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Unicorn Print Server: Product Overview



Unicorn Print Server is an advanced output management solution designed to provide an efficient integration of the various types of hardware platforms, operating systems and printing devices on a basis of a single concept.

Unicorn Print Server is designed to make the enterprise printing more efficient, flexible and reliable. The utilization of printing resources, as well as overall printing environment administration and maintenance costs can be optimized. The need for the various additional platform-specific printing software components may be significantly reduced.

Unicorn Print Server has a scalable architecture. No matter how big is the printing environment, the appropriate server configuration can be provided. The printing solution can be easily upgraded, while the printing environment grows and the need to support additional hosts, printers and applications arises. Unicorn Print Server is optimized for mission-critical applications, providing an adequate performance for large enterprises. On the other hand, for smaller enterprises, the money-saving low-end solutions may be provided.

Unicorn Print Server is optimized to create customer-specific solutions. For every particular customer, the special solution can be created from the selected set of standard server components. Components may be configured to meet customer needs. When some customer requirements can not be satisfied using the existing modules, additional customer-specific components can be developed and easily integrated using the server open architecture. This can dramatically reduce time and costs for the development of highly customized printing solutions.

Unicorn Print Server is running on (Windows NT/2000) platform. Most of client platforms and printing devices are supported.


Unicorn Print Server supports the rich set of features. These features are grouped into following categories:

The following sections contain more detailed discussion of these features.

Spool management

Spool management features provide the basic functionality of the print server. These features include:

At the very basic level, Unicorn Print Server is a spooling system. Its main function is to deliver a document to a specified output device on behalf of a client. The client submits the document to the print server along with the set of desired output parameters. For each incoming print request the server creates a separate print job. All parameters of the print request are stored as job attributes. Various attributes describe all relevant information about the print job, such as job identification, job scheduling, printer selection, current job status and document production instructions.

The print server supports the concept of logical and physical printers. Logical printers represent input queues of the print server. When a print request is submitted, the name of a logical printer should be specified. Physical printers correspond to output devices controlled by the print server. Each physical printer represents either a physical output device or an external document processing software component (e.g., archiving or mailing software).

The flexible way is provided to establish and manage associations between logical and physical printers. Various types of associations are possible. For instance, one logical printer may be associated with several physical printers, thus forming a printer pool. For each job requesting that logical printer the print server selects an associated physical printer most suitable to render this job. On the other hand, a group of logical printers may be associated with the same physical printer. In this case, a separate set of initial attribute values is usually attached to each logical printer in a group, and jobs submitted to different logical printers may receive different attribute values.

Printer pooling provides additional efficiency and flexibility of the enterprise printing process. Using the printer pooling mechanism, such important feature as load balancing is implemented. When many print jobs are submitted to a printer pool, the print server tries to distribute them between printers to provide the balanced load and thus optimize the performance. On the other hand, when a job with the certain requirements is submitted to a printer pool, the server will select the printer that is capable to satisfy these requirements. For instance, a particular document may require certain paper media to be properly rendered. The server will select a printer that has all requested media available. Thus, all jobs submitted to the printer pool will be automatically routed to various printers depending on job requirements and printer capabilities. Printer pooling can also increase the stability of the printing environment. If any printers that belong to the printer pool are temporary unavailable due to the hardware fault or to the servicing needs, jobs will be automatically directed to the printers that are still in operation. The operator of the print server may reconfigure printer pools dynamically. If necessary, additional printers can be included in printer pools.

The print server performs monitoring of the status of printers attached to the system. The current state (e.g., idle, printing, shutdown) of each printer is continuously checked, thus improving the performance and reliability of the printing process.

The print server performs an intelligent job scheduling. The order in which jobs are printed depends on many factors. Each job has the certain submission time and may have the certain priority assigned. Basically, jobs are scheduled according to their priorities and submission time. However, it is possible to assign the special held state to a job. In this case the job is not scheduled for printing until it is manually released. It is also possible to assign the certain printing time to a job. The job is held until this time is coming, then the job is automatically released. Finally, jobs that belong to a certain group may be assigned the same label. These jobs will be not printed until any of the target physical printers will be assigned the same label. This feature allows the dynamic control over the scheduling jobs that belong to different groups.

