Roaming Profiles Evolve Into User Experience Virtualization
Over the past fifteen years there have been relatively few changes in user experiences on desktops at most large organizations that standardized on the Windows platform. Even as organizations deployed complex remote desktop (nee Terminal Services) and virtual desktop infrastructures, many staff were still tied to a desktop metaphor where their data, configuration settings and applications were all bundled into one area.
A corrupt operating system, therefore, meant data loss, despite the fact that the data itself might reside on a partition that was perfectly fine. Incorrect configuration settings could cause you to not *access* the data, which from an end user’s perspective, was almost as traumatic as data loss itself. Worse, corrupt applications would mean that although data was visible and accessible, it still could not be opened or modified.
Over the past ten years, there has been a concerted effort by Microsoft and other partners to solve this problem by detangling key user “settings” from true “data” and even separating applications from the operating system itself. On the application front, Microsoft has released a new version of App-V last week which New Signature is already experimenting with and will cover in a future post. On the user data + settings front, though, New Signature often encounters organizations that have not adopted Microsoft’s best practice of setting up roaming profiles + folder redirection to ease adoption.
With roaming profiles + folder redirection, user data is cordoned off onto a network share that is backed up and centrally maintained. User settings are also saved on a network file share, but copied down to machines (and back up again) at logoff and logon. Improvements made with Windows 7 allow even more advanced shops to synchronize user settings at regular intervals throughout the day. The end result is very compelling: a staff member could work on a document, close the application, and then drop the laptop on the ground, breaking it. They could then pick up a new laptop, log in, and immediately have access to their files and settings.
Unfortunately, not all applications roam seamlessly, and for this reason, many administrators have been frustrated in the past with deploying roaming profiles. If an application is poorly coded, it could store large amounts of data in the roaming profile share, slowing down logon times dramatically, or worse, simply refuse to load up at all in such an environment.
With the latest beta release of the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack, Microsoft has unveiled the next generation of roaming profiles, a technology they call “User Experience Virtualization”. Much like application virtualization, and folder redirection, User Experience Virtualization (or UE-V, as they call it), is designed to greatly improve the roaming profile experience in multiple use scenarios.
UE-V is designed to provide several key advantages to user setting synchronization in enterprise environments. New Signature has already tested UE-V in our development environment and noted the following advantages:
1. User settings on the operating system can be updated at key events such as login, unlocking the desktop and remotely connecting. This is key in VDI, RDS and even regular desktop environments.
2. User settings for specific applications can be updated at key events when applications are opened and closed.
3. By splitting up application settings for OS settings, logon times can be greatly reduced because application settings are not streamed until use, meaning that a misconfigured application can no longer prevent the OS from loading up properly or impacting other applications.
4. When used in conjunction with application virtualization (App-V), settings can still be streamed to a single file share and shared between app-v applications.
5. Utilizing the UE-V generator, administrators can target single applications rather than the entire roaming profile for greater granularity and control.
6. By standardizing where application + OS settings are stored, settings can be rolled back to a working state with a simple touch, rather than the dreaded “we’ll need to rebuild your profile” moment many help desk staff members dread telling individuals.
7. UE-V integrates natively into System Center Configuration Manager and even has a full complement of Windows PowerShell commands to control and configure the agents.
That’s right, there’s an agent! Using an agent based system allows operating systems of multiple stripes, from Windows 7, to Windows Server 2008R2 even to Windows 8 CTP to utilize UE-V. This enables the greatest feature of UE-V: true parity across different environments and operating systems for applications and settings.
If a staff member has a Windows 8 slate with them, and uses that for work, then transitions in their regular office to a regular desktop, then into a Remote Desktop Server or VDI from a branch office, all three interfaces will look exactly the same. There won’t be any calls to the helpdesk about why “Outlook looks different” when roaming, or why “My toolbar is missing!” when using a travel laptop.
It may have taken some time, but UE-V will provide customers with true portability of applications across the board. New Signature will continue testing the beta bits and when the product is released, will be recommending all of our clients move to a fully virtualized user data + settings infrastructure.