UniPrint VDI Edition

by [Published on 23 Oct. 2008 / Last Updated on 23 Oct. 2008]

Taking a look at UniPrint VDI Edition – a printing solution for virtualized environments, recently released at VMworld 2008. After reading the review, you will know what UniPrint VDI Edition can do for you, how it rated (in my opinion), and where to download UniPrint VDI Edition.

Product: UniPrint VDI Edition

Product Homepage: www.uniprint.net

Evaluation Version: click here

Introduction

With VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure), end users connect to virtual guest operating systems running in the datacenter. By doing this, many benefits are gained - easier administration for IT staff, easier remote access for end users, and those virtual desktops are protected by the strong infrastructure of the datacenter.

If you are not using VDI, you do not need UniPrint VDI Edition. However, in my opinion, if you are using VDI and you need to print, you need UniPrint VDI Edition (or other similar products). Let me explain why this is true.

What is UniPrint VDI Edition?

UniPrint (www.uniprint.net), has been making printing solutions for many years. UniPrint became most popular for their Citrix/Terminal Services printing option. I find it interesting that Citrix and VDI are very similar when it comes to the printing solution that is needed.

With both Citrix and VDI, the following issues come up, once you get more than a few users:

  • End user connect their own non-networked printers and want to use them.
  • Printer drivers for those devices have to be installed on each and every server / virtual guest OS / VDI system.
  • When printing to devices over a wide-area network (WAN), print jobs can vary greatly in size and, many times, large jobs can clog up WAN bandwidth either slowing down remote devices or print jobs taking hours to print.

Additionally, within any company, the more printers and end users you have, the more issues you have with:

  • Managing multiple print drivers for many types of printers and a variety of operating systems.
  • Print drivers that behave badly, crash print servers, and/or consume a ton of resources when printing.

UniPrint’s products aim to solve printing issues for all environments and, specifically, UniPrint’s VDI Edition solves these types of problems for VDI environments. This need is especially evident in VDI environments to solve the issues covered in the above bullets. In other words, the more virtual desktop systems you have, the more issues with print drivers Admins will have, the more WAN printing you will do, etc.

How does UniPrint VDI Edition work and what are the main features?

Recently, at VMworld 2008, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Arron Fu, UniPrint’s VP of Software Development. He did an excellent job of explaining to me the technologies behind “UniPrint’s magic”. However, as a picture is worth many of my words, here is a diagram that demonstrates how UniPrint works:


Figure 1: Diagram is taken from UniPrint VDI Edition brochure

Essentially, there are two ways to use UniPrint VDI Edition and the method you choose depends on the type of client devices you use – fat or thin. In the above diagram, you can see how UniPrint accommodates different end user systems. For example:

  • If you have a Fat client (a PC) connected to a VDI machine (usually over a WAN) and that client has its own locally attached printer, you would use the UniPrint VDI Edition on the Guest VM and the UniPrint client on the local PC. You would also install the UniPrint Spool Server as it acts as the license server when each of the guest VMs power up.
  • However, if you have a remote print server (usually across a WAN or large campus environment), you would use the UniPrint Print Server at that site, connected to your network printer. Then, you would have the Spool Server at the HQ site and still use the UniPrint VDI Edition on the Guest VM.

No matter how you use it, the VDI guest OS only has a single printer driver to manage – the “UniPrint Driver”.  And, all print jobs are converted into PDF format in the datacenter – BEFORE traversing your WAN.  By converting these print jobs into PDF format, you can save a lot of bandwidth. Additionally, if you choose to, you can store and view your print jobs using any PDF viewer. This storing and viewing of your print jobs can be done either by using the UniPrint Client on your PC or by using a PDF viewer on the Guest VM.

By using UniPrint, you gain:

  • Single print driver – allows you, as an IT Pro to accommodate any printers, prevents you from having to manage multiple drivers, install multiple print drivers on multiple VDI systems, and rids you of badly behaving drivers.
  • PDF format – allows you to transmit print jobs across your WAN or LAN in the smallest format possible and allows you to store & view print jobs in a universal format – opening them with any PDF viewer.
  • With your VDI guest operating systems, you can create templates and clones of that VDI client with just a single print driver – the UniPrint Driver – and never have to change it again

Let’s take a look at UniPrint VDI Edition…

What does UniPrint VDI Edition look like?

Let’s say that you have a “fat client” (a full PC). In that case, you would use the first option shown above. With that option, you would install 3 pieces – a UniPrint Spool Server (only used for licensing clients), a UniPrint VDI Edition on the VDI Guest, and UniPrint Client on the end user PC.

One of the best features about UniPrint VDI Edition is that you can download it and use it all you want but, until licensed, there will be a watermark on your output. Still, in my opinion, this beats a timed evaluation as, if you are like me, you cannot always put a 30-day time limit on a project.

To download UniPrint VDI Edition, just go to the UniPrint website and click Download on the VDI Edition. You will have to register and then you will download the small (15MB) server and client installation files.

