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Cloud printing takes advantage of the work-from-anywhere capabilities of the public cloud by essentially connecting your printer or network of printers to the rest of your cloud assets.

This comes in handy when you’re looking at something on your smartphone, and instead of having to save it, send it to Dropbox, retrieve it with a computer connected to your office network and print from there, you can just press “print” and be done with it. Or, when an employee working remotely needs something printed back at the office, instead of having to save and send, can print with the touch of a button. It especially comes in handy with employees working in large organizations that span across multiple buildings or across the country—they’re able to print from their mobile device to the workstation nearest them.

In these situations, and many others, cloud printing can eliminate extra steps and hassles. To explain how it works, we’ll use Google Cloud Print (GCP) as an example, but know there are other services that offer free cloud printing. If there are better public cloud alternatives you think we should know about, feel free to suggest one in the comments section.

Getting Started With Cloud-Ready Printers

The easiest way to get started with GCP is to have a Google account and a cloud-ready printer. Most manufacturers make printer models that are GCP-approved, so if cloud printing capabilities are important to your operation, make sure to check out this list ofGoogle Cloud Print Ready printers. If you do not see your model on this list, check the manufacturer Web site as there may be supported models that aren’t listed here.

Cloud-ready printers connect directly to the Web and do not require a PC to set up. They can even register themselves without a computer once connected to Wi-Fi® or a LAN. Each printer setup varies by model, but the instructions are generally straightforward and easy to follow. Once a printer’s registration is complete, you will see Google Print on your Google account main page, and be able to choose your new printer as a Cloud Print option.  Other printers can be added and selected from as well.

Note that it is not imperative to have a cloud-ready printer to take advantage of GCP. Setting up a regular printer (or “classic” printer, as Google calls them) for cloud printing takes a couple of extra steps. First, you will need to connect it to the PC you used to set it up, and make sure the latest drivers have been installed. You must use settings located in Google Chrome browser to set up GCP on your classic printer. These are located in drop-down menu in the upper right hand corner, follow Settings > Show advanced settings > Google Cloud Print. Follow the short on-screen instructions for adding your classic printer.

Additionally, the computer your printer is connected to must be on if you wish to use it with GCP.

Likewise, it is best if your smartphone or tablet is running Chrome for Mobile, in which case you would simply access your Google account in order access the printers you have set up on GCP. There are also a number of Android and OS applications designed to make printing specific types of documents an easier process.

Public Cloud Printing Security Concerns

GCP has built-in admin features that allow administrators to specify which users have access to which printers. You will need to use Google Groups to invite and manage users. Users and groups don’t necessarily need to accept an invite to be able to print; anyone with the printer’s URL can print to it.

GCP has some security features built in as well. Print jobs are submitted and retrieved over a secure connection (https), and are available only to you and to the printer you submitted the job to.Google keeps a copy of each document sent for printing—but only until the printing job is completed. Once printed, Google says the document is deleted from its servers. Your Google dashboard logs your print history by job name; Google says no personal information is contained in your log.

While public cloud printing options like GCP simplify an organization’s printing processes, security concerns crop up because all the data travels through the public cloud on its journey from mobile device to printer. Many organizations, specifically those involved in healthcare, finance, and government where there are information security regulations in play, do not use public cloud services for the expressed reason that they are public. Sometimes these types of organizations are large enough to merit deployments of private and hybrid clouds. In private clouds, companies are able to leverage the advantages of cloud services within the necessary confines of their data security operations, but require more logistical maintenance in terms of keeping printer drivers current and like matters.

Cloud printing is particularly useful for large companies with complex network infrastructures. As work becomes more mobile, employees will likely want to be able to print from multiple locations, and not be bothered by having to install print drivers for whatever printer is closest—not only is this annoying, but it is also a drain on productivity. Cloud-ready printers can remedy this pain point, but security concerns must be taken into consideration especially if the business must comply with regulations. If this case, exploring private cloud printing options—and there are many—might be the best bet for getting your company cloud-print-ready.

Photo by Jared Moran, taken from Flickr Creative Commons
Adam Lovinus

Author Adam Lovinus

A tech writer and Raspberry Pi enthusiast from Orange County, California.

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