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February 21, 2012

Respect MPE spooler, even as you replace it

PrintspoolerMigration transitions have an unexpected byproduct: They make managers appreciate the goodness that HP bundled into MPE/iX and the 3000. The included spooler is a great example of functionality which has a extra cost to replace in a new environment. No, not even Unix can supply the same abilities -- and that's the word from one of the HP community's leading Unix gurus.

Bill Hassell spread the word about HP-UX treasures for years from his own consultancy. Now he's working for SourceDirect as a Senior Sysadmin expert and posting to the LinkedIn HP-UX group. A migration project just finishing up drew Hassell's notice, when the project's manager noted Unix tools weren't performing at enterprise levels. Hassell said HP-UX doesn't filter many print jobs.

MPE has an enterprise level print spooler, while HP-UX has very primitive printing subsystem. hpnp (HP Network Printing) is nothing but a network card (JetDirect) configuration program. The ability to control print queues is very basic, and there is almost nothing to monitor or log print activities similar to MPE. HP-UX does not have any print job filters except for some basic PCL escape sequences such as changing the ASCII character size.

While a migrating shop might now be appreciating the MPE spooler more, some of them need a solution to replicate the 3000's built-in level of printing control. One answer to the problem might lie in using a separate Linux server to spool, because Linux supports the classic Unix CUPS print software much better than HP-UX.

The above was Glen Kilpatrick's idea. He's a Senior Response Center Engineer at Hewlett-Packard. Like a good support resource, Kilpatrick was a realist in solving the "where's the Unix spooler?" problem.

The "native" HP-UX scheduler / spooler doesn't use (or work like) CUPS, so if you implement such then you'll definitely have an unsupported solution (by HP anyway). Perhaps you'd be better off doing "remote printing" (look for that choice in the HP-UX System Administration Manager) to a Linux box that can run CUPS.

This advice shovels in a whole new environment to address an HP-UX weakness, however. So there's another set of solutions available from independent resources -- third-party spooling software. These extra-cost products accomodate things like default font differences between print devices, control panels, orientation and more. Michael Anderson, the consultant just finishing up a 3000 to Unix migration, pointed out these problems that rose up during the migration.

My client hired a Unix guru (very experienced, someone I have lots of respect for) to set this up a year or more ago. They recreated all the old MPE printer LDEVs and CLASS names in CUPS, and decided on the "raw" print format so the application can send whatever binary commands to the printers. Now they have some complaints about the output not being consistent. My response was, "Absolutely! There were certain functions that the MPE spooler did for you at the device class/LDEV level, and you don't have that with CUPS on HP-UX."

Anderson has faith that learning more about CUPS will uncover a solution. "One plus for CUPS, it does make the applications more portable," he added.

There's one set of tasks can solve the problem without buying a commercial spooler for Unix, but you'll need experience with adding PCL codes and control of page layouts. Hassell explains:

Yes, [on HP-UX] it's the old, "Why doesn't Printer 2 print like Printer 3?" problem. So unlike the Mighty MPE system, where there is an interface to control prepends and postpends, in HP-UX you'll be editing the model.orig directory where each printer's script is located. It just ASMOS (A Simple Matter of Scripting). The good news is that you already have experience adding these PCL codes and you understand what it takes to control logical page layouts. The model.orig directory is located in /etc/lp/interface/model.orig

What Anderson needs to accomplish in his migration is the setup of multiple config environments for each printer, all to make "an HP-UX spooler send printer init/reset instructions to the printer, before and after the print job. In other words: one or more printer names, each configured differently, yet all point to the same device."

You won't get that for HP-UX without scripting, the experts are saying, or an external spooling server under Linux, or a third party indie spooler product. If you'd like to look over the discussion in real time and add questions, it's on the LinkedIn HP-UX group's webpage. The third party software list for Unix is long. ROC Software moved into this field more than six years ago, along with its support of Maestro job scheduling for the HP 3000. ROC's products for Unix are Rhapsody and EasySpooler, for multiple-server and single-server environments, respectively. Another spooler software vendor with 3000 experience is Holland House, which sells its Unispool product for environments including Unix.

3000 managers who want third party expertise to support a vast array of print devices are well served to look at ESPUL and PrintPath spooling software from veteran 3000 developer Rich Corn at RAC Consulting. Corn's the best at controlling spoolfiles for 3000s, and he takes networked printing to a new level with PrintPath. Plenty of 3000 sites never needed to know all that his work could do, however -- because that MPE spooler looks plenty robust compared to what's inside the Unix toolbox.

12:34 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading, Migration, User Reports | Permalink

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