Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Cisco, Xerox and Cloud Printing

Back in January, at the Consumer Electronics Association's venerable CES show, an “Innovation Power Panel" took place, featuring Cisco CEO John Chambers, GE Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt, and Xerox Chairman and CEO Ursula Burns. Among other topics, the CEOs talked about how their respective companies innovate. Things like decentralized management; investing in R&D, focusing on human resources and shortening their time to market for new products. Perhaps after the session, the two vendors and their big customer got together to talk about the difficulty of printing in the enterprise today.

Last month, Cisco Systems and Xerox announced that they would partner to create a mobile printing system, to allow users to print from any device to any printer. The uniqueness of this announcement is that, while virtually “everyone” is now talking about making printing easier for mobile employees, no one is really talking about the underlying network and infrastructure, which is Cisco's forte, and the system integration necessary to make it happen, which is clearly a strength that Xerox brings to the table with the powerful capabilities the ACS acquisition provides.

Unless you are a serious tech geek, you probably haven’t even heard of Cisco's UCS (Unified Computing System), which is a key hardware and software component to the relationship. Cisco’s very extensive network of channel partners will resell the technology and a managed service that will be delivered from a Xerox data center.

According to the announcement, which focused on mobile printing, an employee can send a document from a smartphone, tablet or other device to a Cloud service that will make that document available to any printer in an organization. The employee can go to one of those printers, punch in the code for that document, and have it printed out.

This isn’t a particularly earth-shattering revelation. Several other companies have extolled the virtues of this kind of capability for at least a couple of years. Last month, I talked about PrintMe, which is a Cloud service from EFI that provides remarkably similar functionality. Furthermore, roughly two years ago I attended an HP event in NYC that described exactly this, focusing on HP’s enterprise print server and a concept they called “pull printing”, albeit without reference at the time to mobile applications.

However, the combination of the resources of Cisco and Xerox definitely can help address the growing issues of printing associated with mobile devices and virtual desktops in far-flung enterprise deployments. It shouldn’t be hard for an employee to print, no matter where they are. But alas, today it can be quite difficult.

We've all done it "the hard way". The typical method for getting a document printed from a mobile device is to email it to someone who sits near a printer and have them print it out. This is both cumbersome and time-consuming, and in many companies, introduces document security risks. In fact, in many organizations, there still is no “guest” network access, so even sending the email from a laptop or mobile device to a local user can be challenging, unless you have an aircard or something.

Xerox introduced their Mobile Printing System last year, which I’ve discussed in previous posts, but seemed to leave it up to enterprises or third-party system integrators to deploy and configure.

According to the partnership announcement, the companies will build print agents into Cisco routers and switches, starting with the ISR (Integrated Services Router.) They will use Cisco's wide-area network acceleration products to help print jobs travel faster, and Cisco security tools to make sure information doesn't end up in the wrong hands, the announcement said.

Cisco and Xerox will deliver the mobile printing capability in three products. Xerox Managed Print Services (MPS) over Cisco Borderless Networks is a software product from Xerox that provides the tools for an enterprise to implement mobile printing services to its own employees. The software, which takes advantage of IOS (Internetwork Operating System) on Cisco network equipment, provides the security, WAN optimization and print monitoring for mobile printing. Cisco channel partners will also be able to use Xerox MPS to offer these services to enterprises. Xerox MPS should be offered through Cisco channel partners in the U.S. starting in July or August and in Europe next January.

Xerox Cloud ITO Services is a set of services, including mobile printing, that Xerox will offer to enterprises and small and medium-sized businesses. The services grow out Xerox's acquisition of ACS. They will run on Xerox data centers built with Cisco's UCS servers and the Vblock infrastructure made up of Cisco networking and computing, EMC storage and VMware virtualization software. These services will also be sold through Cisco's channels. They are available on a limited basis now and are likely to be generally available next January, the companies said.

There will be client software for Cisco's Cius tablet and for Cisco Virtualization Experience Client devices, which is installed on desktop computers. This Xerox Mobile Print Solution will allow users of those clients to securely print documents on any printer in the enterprise.

In summary, this partnership appears to glue together a number of important pieces for enterprise Cloud printing into a complete hardware, software and services offering that previously would have required enormous amounts of labor and expense for customers contemplating enterprise deployments. Cisco and Xerox's ACS acquisition have long been partnered, with ACS being a top Cisco reseller for many years. Stay tuned for more as deployments begin to roll-out.

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