The Hewlett-Packard JetDirect 4000 Print Server is a new type of device in the network appliance market. The product is somewhat unusual in that it offloads print queue management and spooling from a network operating system. With printing services on a network-attached device, you can keep server costs down and systems independent. Also, the HP JetDirect 4000 Print Server can be a valuable assistant in your NOS migration plan or network printing upgrade.

How it works
Each printer (non-HP printers work fine as well) needs to be on the network and have an IP address or locatable name. The device supports any LPD-enabled printer. I have successfully used it with a mix of non-HP and HP printers and network interfaces. With that address or name assigned to the printer, the JetDirect 4000 sets up a queue hosted on the appliance.
Product home page:
Here, you can find documentation on the device, a flash introduction to the product and appliance model, and a Q&A sheet.
Many of us have relied for years on NetWare 3.x and 4.x printing with great success. However, you may find yourself migrating away from Novell NetWare for your NOS. A lot of us started our client-server networks with NetWare networks and have chosen to move to the Windows NT/2000 platform. A project to change network operating systems is always larger than expected, and network printing is an area that deserves considerable attention.

The HP JetDirect 4000 Print Server appliance can assist those who are still in the NOS migration process. I used the JetDirect 4000 when we had extended our NetWare 3/4 servers to the limit and had decided to move in the direction of Windows NT. The JetDirect 4000 was a good asset during the migration of NetWare print servers.

The JetDirect 4000 is truly an appliance in that it does only network printing. It sits on a TCP/IP network and is accessible from a Web browser for queue management. It’s supposed to support up to 32 print queues, although HP has mentioned that you can venture softly above that number if print volume is reasonable.

Having your printing on a network appliance rather than through your NOS is very helpful during network changes and for network planning. With Windows NT/2000 networks, the ability to change the “role” of a server is relatively easy. Admins are often required to rebuild, add, remove, and reconfigure Windows NT/2000 servers for new and changing demands within an organization. To have network printing be independent of these changes means that an admin has one less headache to worry about during these changes.

The appliance model looks ever better when the NOS server becomes unavailable. If you have a printing appliance, network printing won’t be affected as long as the TCP/IP network remains available. Thus, this kind of distribution of network functions to inexpensive devices can be beneficial to many types of environments.

Speed—I found, and users notified me, that network printing speed increased after implementing the device in place of my overworked and retirement-ready NetWare file and print server.

Appliance model—The appliance model can be a good standard to set within an Information Systems environment. However, it can be easy to pick a network appliance that’s manufactured and supported by an organization that may be out of business or end support on the product in question. Those concerns are somewhat lessened by the fact that this device is a Hewlett-Packard product.

Protocol control—In my migration scenario, it was nice to make all printing functions use TCP/IP. I did this using HP JetAdmin and WebJetAdmin. I could have done it without the JD 4000—but TCP/IP is required for the device.

Simplified administration—The JD 4000 device enabled me to simplify network printing. I had inherited the LAN, so it enabled me to address the following issues:

  • Nomenclature of printers—I had found that over the years and changes within the organization, the printer names had no relevance to their current users or location. This gave me the opportunity to set up a naming convention and reorganize the printers.
  • Printing over the WAN or Internet/VPN—Because the device uses only TCP/IP to allow a print job to execute, no network connections or credentials are involved. This allowed people over a VPN or at other locations on the WAN to easily connect to the printer and send a job. The device also supports Internet Printing Protocol (IPP)—although that is actually a feature of the printer’s network interface.

Hosted drivers—Although the current release of the embedded operating system doesn’t support drivers hosted on the printer server (like Windows NT 4.0 can), I’ve read that future releases of the software will incorporate this feature.

Queue creation—It would be nice to be able to import a .csv file or some other means of a batch import/creation of print queues.

Enterprise printing—The HP JetDirect 4000 is not an enterprise print server, and the devices don’t cluster. I would expect HP or some other company to release an enterprise-ready print server appliance. However, you could have several HP JetDirect 4000 print servers hosting a large number of printers—which could create fault tolerance.

Logging or tracking—The Web interface doesn’t provide a method of tracking how much one user or printer prints. This would be nice in a scenario where an expensive color laser printer’s use is tracked to monitor use and costs.

Client platforms—The device is supported only with Windows 95, 98, NT4, or 2000 clients. However, I’ve configured it to work in MS-DOS over an NT LANMAN network using the “net use” command.

The verdict
The HP JetDirect 4000 Print Server appliance was the right product at the right time for my organization, as we were migrating from NetWare. I don’t know if I would rip out an existing well-performing network printing environment to implement this product, but it was worth the reasonable price ($1,249 online at HP) and it has exhibited solid performance.
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