No printer is an island

Centralized management tools ease monitoring and maintenance

Every printer is mission critical to someone, making it yet another potential emergency for IT administrators. Multiply that by dozens or hundreds of printers across on enterprise, and it's a wonder that IT groups have time left for anything besides empty paper trays, toner refills, and blinking error messages on control panels. That's where management software comes in, offering desktop and Web-based apps to monitor and configure machines, set e-mail alerts for maintenance, and collect data on print jobs for accounting, analysis, or consumables tracking, all from the comfort of a workstation.

Each vendor's software offers a different look and feel, but all cover much the same ground. For example, Brother's BRAdmin Professional is a desktop application that runs on PCs, communicating with all SNMP-compliant devices on the network using the TCP/IP or IPX/SPX protocols. Despite a Windows 98-era interface, it offers a good range of features such as the capabilities to configure port settings among printers, collect printer logs, and update firmware.

Kyocera's KM-Netviewer comes in both desktop and Web form. The desktop version's copious graphics make it easy to assess printer status at a glance. And Oki Data's PrintSuperVision offers reporting and mapping functions. The Oki Job Accounting software lets you set access and usage limits for individual users and log copious details on each print job. On the high end, you have HP's WebJetAdmin and Lexmark's MarkVision. Both are full-featured, sophisticated, and well-designed apps.

But the mother of them all is Xerox's CentreWare, which could probably be programmed to cook a meal on your printer's fuser if you found the right plug-in. CentreWare IS acts as the interface to your printer's Web server. You access that and a bevy of other features through the full-blown CentreWare Web or through CentreWare Web Console, an abridged version for use with Microsoft Management Console. Troubleshooting? Fire up PhaserSmart, an online diagnostics tool, or try one of CentreWare Web's CentreWare Wizards, which can (among other capabilities) help you diagnose multiple malfunctioning printers.

One caveat about CentreWare Web, however, is that it requires setting up a Microsoft SQL Server 2000 database, which brings up administrative access issues that some companies would rather avoid. Xerox says it plans to build more functionality into CentreWare Web Console so it can be a viable alternative to CentreWare Web. But this issue brings up a good closing point: Check the management software's system requirements for database dependencies, storage needs, and other potential surprises.