After the job is successfully printed, it is retained during the certain period of time. The job retention period may vary for different job categories, more important jobs may be retained for longer time. Retained jobs may be reprinted on demand. When the job retention period is expired, the document spool file is deleted to free the disk space, but the job entry may be kept for some more time to enable accounting.

The print server performance is optimized to obtain the maximum throughput for the mission-critical applications. Normally, thousands print jobs can be processed by the server within one hour, given the sufficient performance of the printing devices.

All components of the printing environment can be controlled from the single central point. The graphical user interface is provided that allows the print server operator to view and modify attributes of any object that is managed by the server (e.g., print job, document, physical or logical printer). If necessary, the graphical user interface may be used from the remote workstation.

Job management

Job management features are designed to provide control over processing of each particular print job. These features include:

The print server implements a set of common job control functions. Using the graphical user interface, the operator can hold a job or release a job that is currently held. If necessary, processing of any job may be cancelled. Document production instructions, like copy count, single-sided or double-sided printing, default medium or default input tray, collating, finishing and color specifications may be changed as well.

Print jobs that had been successfully printed are usually retained during the certain period of time. If necessary, the operator may reprint any retained job. Some job attributes may be changed before reprinting. The destination printer may be changed, thus providing the way for printer rerouting. If necessary, only some selected pages of the document may be reprinted.

The print server is capable to analyze the document contents and assign certain attributes to the corresponding job based on the results of such analysis. For instance, PostScript documents that are conforming to Document Structuring Conventions (DSC) are scanned for DSC comments that contain document requirements. These requirements are extracted and assigned to the print job as various job attributes. The print server also supports analysis of job tickets. Job ticket is a sequence of text lines that describe print job requirements. Usually the job ticket is inserted by the client application in front of the document contents. The print server is capable to analyze job tickets and extract these requirements. Since different vendors use different formats for job tickets, the flexible method is provided to describe such formats and to make them known to the server. Several widely used formats (e.g., Xerox Job Tickets) are recognized by the standard configuration. The print server also defines a native job ticket format, Unicorn Job Tickets. In more general case, the document requirements may be contained inside the body of the document. These requirements may be extracted and assigned to the job as job attributes using the generic context analysis engine. The flexible method to define customer-specific context rules is provided by the server.

The print server provides an advanced support for printer-specific features. Generally, the print server handles all document production instructions in the device-independent way as job attributes. When the document is about to be transmitted to the printer, printer-specific instructions are generated and inserted into the output stream in the way that depends on the given printer type. The print server may use various methods to implement printer-specific features. For PostScript printers, the PostScript code based on Adobe PostScript Printer Description (PPD) files is generated. For some printer types vendor-specific job tickets are created and inserted in front of the document contents.

Support for printer-specific features offers solutions for several types of output management problems that often appear in the various environments. For instance, when print jobs are submitted by typical Windows applications, printer drivers generate the printer-specific code that implements requested features. Once the print job is created, it is not possible to reroute it to a printer of a different type, because the new printer may interpret incorrectly that printer-specific code. Another problem occurs in traditional mainframe environments, when spooling systems running on the mainframe hosts are not aware about the advanced features supported by the printing devices and therefore are not capable to use these features for rendering documents generated by the host applications. Both problems can be effectively addressed by Unicorn Print Server support for printer-specific features.

The print server is designed to support printers of various vendors. The flexible way is provided to define specific details of the communication protocol, as well as device capabilities for every particular printer type.

The print server can automatically produce banner and trailer pages that may be printed before and after the document. Banner and trailer pages are composed dynamically, based on the defined sets of templates. Values of the various job attributes that identify the job or specify the job characteristics may be inserted into banner and trailer pages. Templates may be customized to match the specific needs.

