As enterprises focus more on putting applications and data into Internet clouds, a new trend is emerging that also helps them keep things tangibly closer to terra firma, namely, printed materials – especially from mobile devices.
Major announcements from HP (HPQ) and Google (GOOG) are drawing attention to printing from the cloud. But these two heavy-hitters aren’t the only ones pushing the concept. Lesser-known brands like HubCast and Cortado got out in front with cloud printing services that work to route online print orders to printer choices via the cloud.
Still a nascent concept, some forward-thinking enterprises are moving to understand what printing from the cloud really means, what services are available, why they should give it a try, how to get started—and what’s coming next. Again, we’re early in the cloud printing game, but when Fortune 500 tech companies start advocating for a better way to print, it’s worth investigating.
HP’s Cloud Printing
HP is no stranger to cloud printing. The company is behind a service called MagCloud that lets self-publishers print on demand and sell through a web-based marketplace with no minimum orders. But a recent announcement suggests HP is looking to deeply lead the charge into printing from the cloud for the broader enterprise... and consumers.
Earlier this month, HP rolled out the ePrint Enterprise mobile printing solution developed in collaboration with RIM (RIMM). It’s based on HP CloudPrint technology and works with BlackBerry smartphones. As HP describes it, CloudPrint lets users print documents from their mobile devices, computers and netbooks while they aren’t in the office on a LAN.
Essentially, CloudPrint blends cloud and web-services-based technologies to let people print anything—like reports, photos, emails, presentations, or documents—from anywhere. All you need is a destination network-connected printer. With CloudPrint and ePrint Enterprise, HP has a wide margin of enterprise printing needs covered.
Google’s Cloud Printing
Google got into the cloud printing game in mid-April. Dubbed Google Cloud Print, the search engine giant’s service will work with the Chrome operating system, where all applications are web apps. Google wanted to design a printing experience that would make it possible for web apps to give users the full printing capabilities that native apps have today. Access to the cloud is the one component all major devices and operating systems have in common.
Here’s how it works: Instead of relying on a single operating system—or drivers—to print, apps can use Google Cloud Print to submit and manage print jobs. Google Cloud Print will send the print job to the appropriate printer, with the particular options the user selected, and then return the job status to the app. But Google Cloud Print is still under development, which gives HP and other players a chance to gain market momentum.
Cloud Printing Pioneers
Indeed, there are other players promoting printing from the cloud—and some could be considered pioneers. Hubcast is one of them. Hubcast bills itself as the only worldwide digital print delivery network. It routes your online print order to the high quality network printer closest to you. This way you don’t have to pay shipping charges for printing. Hubcast won the Gartner “Cool Vendor” Award back in 2008.
Meanwhile, Cortado offers one-stop mobile business software solutions that aim at the enterprise—including cloud printing. Cortado competes with HP, offering a free cloud printing app called Cortado Workplace for BlackBerry and iPhone that lets you print your documents to any printer reachable via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Enterprise customers can also get Cortado Corporate Server for use on their company network behind the firewall.
Why Print from the Cloud?
Road warriors, mobile workers and on-the-go professionals can see the value in being able to access information and personal documents from just about any device. The problem historically has been the need to install drivers that make printing possible. Keeping up to date with print drivers for the various printers you might meet with while out of the office is cumbersome at best and nearly impossible at worst.
HP has also invested heavily in new ways of publishing, of making the mashup of printing and cloud services a commercial opportunity, with even small-batch, location-focused publications possible via printers rather then presses.
Similarly, the latest user-focused cloud printing solutions that are integrated with mobile devices make publishing boundary-less and set the stage to boost productivity with the ability to print documents on the fly at places like FedEx, hotels, business centers or anywhere else along a professional’s travels that offer access to a printer. In other words, these solutions extend the corporate network and offer cross-platform conveniences that aren’t available through traditional printing options.
Getting started is getting easier. You just have to download an application to your BlackBerry or iPhone. Becoming an early adopter of cloud printing puts you on the cutting-edge of business and could give you an advantage in a competitive marketplace.
Think about the possibilities of being able to print, sign and fax a document back to a client from just anywhere you happen to be. Cloud printing is poised to revolutionize the enterprise work environment in much the same way that cloud computing is transforming IT settings.
It also highlights the longer-term strength of cloud models, beyond more than cost savings from outsourcing. And that value is the powerful role that clouds play as integration platforms, to enable things that could not be done before, to bind processes -- like printing -- that scale up and down easily and affordably.
Disclosure: HP is a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts.