Liquidware Labs ProfileUnity v5.2: does it out sense AppSense or haze Mirage?

Liquidware Labs has released an update to their user environment management product, setting ProfileUnity v5.2 out into the wild. ProfileUnity FlexApp is capable of presenting organisations with a comprehensive user environment management solution encompassing both user virtualization and a virtualized software distribution system. An impressive customer and partner engagement programme has resulted in a growing number of customers who can relate to its straightforward deployment, low acquisition cost, and its ability to manage both user profiles and data and application delivery on demand, in virtualized and physical desktop environments.

We have mentioned before that a commonality between users is their desire to be different. While embracing diversity is a Good Thing, it can be a complex and expensive process in a VDI environment using persistent virtual machines alone. A number of  vendors provide tools to decouple components of user workspaces, to provide for personalisation within a standard environment. This provides cost savings by allowing core standardisation, while reducing the need for the user to change their working practices and allowing them to be as productive as possible. Moreover, few organisations find that a VDI-only solution deals with all of their user use cases – laptops and PCs are still not dead as devices. How do you manage environments across both virtual and physical desktops?

There are more established players in this market. AppSense. RES Software. Indeed VDI vendors are introducing their own solutions. Citrix has incorporated its own Profile Management, Personal vDisks, and has recreated XenClient with their NxTop acquisition. VMware is planning to utilise its Wanova Mirage acquisition to enable IT to centralize PC images of virtual and physical machines and do single image management while users execute locally.

What new features are included Liquidware Labs’ ProfileUnity 5.2, how does it compare against other offerings and differences can it make to your organisation?

What Are the New Features in LiquidWare Labs ProfileUnity 5.2?

There are a number of new key features:

  • User Rights Elevation Management When Liquidware enhanced ProfileUnity with FlexApp, we asked  User Installed Apps – What’s in a name?. For all the FlexApp UIA component was a useful feature, its reliance on admin rights could be a limiting factor for organisations. User Rights Elevation Management for FlexApp adds an important layer of security for UIA by removing the requirement for users to be local administrators to install applications. What is more, the management interface has been enhanced to allow administrators to limit the type of UIA downloads and further restrict them by department, organizational unit (OU), user, or other context-aware filter criteria (such as only allowing signed apps).
  • Full Machine and Desktop Management Building on this elevated privilege functionality, ProfileUnity is now able to perform full machine and desktop management functions. In  previous versions, ProfileUnity was limited to the context of user settings management. ProfileUnity admins can now natively accomplish things like: Disable wallpaper, disable USB or block the self mapping of drives.
  • Data Migration Reporting ProfileUnity has a key ability to migrate user-authored data in the background of a desktop session before cutting over to administrator-selected folders for redirection to the network on any enterprise Windows desktop.  This is a very useful feature when migrating any staged environment, be it a large environment migrating by department or a branch office environment. Data Migration Reporting centralizes the status of all users’ migrations of their user authored data into reports that can be viewed or exported from ProfileUnity FlexApp’s central management console.  It is now possible to quickly verify which users and devices across the enterprise have completed the migration of mission-critical user-authored data.

How does ProfileUnity stand?

There are a number of vendors in this user environment management space – AppSense, RES Software, Norskale, Scense are names that spring to mind. However, of these only AppSense has a user installed application component, StrataApps. In terms of market space, Liquidware appears to be most successful in helping pure Microsoft desktop/VDI solutions or those environments that have added VMware’s View.

How does ProfileUnity compare to AppSense’s user virtualisation solution? AppSense has a more complex architecture to deliver the full feature set of the services of Application Manager, Environment Manager and Performance Manager. StrataApps is an impressive user installed apps solution and can be used in both a physical and virtual environment, but is yet to be licensed and supported in a way that larger enterprises may be comfortable with. That said, AppSense can call on a wide customer market base, experienced partner network, and services that fit across both physical and virtual desktops. While more expensive in terms of licensing, AppSense has features to allow a range of user self-service functions and has a number of sizeable large scale implementations. Yes, Liquidware Labs’ UIA is only supported in a VM environment at present, and perhaps they have a smaller parter network, yet there is a significant license cost difference and a simpler architecture that may well better suit the SME market.

For those looking to VMware’s Mirage as a desktop/VDI management solution, Mirage is an able solution for managing a windows environment. It isn’t a user profile management solution; Mirage is not a tool to provision unique profile values and configure user settings. While this can be done in Active Directory (AD),  that is not always possible to do in some managed environments where AD is handled by the desktop team, and AD is not always good at supporting context aware settings (i.e. applying settings based on session type, or OS type). Perhaps most importantly, while Mirage can be used to facilitate a migration from Windows XP to Windows 7, it isn’t possible to dynamically manage profiles between environments or to drip-feed migration of profiles as it is with ProfileUnity. Yes, once a Mirage environment has been configured, users can have snap-shotted components added to their base environment, but this requires admin intervention.

Why not Citrix? Citrix has a profile management solution, a personal application configuration solution, and a PC management solution when XenClient is deployed. Where ProfileUnity can add value is in the new profile management reporting facility. If UIA could be utilised without a major change to the client-side OS that would be an interesting feature.

Sometimes you have to Applaud

Sometimes, the English language, as rich as it is, needs new words. I’d like a word for that feeling when you’re supporting the home team, and the opposition scores a technically brilliant goal/point/base/puck/home run and you find yourself applauding. Why? Because you’re a fan of the game most of all, and you appreciate the technical effort and delivery. You’re not “happy” about the situation, but you can see the effort and appreciate the delivery. Maybe there is a word already for that; I’d be happy to hear if that is so.

Liquidware Labs is on a journey, and a focused one at that. It has astutely worked around “user virtualisation”, which is an all too encompassing term. They have focused on where VDI doesn’t work or is flawed; not in synchronisation per-se, but in personalisation. And they do it for an even louder applauding small license fee.

This is a solution for hosted desktops – if you’ve a XenDesktop implementation you’ve already personal vdisks. If you’ve a terminal service/RDSH session – not a solution for you. I did look at integration with NxTop, but the XenClient roadmap encompasses personal vDisks. Mind, if I had Vmware View, if I had Dell’s vWorkspace VDI, this would be a very interesting. Desktone? The same. Given the technology, Mokafive might want in. I move to Windows 7 or 8 in the right configuration and again neat.

So why the forced smile applauding? There are still components to do. UIA support for physical desktops, for instance, is not quite there yet. The logical extension of user installed applications to departmental application installs is but a short way off. Full user and machine configuration is good, but Active Directory template importing is key to helping to speed the migrations and implementation process.

And yet for many customers and partners, there should be more than a forced smile. All this functionality for less than $25 per user for a perpetual license? Given Liquidware Labs’ ever present engagement and key price point, it’s going to be difficult for VARS and customers to ignore Liquidware Labs ProfileUnity. What is more, some of the features I highlight as “should be here” are already being beta tested for a v5.5 release – and sneak previews are available.

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