Advanced features

Advanced features are designed to enable the creation of powerful enterprise output management solutions. These features include:

When the printing environment of an enterprise is distributed through several geographical locations, additional problems arise. When a document is transmitted to a printing device that is installed at the remote geographical location, data may be lost or corrupted. The print operators working at both transmitting and receiving locations need adequate means to track all remotely printed jobs and to control the status of such jobs in the reliable way. To solve these problems, the print server provides facilities specially designed for the remote and distributed printing. At each remote location a separate instance of a print server may be installed. Thus the network of print servers operating together is created. When a print server installed at any location needs to print a job to any remote printer, it does not attempt to transmit the job to this printer directly. Instead, the job is first transmitted to the corresponding remote print server, which takes care of the actual job delivery. In this case the job may be tracked by both submitting and receiving print servers. This method enforces the transparent, controllable and reliable remote document transfer and printing.

Some applications may require rearrangement of information contained in source documents, before printing. For instance, many banking packages generate source documents that contain information related to multiple bank customers, and it is desired to fetch information related to each particular customer from the source set of documents, in order to form one set of output documents for each customer. The print server provides components that support the document contents rearrangement.

Basically, the print server itself has a limited built-in support for various document formats. Currently it is capable to analyze and use certain elements of PostScript documents. Optional components are designed to support some additional formats (e.g., Xerox VIPP). In all other cases the print server relies either on the ability of a printing device to interpret the particular document format or on the availability of the third party format conversion software. When the printing device supports the requested document format, the document is simply transferred to that device. Otherwise the external third party software component that converts the document format to one supported by the target printer is required. External converters may be integrated into the print server environment in the flexible and efficient way. If the target printer does not support the given document format, the server selects the suitable external converter and automatically launches it to perform the conversion. When the conversion is finished, the resulting document is returned to the print server for the final output.

The accounting feature is designed to produce reports that contain statistical information describing the volume printed and printing resources consumed during the given period of time, grouped by users and/or specially defined accounting profiles. Using this feature, printing costs related to each user group can be calculated. The overall efficiency of the enterprise printing process and of the utilization of printing resources can be estimated as well.

Unicorn Print Server is designed as the open, extensible software. The extensibility mechanism is based on the scripting technology. The print server includes simple yet powerful embedded scripting language that provides access to all objects of the server object model, like print jobs, documents, logical and physical printers, thus enforcing the open architecture of the server. The scripting language is based on Tcl (tool command language). Most of the existing print server components can be customized using scripts. Scripting may be also used for the efficient creation of entirely new print server components that implement custom features not available otherwise.

Optional features

Optional features are designed to enable the efficient integration of the print server with certain vendor-specific platforms and technologies. Currently these features include:

The print server provides an extensive support for Xerox VIPP technology that may be used for traditional host printing and legacy document formats. The print server performs all VIPP formatting and resource management, based on the document requirements and printer capabilities.

For VIPP documents, the print server can perform effectively the resource management. All available resources (e.g., fonts, forms and images) may be stored in the print server database in the centralized way. The server performs the analysis of the document and extracts resource requirements. Depending on these requirements and the printer capabilities, resources needed to render each particular job are included into the output stream and transmitted to the target printer.

The enhanced support is available for print clients running under Open VMS. Open VMS native document formats and job submission methods are supported, providing seamless integration into the standard operating system environment.

The enhanced client software is available for Microsoft Windows. This software acts as an integral part of the standard Windows spooling system. Once installed, the Windows client software automatically becomes available for all applications running on a client system. The Windows client software allows a user submitting a print job to specify values of required job attributes in the device-independent form, instead of setting the various printer-specific features requested by each printer driver. These attribute values are transmitted to the print server, which is completely responsible for their interpretation depending on the type of the target printer. The client software for Windows can dramatically reduce number of various printer drivers installed on each client system, thus reducing the maintenance cost of the distributed printing environment.

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