After doing this, I examined the ZIP file and found the 1.5MB Administrator’s Guide, the 9MB Spool Server and the 6MB UniPrint VDI Edition.

Per the instructions, I installed the Spool Server first on my Windows 2008 Server. This took all of about 20-30 seconds by clicking Next to all the standard questions. I ran the UniPrint Management Console, which looks like this:


Figure 2: UniPrint Spool Server Management Console

I like the simplistic interface that quickly presents all the options I need to get the job done.

At this point, if you do not want a watermark on your print output, you need to enter either an eval license or full license on the Spool Server.

Next, I ran the UniPrintVDIXXX.msi installation on my virtual Guest machine that the fat client will connect to.


Figure 3: UniPrint VDI Edition Installation

I gave it the IP address for my new spool / licensing server.


Figure 4: Configuring the VDI Client to talk to the spool server

From there, I chose the default answers to all the standard installation questions and the product was installed. I rebooted my client PC.

Also, keep in mind, as I am setting this up as a “fat client” connecting to a VDI guest VM, I must install the standard UniPrint Client on my PC. I downloaded that UniPrint Client (also a free download) from the UniPrint download site and installed it, again, with all the default options.

Keep in mind that UniPrint is VDI-broker-agnostic. In other words, it does not matter if you are using a VDI broker (or not) or whose broker you are using. You could use UniPrint VDI Edition even if all you have is a single VM Guest that is connected to from a remote PC – and still take advantage of all the benefits.

Fortunately, the UniPrint VDI Edition interface has the same simple to navigate interface that the server does.


Figure 5: UniPrint VDI Edition Interface

Once UniPrint VDI Edition was installed on my VDI client my new default printer became “UniPrint Printer”, like this:


Figure 6: UniPrint Printer as the default printer, after installation

And, by printing on the VDI Guest VM to the UniPrint printer, my print job is converted into PDF, transferred across my RDP or ICA connection from the VDI PC to the end user PC, then to the local printer on my fat client PC (which is connected to the VDI Guest VM).

In the two screenshots below, you can see my successful test of this new printing process. So that you can see the output that would normally be printed, I enabled UniPrint preview mode (which can also be a very useful feature).


Figure 7: Printing from my VDI Guest OS using the UniPrint Printer Driver


Figure 8: A successful print to my PC through UniPrint VDI Edition

But what if you are using thin client devices? UniPrint can accommodate that too. In that configuration, you would have a print server at each remote site. The local Admin could add a new printer at the remote site anytime. That printer would be added to Windows AD, the end user could immediately add it in their VDI Guest, allowing them to use that printer, through UniPrint. What I like about this is that there is no additional demands from UniPrint on the IT staff, remote IT staff are able to add and remove printers as needed, and end users are able to very quickly print to a new printer – all while using a thin-client device. UniPrint calls this configuration “Gateway Mode”.

How does UniPrint VDI Edition rank?

Many times, I have review products that try to do something that has been done before but with their own twist. To me, products like that are difficult to give high rankings to because “it has been done before”. In the case of UniPrint, they only have one competitor that I have seen and they stack up very well against that competitor. UniPrint does something unique and something that is necessary to any IT Pro who is going to use VDI. I don’t see UniPrint as an “optional” product if you have more than a handful of users using VDI. That is because the multitude of printer drivers that end users will place on you, the poorly written printer drivers, and the huge print jobs.

The only downside I saw to UniPrint’s solution was, once you have UniPrint, it can, initially, be difficult to understand where & how to use UniPrint. The instruction guide tells you where to install it but I didn’t find, in the guide, how to set up my first printer and connect it through the chain of 3 systems involved. What I suggested to UniPrint was to create a graphically “pretty” Quick Start Guide, and have it automatically emailed to every user who downloads an evaluation of UniPrint.

I received a response that UniPrint is working on publishing some short “how to” videos and a sandbox area on their website where new users can more quickly understand how UniPrint works.

In all honestly, the UniPrint concept can be confusing to understand at first but once you “get it”, the concept is very simple and the benefits are immediately evident.

In the end, I give UniPrint VDI Edition a 4.5 out of 5 and a VirtualizationAdmin.com Gold Award because UniPrint VDI Edition is absolutely necessary to anyone using VDI due to its ability to solve so many critical printing issues. I liked how the administrative interfaces for UniPrint VDI Edition are clean and simple to understand.

Conclusion

In this article, you learned about UniPrint VDI Edition – a printing solution for virtualized environments, recently released at VMworld 2008. After reading this review, you will know what UniPrint VDI Edition can do for you, my rating of it, and where to download UniPrint VDI Edition. If you are using VDI, UniPrint VDI Edition is an important piece of your virtual infrastructure.

For more information on UniPrint, please see Patrick Rouse’s review of it over at MSTerminalServices.org - Product Review: UniPrint Server 6.0

VirtualizationAdmin.com Rating 4.5/5


For more information about UniPrint VDI Edition, click here.

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