Cloud Printing is a fairly recent technology, so many of the use cases are not yet well understood. And you might say that the use cases for cloud printing are really just the use cases for printing in general, within circumstances that make traditional direct-to-printer connections difficult, insecure or impossible.
Anyway, here are a few of the more common situations I've run across in the course of starting and running Breezy, which makes a secure cloud print platform used by two of America’s top 5 banks, one of the largest managed healthcare providers in the country and many major law firms, F500 companies and others:
- Enable users to print locally from within a VDI context
- Users may need to access local or corporate printers while using a VDI instance that does not have a direct path to the printer the user needs to use. For example, a user may be in a branch office and using a Windows app from an iPad via Citrix Receiver. There's no network path from the VDI server to the local printer, but a cloud printing solution can provide such a path: Citrix session → Cloud service → Local print connector (either a proxy service like Breezy’s Connector, or an app on the user’s mobile device itself, which can stream via wifi) → Printer.
- Replace expensive MPLS links used for legacy printing
- Many organizations maintain dedicated MPLS links to enable remote offices to print data generated by an ERP system or other applications at headquarters. These costs can run into the thousands of dollars per month for a single office, meaning that a large global manufacturer might spend millions annually on a network that is basically a glorified, print-only VPN. Secure cloud printing can remove that cost entirely, by providing a cloud-brokered route from the origin to the remote printer.
- Replace expensive hardware-based print management tools
- Legacy print management tools often rely on badge readers, standalone kiosks or keypads, or other interfaces to connect printers to the system. A modern cloud printing deployment can avoid these hardware requirements, working with any print devices you already have.
- Enable native iOS printing across subnets / without wifi
- We're all familiar with AirPrint, but it can be challenging due to the requirements of the underlying Bonjour protocol, which is designed to work within single subnets. Even though many "bridging" products now exist that attempt to bridge Bonjour discovery across subnets (see e.g. Network wide Bonjour® – How would you support Bonjour across multiple VLANs? and the spec itself should be more functional in this regard today (from Apple: Bonjour – Frequently Asked Questions), the protocol itself is so chatty and difficult to work with in large, managed environments that most network admins dislike it anyway. Cloud printing can give you the same native print experience users expect, without requiring actual Bonjour-based printer discovery.
- Enable guest printing without compromising network security
- In secure environments, printers tend to be on a wired LAN separate from the guest wifi subnet. Cloud printing solutions can help you allow guests to print without allowing them on your network.
This is really just a small sample – again, the set of "use cases" for cloud-based printing are basically the set of use cases for printing in general, and the question of whether a move to a cloud-based model presents the right set of tradeoffs is beyond the scope of this answer. But hopefully this gives you an idea of what cloud printing can do that traditional, direct printing cannot.