system: an iSeries opens a port and transfers host data to Windows. Problem solved. Host data is available for use. In practice, there are, of course, complications. And that's where the solutions discussed here come in, solutions that provide a data bridge and address the nuances of the transfer.

Simple Cross-Platform Printing

One of the simplest, and possibly most useful, host-to-Windows tasks is printing documents on network or attached printers. Hardware and software print servers provide the solution. Starting with V2R3 on the iSeries, functionality has been available to use TCP/IP for sending print jobs to remote print servers using the LPR/LPD protocol. The hosts' queues are simply pointed to the print server's address, which receives jobs and passes them to a Windows-based printer. There are two types of print servers: hardware and software.

Software Print Servers

Software print servers, while maintaining pass-through functionality, have data massaging capabilities. The same job, which was formatted incorrectly with a hardware server, can be formatted by a software server. For example, a hospital information system provider needs to create labels from AS/400 healthcare applications (AS/400 Printing). Host data is sent to a software print server, then transformations are performed: SCS is converted to ASCII, orientation is changed from portrait to landscape, font is changed to Tahoma 10pt, lines per inch are changed to 8, and page margins are altered. Patient or pharmacy labels are then printed correctly to a Windows-based, local or network thermal label printer.

These formatting functions can be applied in many other situations across all industries, such as printing traditional greenbar reports on common paper and printers. A large state agency, by replacing green screens with PCs and 3270 emulators, and using TCP/IP in place of SNA, has saved millions of dollars directing mainframe print jobs to locally attached parallel cable and USB-attached printers. Printouts are conveniently available and printer costs are significantly lower.

Software print servers, though more costly than hardware servers, provide much more functionality. A single instance of a software server can also be used for multiple output printers. 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.

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