Analysis

One of the issues that has plagued Citrix Presentation Server/XenApp over the years is that it has been difficult to get all of the benefits of centralization with XenApp, while also giving users the same flexibility to customize their environments that they had when they had fat client desktops. XenApp worked best with a mandatory user profile that did not allow any end user customizations. Allowing roaming profiles (with user customizations allowed) resulted in long logon times and frequent corruption of profiles – requiring a manual reset to a mandatory profile and the loss of all customizations.

Over the course of the last few years, the issue of profile management has expanded in scope and definition. Instead of just being a “Citrix problem” it is now also a problem for people who roam from laptops to several always connected desktops and who expect their customizations to follow them. One tough case is the user who makes a customization on his laptop while on an airplane, and then logs on next on a connected workstation and makes a conflicting customization, and then logs on with the laptop again. Addressing issues like this is why Symantec has recently licensed the RTO Software Virtual Profiles product and is now marketing it as Symantec Workspace Profiles to its customer base of enterprises with fat client desktops.  As VDI has started to take hold, it has become apparent that VDI implementations suffer from the exact issues that have always plagued XenApp – users want to customize their hosted virtual desktops, but if they do they get slow logon times and profile corruption. This problem has also expanded beyond just the management of the profiles themselves, into what AppSense calls “User Environment Management, i.e., the separation of all of the data that characterizes the uniqueness of the user and the users’ applications from the underlying operating system and the applications themselves.

First generation profile management solutions focused upon providing per application scripts that ensured the profile processing occurred correctly at the end of the logon and logoff process. Both RTO Software and AppSense have taken much more sophisticated approaches to this problem. RTO inserts a driver into the users’ OS that caches, streams, manages, and ensures the integrity of the users profile data. The elegance of the RTO solution is that it fully respects the role of the AD server as the focal point of profile administration, and simply inserts a layer into the existing Windows profile management system in the client OS that streams profile data to users as needed (ensuring fast logon times), and caches it locally and on the AD Server (eliminating profile corruption and enabling conflict resolution). Due to how the RTO solution works, it is most appropriate for organizations that have invested heavily in Active Directory, and who need their profile management solution to scale to large numbers of users (10’s and even 100’s of thousands of users) with no degradation in performance and no required additional investment in infrastructure.

AppSense has taken a different, more comprehensive and potentially more disruptive approach. AppSense takes the AD Server out of the picture as the data store for the profile and breaks the profile up into its user, application, and OS components and stores these in an SQL Server database (front-ended by a set of web servers that grow as the user population grows). This allows AppSense to manage each of these layers of user uniqueness separately – enabling for example the migration of a user’s applications settings from Windows XP to Windows Vista if the user changes operating systems. This is an especially approprite solution for organizations that have not invested heavily in active directory, and than can easily embrace an alternative data store for their user profile data.

The increasing market scope of this problem (XenApp, fat client desktops, and VDI), and the increasing technical scope of the problem (profiles, group policies, unique user settings, unique user customizations in applications, and unique user settings in the OS), have lead both AppSense and RTO to invest heavily in a layer of solutions that are focused upon managing the personalization of the environment while not breaking and reducing the value of centralized management.

RTO Software has recently made available the beta of Version 2.0 of its Virtual Profiles product. The feature set in this new release is listed below. RTO is  raising the bar in terms of reduced logon times and management of the profile streaming and caching process. This beta solidifies RTO as one of the two vendors (AppSense being the other) that are the clear leaders in this market space. Customers looking to address user personalization issues in Citrix, fat client desktop, or VDI situations should evaluate both the RTO and the AppSense solutions to determine which is a better fit for their needs.

The Announcement

RTO Software is pleased to announce that the RTO Virtual Profiles™ Version 2.0 Beta release is now available. Among the new features & enhancements, this latest version offers a new streamlined and enhanced user interface, advanced mobile user device support, and even faster user logons. Check out what is new for RTO Virtual Profiles™!

Even Faster Logons
By delivering data-on-demand, RTO Virtual Profiles™ has already drastically reduced user login times by 60-98% and reduced the network bandwidth traffic associated with logons. With new optimization enhancements, Virtual Profiles now provides even faster user logons. Current Virtual Profiles users will see a further reduction in their logon times.

