Cloud printing is the technology that enables printers to be accessed over a network through cloud computing. There are, in essence, two kinds of cloud printing. On the one hand, consumer-based cloud printing connects any application to cloud-enabled home printers that people own or have access to. Using this technology, people can take digital media as their primary communications tool and create a printed page only when they need the content in a physical form.
On the other hand, professional cloud printing enables publishers, companies and content owners to print their digital publications by leveraging networks of production facilities through cloud computing technology. In short, professional cloud printing allows for the “ad-hoc transformation of digital information into physical forms in 2D or 3D.”
For consumers, cloud ready printers eliminate the need for PC connections and print drivers, enabling them to print from mobile devices. As for publishers and content owners, cloud printing allows them to “avoid the cost and complexity of buying and managing the underlying hardware, software and processes”  required for the production of professional print products.
Leveraging cloud print for print on demand also allows businesses to cut down on the costs associated with mass production. Moreover, cloud printing can be considered more eco-friendly, as it significantly reduces the amount of paper used and lowers carbon emissions from transportation.
Only a handful of providers are currently working towards a professional cloud print solution. Most of these operate in their own niche or focus on mobile devices. Some examples include Peecho, which provides on demand printing of digital data from within mobile applications and websites through a network of global printing facilities, HubCast, a service that allows business owners to order corporate print materials through their cloud and Hewlett-Packard‘s MagCloud, which allows digital documents to be published as print magazines.
Significantly large steps have also been taken in the consumer market with Google Cloud Print. Xerox and Ricoh followed in Google’s footsteps with their mobile cloud solutions, while Hewlett-Packard implemented a similar mechanism with their ePrint solution.
Industry experts believe that as these services become more popular, users will no longer consider printers as necessary assets but rather as devices that they can access on demand when the need to generate a printed page presents itself.
Digital publishing is growing rapidly and our affinity for consuming real-time media shows no signs of stopping. Despite this, as GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram recently reported much of the content we put online is actually getting lost in a non-stop stream of information. The problem is, hard-copy print is still best for some jobs — or for some audiences.
Peecho, a free service that lets people turn digital content into a physical product. Peecho’s service infrastructure draws on cloud printing, a technology that helps transform digital data into printed products by tapping into networks of production facilities through the cloud. Other companies in this arena include HubCast, MagCloud, and Shapeways.
Here’s how the cloud print model can streamline the process. A big financial services company typically prints tens of thousands of annual reports it sends out to shareholders — most of whom promptly toss the reports in the garbage or recycling. What if that company instead asks its shareholders to specify print or digital versions of that report. Then the company uses a digital network of providers to print copies just for those who will really read them, eliminating wasted materials, carbon emissions creating and shipping the hard copy product, not to mention postage. Since printing remains a volume business, the price per copy is higher now, but total cost to the company falls. And as more printers see the opportunity of cloud print, the economics may improve.
In the recently published Cloud Print Manifesto, cloud printing has a unique potential to revolutionize publishing. It promotes full-blown digitization by allowing for the “occasional” transformation of digital data into 2D or 3D objects on demand. This would help preserve valuable digital data while foregoing the aforementioned environmental costs of mass production.
Let’s explore the potential of cloud print to revolutionize publishing.
Trading virtual content for atoms
The use of paper as the primary means of communication is coming to an end. For example, a few weeks ago, the Guardian reported that Amazon’s Kindle eBook sales are outstripping print for the first time, in line with the declining hardcover revenues reported by the Association of American Publishers in June 2012. With digital content exploding, it is hard to envision a future for print. Yet some content — lost amidst an ever-increasing amount of blog posts, status updates, tweets and videos — may be more persistent than daily news and carry deeper personal meaning.
This is exactly the kind of content that begs for the level of engagement and permanence provided by a physical product. Turning personalized, high-quality digital content into professionally managed physical objects is a service that will be increasingly in demand. Or as John Bracken eloquently states: “As more and more of the content we consume is based on bits, the ability to engage with atom-based media will, for some, gain value.”
A few applications are already embracing this model, using print to monetize digital content. Postagram, Printstagram and Canvaspop are some of the simplest examples, built to monetize Instagram photos.
The enormous amount of data on the Internet leads to a staggering market potential for these companies, but the execution is not that simple. So far, transforming digital data into physical objects is by no means a commodity.
Print as a Service
For website owners, the print feature should just work — like water from the tap or electricity in the home. In reality, the cultural differences between the digital world and the realm of mechanical product manufacturing pose a significant challenge. As a result, huge sums are spent on negotiating and integrating with one or more printing facilities, international expansion, global delivery, monitoring orders and customer service.
Therefore, simple infrastructure is required to provide Print as a Service instead. By accessing professional print as a hosted commodity resource, users can avoid the cost and complexity of buying and managing the underlying hardware, software and processes.
Enter cloud print
The web contains a lot of content, but almost none of it conforms to required production standards: sizes, quality and aspect ratios differ greatly and cut marks, color management, spines, bleed margins or ISO certificates are unheard of. To put it bluntly, it is a mess. Transforming such heterogeneous online data to standardized, print-ready components requires serious processing firepower.
