About 18 months ago fellow Citrix Technology Professional Pierre Marmignon realized that there was a gap in the market for a simple robust user environment management solution that could remove the continual nightmare of managing complex Windows logon scripts and user environment settings in virtual desktop environments. Skip forward to today and Pierre has just announced the release of VirtuAll User Environment Manager (VUEM), and it is excellent.
It’s clear looking at VUEM that Pierre understands the requirements of both small and large enterprise organizations. Everything about VUEM is direct, to the point, a tool designed for and by system administrators who know what they want to do and just need a tool to help them do it. VUEM is simple to install and configure, you can be up and working with it literally in a few minutes and can deploy it into production in a couple of days. Yet at the same time is highly scalable and includes features that are essential for the needs of administrators of large enterprise environments. VUEM has been validated on environments containing up to 10,000 users, and there’s no reason to think that it could not scale past that in the right hands.
Key to the operation of VUEM is the concept of Sites, Actions, Filters and Users.
Sites are the basic management domain for VEUM, each site can has its own set of independently configured Actions. Actions are separate elements used to configure each user’s desktop within each Site, and Actions are assigned to individual users, or user groups (NT 4 and Active Directly domains are currently supported) by processing them through a series of filters.
In this initial release, VUEM is able to manage 12 types of Actions :
- Applications: Applications Shortcuts and/or applications to Autostart
- Printers: Network Printers to map
- Network Drives: Network Drives to map
- Virtual Drives: Equivalent to the subst.exe command
- Registry Entries: Registry values to create / set
- Environment variables: Environment Variables to create / set
- Ports: LPT or COM Ports to map
- Ini Files: For creating Ini Files / Writing entries in Ini Files
- External Tasks: For any external Task (Script Launching …)
- Folders and Files: Folder / Files copy operations
- User DSN: User DSN Creation. Only SQL Server DSN’s are supported in this release
- File Associations: File Association creation / edition
Actions are assigned to individual users, or user groups (NT 4 and Active Directly domains are currently supported) by processing them through a series of filters. Filters can be combined using logical operators to create complex AND/ALL statements using any of the following criteria.
- ComputerName: Test the computername against a specific wildcard
- ClientName (SBC): Test the clientname against a specific wildcard him and
- IP Address: Test the IP Address against a specific wildcard
- Client IP Address (SBC): Test the Client IP Address against a specific wildcard
- Active Directory Site: Test the Active Directory Site Name
- Scheduling: Test a specific (or several) Day(s) of the Week
- Environment Variable: Test a specific Environment Variable Value
- Registry Value: Test a specific registry value
- WMI Query Result: Test if a specific custom WMI Query has a result
- User Country: Test a specific user country two letters ISO Code (test is against the one set in regional settings)
- User UI Language: Test a specific user UI language two letters ISO Code
- User SBC Resource Type: Test for a specific user if the Used SBC Resource is a Desktop or a Published Application
- OS Platform Type: Test against the bitness (per i.e., 32 or 64-bit) of user’s operating system
- Connection State: Test against agent’s connection state (online / offline)
- XenApp Version: Test against XenApp Version
- Xenapp Farm Name: Test against Xenapp Farm Name
- XenApp Zone Name: Test against Xenapp Zone Name
- XenDesktop Farm Name: Test against XenDesktop Farm Name
- XenDesktop Desktop Group: Test against XenDesktop Desktop Group Name
- Provisioning Services Image Type: Test against Provisioning Services Image Type
Clearly with the emphasis on XenApp, XenDesktop and Provisioning Services, VUEM was designed to meet the needs of administrators supporting desktop environments (VDI and Published Desktops on Remote Desktop Services servers) but it will work just as well on physical desktops. The inclusion of the Script launching Action and the support of WMI Query Result as a filter type adds immense power and flexibility to VUEM provided you understand WMI that’s it. Together these two features propel VUEM from being a strong me too content are into a very rich environment manager, is likely to meet the needs of almost every IT organization.
VUEM also provides four System Utilities that enhance both virtual and physical desktop user experience.
- Fast Logoff (only for virtual desktops)
- CPU Management
- Memory Management
- Processes Management
Fast Logoff disconnects users sessions as soon as a Logoff event is received giving the user the benefits of a more responsive environment, whilst allowing logoff processing to continue on the disk connected session. CPU Management provides simple CPU utilization monitoring and control, lowering process priority whenever an individual processes CPU utilization exceeds a defined percentage for a period of time. Memory Management can reduce memory consumption of idle processes after a defined period of time has elapsed, and Processes Management can blacklist named processes to prevent them from running. With the exception of Fast Logoff, these system utilities are best considered as entry-level tools, capable of providing core functionality for users with less demanding requirements.
As powerful as it is, VUEM is wonderfully straightforward to work with, well within the capabilities of even the most inexperienced IT professional. The hardest part of working with VUEM is the initial setup which requires a passing understanding of SQL Server, after that it’s all plain sailing. After creating the VUEM database it is a simple matter of connecting the admin console to the database and you are up and running. The admin console will be immediately familiar to anyone who has ever worked with a Windows configuration management tool with a “Nav Tree” view on the left side of the console with contextual configuration settings displayed on the right.
Given the richness of VUEM, there is always a risk of losing track of exactly what actions might be applied to an individual user based on filter settings, to overcome this concern VUEM provides an Administration Console Modeling Wizard and Resultant Actions Viewer. enterprise Admins will also appreciate the comprehensive control the VUEM offers over its configuration and logging services. Even though VUEM is a fully featured application, it offers good value for money. VUEM is offered in two versions the free Community License version and the paid Subscriber License version. Both products are functionally identical, the only difference being that support is offered with the Subscriber License version. Given that the annual support and maintenance package costs as little as $9 per user.
In summary, VUEM is an excellent introductory offering that is capable of meeting the user environment management needs of many organizations. Its ability to run custom scripts and leverage WMI to create filter rules makes it an extremely powerful tool that can support quite sophisticated administration requirements, however it would benefit from one or two additional actions and filters to allow less experienced administrators the option of avoiding having to grasp the complexity of both of these features. Its largest shortfall at present is the Citrix-centric nature of many of the filters. Given the diversity of desktop virtualization solutions currently available it would benefit from being able to offer support for configuration settings beyond those that are unique to Citrix’s solutions. The one possible drawback of VUEM is that some potential users may be concerned that in-depth support might not be easily obtained given the level of resources currently available. This is certainly understandable however given the relatively low cost of the solution, it may be a risk that’s many organizations would be advised to take.