Track network printer usage

Windows NT Server lets you perform many administrative tasks, but tracking printer usage is not one of them. To handle this task, Software Metrics provides Printer Accounting Server (PAS) 1.1. PAS is a network printer usage tracking system for NT that lets you access reports on user or group usage and control printing on a per-user cost basis.

PAS supports both direct-connect parallel port printers and a variety of network-based printers. Each printer must have a custom Software Metrics-provided NT print monitor, which limits printer support. Luckily, Software Metrics has print monitors for most popular network printers and any printer you can connect to the NT parallel port.

PAS works with NT Server or NT Workstation. You can use the dedicated print server as a management workstation and as a remote NT or Windows 95 workstation. Client workstations can access PAS services to query and adjust printer accounting information.

Because not all networks are the same, Software Metrics designed the Single Server Edition for small to midsized workgroups and the Enterprise Edition for larger network configurations. Installation and operation of both PAS editions is the same with the exception of remote printer management installations for the Enterprise Edition.

The Single Server Edition supports as many as five locally managed printers. PAS does not require that you connect the printers directly to the server, but the server must manage the printers. You must install network print monitors on the PAS server. For this configuration, you can use an NT workstation, which is a lower-cost solution than an NT server.

The Enterprise Edition supports an unlimited number of printers. The printer management tools can reside on servers other than the one on which you installed PAS, to provide a fully distributed environment that supports centralized management and reporting.

The software consists of three components: network server support; the management application, which you can install on the server or a workstation; and the client application, which lets users access and change billing information (this last component is not required for proper operation). Users can also access client application information if they have a Web browser and you enable the Web server support on the PAS server.

To set up PAS, I installed the network server support component and the management application on the same NT server. I contacted Software Metrics' Registration Desk to get a registration number that the company determines according to the software serial number and NT server name.

Next, I installed NT printer drivers with associated print monitors to provide additional network management features, such as configuring paper drawer usage. Under NT, each printer has an associated print monitor. The PAS print monitors are similar to the monitors that come with NT (printer manufacturers can also supply print monitors). You can use the vendor print monitors for network-based printers that you have connected to the server over the network.

The PAS print monitor does not include printer driver support. Printer drivers are separate programs you load on the clients that perform the printing. The drivers link to the printer through the server, which lets the print monitor track the number of pages being printed. You need to change the print monitor on existing networked printers if you want to use them with PAS. This process is as simple as changing a video driver. Under Settings, Printers, Properties, select the Ports tab to see which print monitor is in use. Click the Change button, change the print monitor, and click Have Disk to access the print monitors on the PAS CD-ROM.

You can add new printers using NT's Add Printer wizard, which steps you through the print monitor selection. Next, you can set PAS printer port options from the Configure Port dialog box, as Screen 1, page 112, shows.

Print monitor selection is only the first step to include a printer under PAS. You must also configure the printer and add printer users.

Printer Accounting Server
Contact: Software Metrics * 519-885-2458
Web: http://www.metrics.com
Email: pas-sales@metrics.com
Price: $695 Single Server Edition, $1395 Enterprise Edition
System Requirements: Server: Windows NT Server or NT Workstation, Client: Windows NT, Windows 95, Windows 3.x, OS/2, or DOS
Printer: Any parallel port printer
Network printer: HP JetDirect compatible, Line Print Remote (LPR) or Intel NetPort

You can use two tools to manage PAS. The first tool is a PAS Control Panel applet, which lets you handle operations such as printer configuration, printer notification pages, scheduling, Web server configuration, and printer billing support. The other tool is the PAS management application, which lets you set up billing groups and billing codes, and handle user management, reporting, and accounting control.

To use PAS, you must first set up the PAS billing groups. Each user must be a member of one billing group. Billing groups let you easily manipulate customer accounts and select reporting information.

You have the option to set up billing codes, which are short alphanumeric strings that PAS saves with each print session record. You can base billing reports on billing codes. Users can set one active billing code per print job. You can select billing codes for more than one billing group, so billing codes are one way to track printer usage across billing groups. You can use billing codes for tracking printing for clients and for project-oriented record keeping. PAS managers can add and delete billing groups and billing codes at any time.

PAS bases usage limits on user settings, but you can bypass the limits using NT domain user groups. For example, most network administrators would not want to lose a report in mid-printing because their PAS printing account ran out of electronic money. You select NT groups from the PAS Control Panel applet, and you can set any NT group to Disabled, No Charge, or No Limit. Users in a Disabled group can't use PAS-managed printers, and PAS doesn't track usage for users in a No Charge group. PAS tracks usage for users in the No Limit group but it doesn't prevent these users from printing because they lack PAS electronic money.

To test the usage limits, I set the main NT Domain Admins group to No Limit. I then set up PAS users by importing them from my existing NT user list. The import facility lets you select an NT domain and a domain group. PAS adds all the users in this group to its user list. No direct synchronization occurs between the NT domain list and the PAS list, so you must manually add new NT users to the PAS user list. PAS assigns imported users a billing group and an initial electronic money balance, but does not set billing codes.

Next, I used the PAS Control Panel applet to put printers under PAS control and set billing rates. PAS does not provide a list of printers to choose from, so you must type the name of your printer. Each PAS-assigned printer has initial and subsequent page costs. Costs are arbitrary but usually based on the kind of printer, paper costs, and printer-supply costs. Monochrome laser printers can cost a few cents per page, while color printers will have higher print costs. Unfortunately, you can't determine page coverage, which is important for color printers that print full-page images.

You are now ready to set up the accounting system. The client software provides access to billing codes and printer billing accounts. Users can transfer electronic money from one printing account to another, but only PAS administrators can use the PAS administration program to change any printing account.

At this point, you can perform additional administrative tasks. Unfortunately, you can't change user ID's--you can only add and delete them. You can add billing groups and billing codes and enable error-reporting features. PAS can reject a print job if a user's printing account does not contain enough electronic money. When this error occurs, PAS can print a page that indicates the cause of the problem. PAS lets you specify five lines of information, which is usually sufficient for a contact name and an email address or a telephone number.

Although you must manually request reports, PAS can automatically schedule and perform account updates. For example, you can specify a minimum amount of money for a group printing account at the start of each week. PAS bases scheduling according to NT user groups, not billing groups, which might be a good reason to mimic the two groups. You can schedule account adjustments (e.g., change a fixed amount, add more money, or set the minimum amount) daily, weekly, or monthly. PAS applies the scheduled operations to only PAS users.

The PAS management application handles user maintenance and reporting. PAS supports various predefined reports. You can list users by billing group, name, and their current electronic money balance. You can even have PAS list only overdrawn accounts. PAS also maintains an inactive account list. You can generate summary reports according to user, billing group, billing code, and printer. You can generate detailed reports on system-created accounts, account balance and activity, and activities according to user or printer.

If your system supports MAPI mail, you can mail reports in Microsoft Word or text file format. Unfortunately, PAS can't schedule this method automatically. PAS presents the email option only after you select a report.

The PAS documentation is informative and easy to use. It covers the client interface and Web support, but most users will not need this information because client interaction is minimal. PAS technical support is available via a toll number or the Internet.

PAS is overkill for most small networks. However, it can be useful in environments that regularly perform a lot of printing for clients.