Check out the new USENIX Web site.

Home About USENIX Events Membership Publications Students
Abstracts - 12th Systems Administration Conference (LISA '98)

Building An Enterprise Printing System

Ben Woodard - Cisco Systems


Cisco Systems has chosen to internally develop an enterprise wide print system that provides access to more than 2000 printers for both Unix and PCs. The requirements for this print system were that it had to be very cheap to construct, highly scalable, easily maintained by a very small staff, fault tolerant, and mission critical reliable. In other words, management essentially wanted everything for practically nothing. To meet our objectives we built our print system out of interchangeable low cost running PCs Linux, LPD and Samba as well as other standard Unix applications. The low cost of PC hardware and the lack of licensing fees for Linux allowed us to deploy the print system vary widely without having to go through all the managerial justifications necessary to authorize larger scale purchases. By making each print server interchangeable we achieved scalability as well as a certain degree of fault tolerance. The flexibility of running a Unix like operating system such as Linux as opposed to another more restrictive operating system allowed us to develop a worldwide printing application that can be managed very easily by only two or three people. And finally the robustness of Linux made it possible for us to use our print system in mission critical environments such as manufacturing production floors.

This paper discusses the process by which the print system was implemented and the wisdom learned in the process. It covers topics such as how to gain and maintain control of the printing process, why it is necessary and how to keep printers a completely network managed device, how we learned to deal with large numbers of server, the advantages and problems we ran into as the number of servers grew, and the many advantages and few disadvantages of basing the system entirely on free software. It also highlights some of the major processes that we automated and the success we had devolving power first to the the local technical support people and then ultimately to the users. Finally, it discusses many of the problems that we are running into now that the print system is a few years old and the steps that we are taking to ensure that we do not become victims of our our own success and that we do not have the whole system collapse due to data rot.

Since the real key to managing thousands of printers effectively is figuring out how to save time, the real world experience we gained and the time saving tips we discovered while learning how to manage thousands of printers should be valuable even to sysadmins that have only a few printers to manage.

  • View the full text of this paper in HTML form and PDF form.

  • If you need the latest Adobe Acrobat Reader, you can download it from Adobe's site.

  • To become a USENIX Member, please see our Membership Information.

?Need help? Use our Contacts page.

Last changed: 27 Mar 2002 ml
Technical Program
LISA '98 Index