Monday, September 30, 2013

Xerox and Konica-Minolta administrator web interface lockout when control panel in use

I've worked with a fair number of all-in-one professional copiers for business, such as Xerox Workcentre, Konica Minolta BizHub, Canon imageRunner, and Ricoh Aficio.

In this new area of network-everything, a strange area emerges where traditional office appliance service companies are offering devices that are heavily IT-integrated, and yet they do not know the intricacies of managing devices in this way. Therefore I find myself taking administrative control of these appliances from an IT standpoint and letting them manage the physical hardware.

It is super convenient to be able to login to a web UI and manage a diverse set of options on these devices. However, during my troubleshooting, I've run into an issue with more than one manufacturer where you cannot change settings in the Web UI when the printer is processing a job or a user is at the front panel.

The Konica-Minolta front panel is exceptionally bad: it will prevent a user from making copies if it detects ANY activity in the web UI, and the time out is quite long.

The Xerox machines, while quite fast--and with by far the most configurable options--are plagued by the opposite effect, where the front panel overrides the web UI administrator. You cannot apply any settings when the printer thinks it has a user at the front panel. In my experience this detection mechanism is very poorly written and the user will insist that they are not at the control panel even though the web UI reports this. Add to this that the timeout before the printer thinks no one is working is set very long, and cannot be changed in the web UI itself and you get an unproductive 15 minutes for a task that should have taken 2.

This must be frustrating for administrators working in universities where a library printer may never not have a user at the keypad. I also work with medical clinics where the machine is in use 98% of the time during working hours.

When I get a service call for one of these machines, like when the scan-to-email function is not working, my first goal is to use VPN or SSH tunneling to get at the device's web UI to check the settings. And having your hands tied like this is immensely frustrating, especially when it interferes with even benign operations like adding an address book contact. The device manufacturers should know better!

Considering cheap Brother devices do not have such interlocks on web UI administration, I'm hard pressed to reward Xerox and Konica-Minolta in particular with kudos, despite how nice the devices themselves are.

I expect the device to trust me as a sysadmin to change settings while the device is in use. It's just poor or lazy design.

Perhaps some of these settings can be changed over SNMP which gets around this limitation?

As a side note, my personal picks are Ricoh Aficios and Xerox Workcentres. However, I do not know if the Aficio line suffers from this interlock problem.

Good luck to all you sysadmins out there managing office printers!


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