Companies may miss 20 percent of network printers

Stealth printers damage profits, compliance

See correction below

It's 10:30 a.m. Do you know where your printers are? In most enterprises, the answer, sadly, is "No." Even worse, IT's inability to locate and track printers is costing companies thousands -- even millions -- of dollars a year.

A new product from Netaphor Software could change that. SiteAudit is an agentless printer lifecycle management tool that runs on Windows 2003 Server and scans networks using standard protocols, back-channel communications, and device- and vendor-specific identifiers to find "direct connect" printers that often get missed, said Brian Anderson, Netaphor's vice president of sales and marketing.

Midsize enterprises are undercounting their inventory of multifunction devices, with direct-connect printers, scanners, faxes, and copiers accounting for much of the missing gear. The number of undercounted printers varies from company to company, but Netaphor site surveys show an average of 2 to 3.5 employees per printer, with 35 percent to 50 percent of a company's printers direct-connect devices, Anderson said.

Vijay Anand, IT director at Wonderware, a business unit of Invensys PLC, said SiteAudit found 70 previously unknown printers on his company's network -- a 23 percent boost to the 300 printers the company was aware of.

"These were machines that were under the radar. People had purchased and expensed them and the IT department didn't know," Anand said.

In some cases, the printers were attached to machines that handle sensitive information, such as payroll or human resources data. In other cases, employees may have added a personal printer to avoid walking "five cubes down" to the nearest network printer, he said.

The undocumented machines can become invisible cost centers for companies, Anderson said. In one case, SiteAudit discovered that a company's third most-used printer was a low-end, HP LaserJet that was being tapped for more than 20,000 copies a month, despite a manufacturer's rating of no more than 5,000 copies a month. That kind of increased load leads to higher per-page costs, more malfunctions, and a reduced lifespan, when a high-volume printer with lower per-page costs was needed, he said.

With tough new regulations like Sarbanes-Oxley cracking down on information loss, there are also serious compliance issues arising from data and information loss from unregulated printers, scanners, and faxes, Anderson notes.

SiteAudit is available Monday and costs $5 per seat. Netaphor is working with BMC Software to integrate SiteAudit with BMC's Atrium CMDB later this year. BMC customers should be able access printer data through that company's Remedy platform by the third quarter, 2006, Anderson said.

This article was revised from its original version to reflect correct statistics from Netaphor. InfoWorldregrets the error.