Windows 2003 Print Clusters - Part Two: Recommendations

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In our last post on Print Clusters we went over the basics of the Print Cluster and covered the important file and registry locations.  Today, we are going to quickly go over some recommendations.  If you recall, the purpose of setting up a print cluster is to have a high availability printing solution.  To do this you will want to configure your server with the most stable configuration for printing as possible.  The steps we need to take include:

  • disable print driver redirection
  • modify anti-virus scanning to exclude some key folder locations
  • use stable print drivers

OK, so first let's talk about disabling Printer Redirection on the print server.  While that seems counterintuitive, what we are doing is trying to avoid inadvertent driver installation.  Whenever an administrator logs in from another box via RDP, the drivers for the redirected printers would be automatically installed with Printer Redirection enabled.

Next you will want to set up your Anti-virus program to exclude the SPOOL folder from real-time scanning.  This will prevent spool files from being locked, print corruption, hangs and so forth.  A very common symptom we see as a result of anti-virus software scanning the Spool folder are the ‘0 byte’ .spl files.  Speaking of Anti-virus scanning you will also want to exclude the Quorum drive since this is a cluster server.

Now let's talk about stable printer drivers.  You should use only Version-3 user mode drivers.  Version-2 drivers (used for NT4 printing) reside in the kernel space.  If there is a problem with a Version-3 driver, the spooler may crash.  However, a misbehaving Version-2 driver can easily cause the entire server to bugcheck - not an ideal scenario for what is supposed to be a highly available solution.  If you absolutely have to have Version-2 drivers in your environment, it would be a good idea to use a different server as the print server for those printers.  That way if you do have a misbehaving kernel-mode driver that is causing the entire server to crash, the majority of your printers remain online on the clustered print server.

We're often asked about OEM versus In-box drivers.  An In-box driver is any driver included with the operating system or service pack.  OEM drivers are those drivers obtained from the manufacturer of the print device directly.  Microsoft thoroughly tests the drivers included with Windows to ensure printing functionality.  When you are using OEM drivers, always ensure that your drivers are up to date.  Use the WinPrint print processor for your printer as much as possible unless you have specific printing needs like watermark printing etc.  Some printers get some additional functionality from these; however the default print processors and monitors are sufficient for normal printing functionality.  In addition, you should use a Unidrv based driver wherever possible.

So, to quickly summarize the order of preference:

  • Inbox PostScript Driver
  • Inbox PCL 6 Driver
  • Inbox PCL 5E/C Driver
  • VISTA/Longhorn server compatible Driver
  • OEM Universal driver
  • OEM mini driver
  • OEM PostScript, OEM PCL 6, OEM PCL 5E/C, OEM PCL 5

And that brings us to the end of this post.  In Part 3 we'll discuss troubleshooting missing print queues on clustered print servers.

Additional Resources:

    - Sumesh P.

Windows 2003 Print Clusters - Part Two: Recommendations

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  • Hi Sumesh, excellent articles. We're recently in the midst of a large scale conversion to a W2K3 Clustered Print solution (Active/Active). One of the troubles we're encountering is that many of the print drivers converted via the PrintMigrator utility weren't cluster-friendly. Any chance you guys have a list of cluster-friendly Print Drivers and-or Alternative Drivers? We're a mostly all HP shop, as I'm sure many others are... so this sort-of list would be gold.

  • Thanks. Unfortunately we dont have such a list. With vendors coming out with new models quite often you can understand how hard maintaining such a list could be for us.

    However I have seen vendors like HP mention in their website whether a given driver is cluster aware or not (this may not be true for all drivers though).

    Moreover the vendors tech support is able to tell you what drivers are not cluster aware.

  • How can I determine which drivers in the Add Printer Wizard are the inbox drivers, and which may have been added later by a previous adminstrator?  

    Also, how do patches and updates affect these drivers, for example could an update change a driver version to a newer version?

  • When I connect to my remote server (Win 2003) via RDP, I would like Printer Redirection not to happen at all - is this possible?