Ricoh in Deal for AFP/IPDS Emulation
April 10, 2007 Alex Woodie
Printer maker Ricoh Americas has extended its OEM partnership with Intermate A/S for technology that benefits customers printing high quality output from IBM System i and z servers. The deal will give Ricoh’s IBM host printing business a boost over the next three years, until Ricoh finally takes over full control of IBM’s Printing Systems Division, which it’s in the middle of buying.
Earlier this year, IBM agreed to sell its printing business to the Japanese electronics devices giant Ricoh Company for $725 million. As part of the deal, IBM and Ricoh will jointly operate for three years the InfoPrint Solutions Company, the new name given to the IBM Printing Systems Division based in Boulder, Colorado. During that time, Ricoh will own a 51 percent stake, while IBM’s stake will be 49 percent. After three years, Ricoh will gain full control over the business. The deal, which was announced in January, is still on track to close this quarter.
However, even if the deal closes as expected by the end of June, Ricoh won’t gain any special treatment for its high-end printing business for i5/OS, z/OS, and AIX customers, which IBM keeps fairly tight control over. According to a spokesman for Ricoh Americas, InfoPrint Solutions will be completely separate from Ricoh Americas, and the West Caldwell, New Jersey-based subsidiary of Ricoh will be treated as any other competing printer manufacturer for the time being.
When Ricoh finally gains full control, in 2010, over InfoPrint Solutions and all of IBM’s patented print technology, including the Advanced Function Presentation (AFP) and Intelligent Printing Data Stream (IPDS) architecture (not to mention the Print Services Facility [PSF] software used by hundreds of thousands of AS/400, iSeries, and System i shops around the world), it will be able to build support for AFP and IPDS directly into its printers.
Until then, Ricoh needs other ways of supporting AFP/IPDS. For years it has partnered with Denmark-based Intermate, A/S, a recognized leader in the field of AFP/IPDS emulation. Intermate has more than 20 years of experience building AFP/IPDS emulation technology that allows less expensive printers, especially departmental laser printers designed to support Hewlett-Packard‘s near ubiquitous Printer Control Language (PCL) technology (and, to a lesser extent, those that support Adobe‘s PostScript printer description language), to support high-end AFP/IPDS output from IBM hosts, particularly mainframes and i5/OS servers.
For about the last three years, Ricoh has sold the technology it OEMs from Intermate as RA2K Integration, a software product that resides directly on the hard drive of the Ricoh print device, and does the conversion or interpretation necessary to support AFP and IPDS print jobs on less expensive printers.
Last week, Ricoh Americas “announced” RA2K Integration, which gave the impression it is a new product originating from a new partnership with Intermate. Obviously, this isn’t the case. In light of Ricoh’s pending acquisition of IBM’s Printing Systems Division, Ricoh Americas apparently decided to reiterate and highlight its relationship with Intermate and the access it gives to high-end mainframe and System i print jobs and the large companies that spend millions of dollars to support their AFP/IPDS environments.
But it wasn’t all yesterday’s news. Ricoh Americas also announced the availability of RA2K Integration for 13 additional printers and multifunction products (MFPs), including Aficio MP C2500/ MP C3000, Aficio MP C3500/MP C4500, Aficio SP 8100N, Aficio SP9100N, Aficio SP C410DN, Aficio SP C411DN, Aficio MP5500/MP6500/MP7500, and the high-speed Ricoh DDP 70e and DDP 92 printers. Previously, RA2K Integration was available for 12 black and white and color MFPs in its Aficio line, and two dedicated printers.
Vincent Hansen, manager of host output solutions for Ricoh Americas, says the relationship with Intermate has been great. All of Ricoh’s printers–from the lowly 16 page per minute (PPM) black and white laser printers all the way up to the fastest 156 PPM production printers–support RA2K Integration now or will shortly. “All of the model groups are already in the queue,” he says.
Ricoh took the extra step to rewrite Intermate’s software and build AFP/IPDS support directly into the big production printers, the DDP 70e and DDP 92. “This solution is embedded. There’s no external software at all on the hard drive or the SD card of the device,” Hansen says.
Eventually, Ricoh’s printers will feature AFP/IPDS support natively, but it will take some time. “Purchasing the Infoprint division will take a while before we’re really integrated on the printing platform and utilizing the native code from that group. [But] I think we will see better integration,” he says.
RA2K Integration is available now. Pricing for the software ranges from about $500 to more than $4,000, depending on the speed and functionality of the printer it’s being used with. For more information, see www.ricoh-usa.com or www.intermate.com.