Print server cuts the cord, adds security

GCN Lab review: The PS56 WLAN Print Server can eliminate wires going to your printer while adding a robust system to handle printing-related tasks

GCN Lab review

Performance: A

Ease of Use: B

Features: A

Value: B+

Price: $319

Pros: Very secure wireless printing

Cons: Only works with HP printers that have free EIO slot


PS56 WLAN Print Server image

The complete list of products tested and evaluated by the GCN Lab and on GCN Lab TV.

PS56 WLAN Print Server card

A print server is always one of the most unappreciated pieces of technology in an office network. It sits there quietly not doing much of anything until print requests are made, whereupon it prioritizes print jobs and sends them forward to the correct device. Unless it messes up and clogs up the works, most users probably don't even know they have a print server.

But having a dedicated server just for printing can be a little expensive, especially if you consider the need to keep the server patched and secure just as if it were a primary domain controller or some other frontline device. And if your agency allows wireless users, they often can't communicate with the print server without finding a hardwired hookup around the office somewhere.

The PS56 WLAN Print Server aims to kill two birds with one stone. You simply install the card into a free Enhanced I/O slot on your printer and presto, you create both a print server and a wireless hub for users.

Unfortunately, the reliance on the EIO slot limits the potential user pool significantly. Most modern Hewlett-Packard printers have a free EIO slot, though this is pretty much an exclusive feature of the HP line. And even then, not every single printer will have a free one available. Some printers use the slots for hard drives, especially ones that offer intelligent print services like user mailboxes and secure walkup printing. So make sure you have a free EIO port available before buying one of the $319 PS56s.

We happened to have an HP network printer in the lab, so we were able to install the PS56 to test it out. Installation was not too difficult. You basically just need to remove the faceplate over the EIO port and then connect the PS56. It's no more difficult than installing a network card. When you are finished, the antenna piece of the device, really just a plastic bump, will stick out about an inch off the side of the printer. It's probably best if you are able to aim this toward an open area to get a better range on your wireless signal.

Once the card is in place at the printer, you load up an install CD on a client computer to manage it. The PS56 works with any 802.11b network, and we also tested it with several of the newer 802.11g networks. It worked fine with all of them as well, even though the standards are still being worked out for 'g' networks.

In terms of printing speeds, you won't have to worry with the PS56. There was no delay in printing any documents, even the really huge ones we have in the test pool. You are of course limited by the speed of your wireless connection, but with 'g' networks this will probably never be an issue. Even when testing with a 'b' network, we had to really force delays into place by printing multiple huge documents at the same time, and even then it was only a couple seconds. The print server itself is robust enough to handle everything we threw at it, which was considerable, and there was no noticeable difference between using the PS56 and a dedicated desktop-type print server. Given that the management software for the PS56 is very thorough, you might even have a better time with the card. The PS56 also supports HP Web JetAdmin, Openview, an embedded EWS Web Server and is IPv6 enabled.

Of course, opening up printing to the world of wireless is a scary prospect for some agencies, but the PS56 is packed with every security protocol we could think of, and even a few you probably would forget on a first pass. You can enable some, all or none of the following, depending on your needs and your agency security rules. It works with SSL 3.0, TLS 1.0, WPA and WPA2 encryption, WEP (40/64-bit and 104/128-bit), HTTPs, 802.11s, EAP-MD5, EAP-TLS, EAP-TTLS, EAP-FAST, EAP, PEAP, Cisco EAP (also known as LEAP), IPsender protection (so you can create your own user access list), Certificate Management, Self-signed Certificate, Root Certificate, PKCS #12 and of course the old standard password protection. Anyone who can crack all of that ice could probably get a job at the National Security Agency. So the documents you print should be safe from snoopers.

If you happen to have a free EIO slot, the addition of the PS56 would probably be a good thing for your agency. The wireless print server is in all probability more secure than your current server, is easier to manage and will enable wireless printing for all those new devices making the rounds in the federal government market.

SEH Technology, Inc., Phoenixville, Pa., 601-933-2088, www.SEH-technology.com

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About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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