Extended User Profile Data Protection with Dropped Connections
RTO Virtual Profiles™ Version 2.0 includes enhanced connectivity awareness. If a user’s network connection is dropped, Virtual Profiles automatically saves any modified user profile data locally. When the connection is restored, Virtual Profiles resynchronizes the user profile data with the central profile store extending profile corruption protection and keeping users productive. Upgrade to Virtual Profiles 2.0 now, and corrupted profiles from unexpected dropped network connections will be a thing of the past!

Offline File Accessibility for Mobile Device Users
Virtual Profiles provides mobile users with accessibility to their files anytime, anywhere. Virtual Profiles provides users with access to their files whether they are connected to the network at the office or disconnected from the network while traveling or working at home. Users can easily access the latest copy of their files while they are working offline on mobile devices such as a laptop or notebook computer. The next time they reconnect to the network, Virtual Profiles resynchronizes any local copy changes with the network so users are always assured that they are working with the most recent copy of their work. Offline file access is also beneficial when network connections are available but very slow. In this case, users are more productive working offline and then resynchronizing their work when higher speed network connections are available.

Intelligent Resynchronization & Data Recovery
Version 2.0 provides greater support to mobile users with laptops or other occasionally-connected devices with intelligent resynchronization technology. This technology lets Virtual Profiles do all the work of making sure that modified local files are automatically copied back to the central profile store once the user is reconnected. Virtual Profiles also provides conflict resolution should newer files exist in the central profile store. Additionally, this intelligent resynchronization feature becomes a great data recovery tool when users experience unexpected dropped network connections.

Advanced Configuration Options & Support Features

Group Policy Optimization (GPO) Set Path Support for Windows XP
A Virtual Profiles Exclusive! Using the Set path Group Policy is a popular way to implement folder redirection. However, the Set path Group Policy is not natively supported by Microsoft in Windows XP as it is in Windows Server 2003. RTO Virtual Profiles™ now provides this support to Windows XP users.

LAN/WAN Speed Configuration
Customize new configuration options for Virtual Profiles where known slow network connections exist in order to optimize the user’s experience. The minimum connection speed for uploading profile updates is configurable to allow dynamic updates to the central profile store in keeping with available network bandwidth.

Local Settings Folder Changes Persist
Another Virtual Profiles exclusive! By default, the Windows Local Settings folder does not roam with a user’s profile. With Virtual Profiles 2.0, you now have the option to propagate the Local Settings across sessions within the local profile. This means that changes to configuration settings for applications like Firefox or Office 2007 now persist.

Enhanced Profile Corruption Protection Beyond UPHCLEAN
If you use Citrix® or Microsoft® Terminal Services, then you have probably heard of UPHCLEAN. It is a great utility that helps reduce the chances of a user’s profile being corrupted at logoff. Unfortunately, UPHCLEAN doesn’t handle all possible scenarios that could cause profile corruption. That’s why we enhanced Virtual Profiles to provide enhanced protection during logoff. Corrupted profiles can be a thing of the past with Virtual Profiles 2.0!

We invite you to try RTO Virtual Profiles™ Version 2.0 and find out why it is the best solution for managing user profiles in terminal server and VDI environments. RTO Virtual Profiles™:

  • Enables VDI users to maintain the same level of individual customization that they currently enjoy on their physical desktops today
  • Allows for unlimited scalability whether you have 20 users or more than 2000 users
  • Doesn’t require a shift in profile paradigms
  • Doesn’t require any additional data storage for your profiles
  • Eliminates the need to manage logon or logoff scripts

Virtual Profiles truly reduces IT infrastructure and desktop management costs while providing a superior user experience.

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Bernd Harzog (332 Posts)

Bernd Harzog is the Analyst at The Virtualization Practice for Performance and Capacity Management and IT as a Service (Private Cloud).

Bernd is also the CEO and founder of APM Experts a company that provides strategic marketing services to vendors in the virtualization performance management, and application performance management markets.

Prior to these two companies, Bernd was the CEO of RTO Software, the VP Products at Netuitive, a General Manager at Xcellenet, and Research Director for Systems Software at Gartner Group. Bernd has an MBA in Marketing from the University of Chicago.

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