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Remote desktop sessions have always presented printing challenges, but the introduction of Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop can complicate printing even further.
Windows Virtual Desktop architecture provides native printing capabilities, but the printing process might not be as simple as what users are accustomed to. Third-party products can simplify the printing process, however, and offer administrators centralized print management capabilities.
A history of virtual desktop printing problems
When a user attaches to a remote desktop session, the remote desktop's printer mappings override the user's local printer mappings. This can cause print jobs to be sent to the wrong printer, or to not be printed at all.
Historically, the fix for this problem was to configure the remote desktop client to allow the user's print jobs to print from a local printer rather than a remote printer. Microsoft accomplished this through the use of a feature called Easy Print.
Easy Print was not a perfect solution, however. There are two main techniques to deploy printers in remote desktop session environments. The first method is called Printer Redirection. This is where the print job travels from the remote system to the client, and then to the client's local printer. The other technique is called Session Printing. This is where print jobs are sent directly from the remote machine to a remote printer. One of the problems with Easy Print is that it only works with Printer Redirection, not Session Printing.
Windows Virtual Desktop printing problems
Windows Virtual Desktop is a Microsoft service that makes Windows desktops available through the Azure cloud. Windows Virtual Desktop can complicate printing because users will not necessarily be attaching to a Windows Virtual Desktop session by way of a remote desktop protocol client. Users can connect directly from their browser if they choose to do so.
If users connect via a browser, then they will have to print to a printer called the Remote Desktop Virtual Printer. Printing to this printer does not actually cause a document to print. Instead, the print job is converted to a PDF file, which users can then print to a local printer. The process works, but it is cumbersome and potentially confusing to end users.
Microsoft has made it possible for users to print from their Windows Virtual Desktop sessions, but the process is not always seamless.
Windows Virtual Desktop printing software
A few third-party vendors have developed products that can simplify Windows Virtual Desktop printing.
Tricerat specifically designed Print Server Proxy software to work with Windows Virtual Desktop and to address the challenges associated with printing in a cloud-based environment.
Rather than requiring an organization to deploy a VPN or to configure firewall sessions, Print Server Proxy enables direct communication between Windows Virtual Desktop and an on-premises print server.
The software works by routing print jobs to a Print Server Proxy server. This server encrypts and compresses the print job, and adds it to a queue. A component that is installed on the organization's on-premises print server continuously polls the Print Server Proxy server. If the software detects a print job, it routes the job to the appropriate printer.
Whereas Tricerat is designed to transmit Windows Virtual Desktop print jobs to an on-premises print server, ThinPrint's software, Ezeep for Windows Virtual Desktop, acts as a cloud-based print server.
One of the main benefits to ThinPrint's approach is that it simplifies print driver management. There is no need to install print drivers onto the virtual desktops. The print server acts as a central repository for the print drivers, which also means that print job rendering happens within the print server, not within virtual desktops or client devices.
Another benefit to ThinPrint's approach is that the software compresses print jobs and uses other bandwidth management and caching techniques to deliver the best possible printing performance.