To keep associated costs and energy usage relative to revenue, systems should be able to scale up and down with demand. In other words, to cope with the Christmas peak and the January low at realistic cost levels and with as little energy consumption as possible a system should be fully elastic. Cloud computing can offer this.
So, a profitable business case for Print as a Service can only be made by using automatically scaling cloud print..
The provider void
So far, significant steps towards a cloud print solution have been taken in the consumer market. Xerox and Ricoh followed in the footsteps of Google CloudPrint with their mobile cloud solutions, while Hewlett-Packard implemented a similar mechanism with ePrint.
However, professional cloud print is not yet a commodity. Only a few independent players – Hubcast, MagCloud, Shapeways and my company — have ventured into this area, providing professional, on demand manufacturing of 2D and 3D products from digital assets using a network of printing facilities.
Cloud print will revolutionize publishing
The potential of cloud print to revolutionize print publishing should not be underestimated. Websites, applications and games could be powered by a single cloud print infrastructure that allows access to a network of professional print facilities, leveraging print as a shared commodity resource while avoiding costs and complexity.
By providing eco-friendly, on-demand manufacturing, cloud print providers could support the global transition away from mass paper production towards full-blown digitization, promoting sustainability in the industry.
However, there is no dominant cloud print infrastructure provider for professional products yet. What do you think this provider should focus on? Join the discussion in the comments below and check out cloudprintmanifesto.org.
Cisco and Xerox announced today that are pairing up to offer cloud printing services for enterprises. Cisco has added Xerox Managed Print Services (MPS) to routers, switches, data center servers (UCS), Vblock, virtual desktops and the CIUS client. The cloud print services will be for sale through Cisco’s channel this summer.
In addition to simply allowing users to print from mobile devices across a Cisco network, a public cloud or a private cloud, the plan lets network administrators monitor printers and implement policies that the companies say will protects confidential data.
The companies will build print agents into Cisco routers and switches, starting with the branch-office ISR. They will tap into Cisco’s WAN acceleration gear to help print jobs travel faster, and will use Cisco security tools to keep the data from going from winding up in unauthorized hands, the companies said.
Xerox introduced the mobile printing system earlier this year, though this partnership with Cisco makes it a little easier for the enterprise to use it. Previously, the integration with devices was left to the enterprise or system integrator.
Cisco and Xerox aren’t the first to the table with cloud print services. In March, HP announced that it was joining forces with Google to support Google Cloud Print, which lets Gmail and Google Docs users print from mobile devices like smartphones, tablets, or even Windows 7 netbooks. Google Cloud Print lets you print documents over an Internet connection without downloading printer drivers.
Users of the HP/Google combo don’t need enterprise IT to step in and provide the service. Likewise, IT professionals are given no control or security over where documents are sent.
With the HP partnership, Google Cloud Print lets users remotely print documents over the Internet to select HP printers with the EPrint capability, in which an email with print instructions is sent directly to the printer. The mobile application needs to have Google’s Cloud Print extensions. Users have to add the email address of an HP EPrint-enabled Photosmart, Envy, Officejet or LaserJet printer to a unique Google account tied to a smartphone or tablet. Multiple printers can be tied to one Google account, and on pushing the print command, users will be able to select the printer of choice. If a printer is powered down, the command will be added to a print queue.
Without the special HP hooks, a tablet user can still use Google Cloud Print but its not geared for enterprise use. A user sends documents from the tablet/smartphone to a PC connected to a printer. That PC has to have the Google Cloud Print connector downloaded and enabled in Chrome.
From an IT standpoint, offering cloud printing as a service, and gaining some aspect of management and security policy, seems to be a smarter choice than just letting users have at it by through services like Google Print. The companies say that they will eventually support other wares, too … not requiring a Cisco network from end to end and supporting printers from companies other than Xerox.
Google Cloud Print is a service that helps users send documents to printers from a variety of devices. This includes personal computers, as well as mobile phones and tablets. Because this service uses the Internet to send documents, users can send a document to a printer from anywhere, regardless of distance.
To get started with Google Cloud Print, Google recommends having a cloud-ready printer. Newer printer designs from companies like Brother, Canon, Dell, Epson, HP, Kodak and Samsung are mostly cloud-ready. Users can also find a detailed list of cloud-ready printer models on the Google Cloud Print website.
Setting up a printer for Google Cloud Print involves installing the Google Chrome system on the sending device. Users will have to navigate Google Chrome settings to sign into Google Cloud Print and enable a connector for printers. Advanced instructions can be found in Google Chrome, where a customized interface supports cloud print functionality.
Users can find additional details for handling Google Cloud Print jobs on manager printers in their Google Chrome accounts. Google also offers a side note that Windows XP users may need additional software installed to be able to use Cloud Print successfully. Those who are using Windows XP should also know that Microsoft intends to end support for this operating system, so it may make sense to transition to a newer version of Microsoft Windows if cloud printing is a desired feature.
After connecting printers and devices to Google Cloud Print, using Cloud Print is much the same as using a local area network wireless connection, which is also supported by many modern printers. The difference is that Google Cloud Print may use either Internet connections or 4G wireless connections to get a signal from a mobile device to a printer.