By Ruby Nahal, Systems Engineer
From Demon to Delight
Any Citrix administrator will tell you that printing in a Citrix environment can range from being a complete nightmare to absolutely dreamy. And what, might you ask, causes this wide range of experiences? Well, I hate to point fingers… but chances are it’s not Citrix.
Every environment is different, every printer is different, and every user is different. While this may seem like I am stating the obvious, it’s important to keep in mind as more often than not, when leveraging existing printers after moving to a virtualized Citrix environment, the best practices for Citrix printing are often overlooked resulting in a huge hit to your day-to-day productivity. Administrators often assume (incorrectly) that printers “will just work”, when this is far from true – a different environment means different implementation.
The good news is that there are things we can do to make printing in a Citrix environment a delight.
Runner Up: Local Printers with Redirection
The most common method employed for implementing printing – and my least favorite – is ‘client redirected printers’. This means that printers installed on the local system are redirected to the Citrix sessions. No print server involved. The print traffic generated on the Citrix (XenApp) server is redirected back to the client device from where it will be forwarded to the actual physical print device.
Why is this my least-preferred method? Imagine you have 5 printers installed per computer and you have 10 users on the server. When the users logon, all printers for each user get auto-mapped on the server. Unless you have tweaked the default Citrix policies for printing drivers, all these printers will be mapped using the native printer driver if present.
Imagine the load on the server! I have seen resulting issues ranging from spooler crashing to printers going offline to servers BSODs. And again if these printers are not “Citrix compatible”, there will be all sorts of issues actually getting the printer to map onto the session. It’s enough to make you want to pull your hair out!
I personally will only allow this type of setup if no other option is available – for example, the printer is USB, the Citrix environment is not local etc., etc. And even when allowed, it is best to use the Citrix universal printing driver as often as possible. Citrix offers some pretty great policies to tweak and manage local printers with redirection better.
Mapped printers using Citrix policies
Citrix 6.5 and newer offers some amazing policies to make the printing experience as smooth as possible and it allows the administrators to be granular on how they want the printers to map. You can use a windows print server in conjunction with a Citrix universal print server. Honestly, I have done it just with bare minimum windows print server.
One of my favorite policies is Printer Assignments. It makes session printers and setting the default printer much easier for farms that had multiple polices for session printers which can, in turn, speed up logons since XenApp does not have to go through numerous printing policies. It allows you to filter based on the Citrix filters (computername, computer IP, subnet, username) and thus giving you way more control over printing administration. This has been a life savior for me on many, many occasions. Similarly, there are other policies like “Printer driver mapping and compatibility” that can allow you to have control on what printers map and which ones don’t and using which driver.
Citrix offers so much to make the printing easy to manage, but in order to reap its benefits, it’s up to us to be sure that we drop our assumptions that it “will just work” and maintain the perspective that every new environment deserves a new set of best practices. Keep this in mind, and you and your printers will be happy.