Persona Management – User Environment Management by Another Name?

They say there’s no such thing as bad weather – just the wrong sort of clothes. Likewise, there shouldn’t be  such a thing as a bad user profile experience – its more likely you’ve the wrong type of profile solution.

Slow logon due to the message ‘Loading Settings’ is a common profile. Another is the problem user settings are “lost”. How and why that happened is typically down to the fact that no one has thought through what the user needs when they’re accessing their applications from their device. Maybe the profile was never saved or loaded properly; maybe the user has broken some application setting and needs to get it back to the way it worked before.  Maybe the application has changed and the setting they saved no longer applies. If profile management is poorly planned, the user experience can be poor and typically worse over time – impacting on productivity by delaying logins, wasting user and clocking up support time.

Garbage in, garbage out.

A number of VDI vendors have introduced their own solutions to profile issues. Citrix and Quest for instance have user profile management functions  – now VMware has acquired RTO Software’s Virtual Profiles: will this acquisition enable View users to deal with profile issues more effectively?

A user’s profile is more than simply application settings held in the registry. A default profile directory contains documents, photos, start menu settings, their temporary files, short-cuts, desktop contents, application settings, default documents, printer settings and favorites to name but a few.

Depending on when and how your devices are configured that profile can be created on each device the user logs on to; it can move between devices as the user logs onto different workstations; or no profile can load at all. Applications aren’t always consistent in where they save settings between application versions: MS Office upgrades for instance can be quite character building. Neither are operating systems – Windows XP has differences to Windows 7. How do you capture those? How do you maintain settings if users switch between operating environments?

Mandatory Profiles

For simple environments it is likely that a Mandatory Profile, or even pre-configured local profile will ensure that the user’s logon experience is fast and consistent. But a Mandatory Profile is just that – mandatory. It is fixed and unchangeable. A Mandatory Profile doesn’t allow you to keep your own settings between you logging off and logging back on.

Roaming Profiles

If you need users to have application settings be persistent between sessions the ability to save and reload those settings means local/mandatory profiles aren’t effective. You may consider Roaming Profiles as an effective option – but, with a profile containing more information than simply application settings you can find that over time, a user’s profile expands in size. Application settings can get large, application data folders can grow. This can cause the user profile  to become large. Tens of MB possibly hundreds. To some extent slow logon times could be mitigated by redirecting profile folders to network stores. While this works for LAN  based users – branch office workers, or users who have a laptop can still experience painfully long logon times. It was not uncommon to have to go to third party solutions to help reduce profile load times be make them more consistent.

Here, RTO’s Virtual Profiles was an excellent solution: its simple and effective filter driver solution helped improve the speed of logon/logoff times with minimal impact on the network infrastructure by essentially streaming the profile. Fast and effective for that situation.

Is Fast Good Enough?

If you’re a View user will the introduction of Virtual Profiles mean that you can simplify and automate the capture and management of an end-user’s personality while providing the richest end-user experience?

If your pain point was profile load time. Yes.

However, if you also want to readily transition user settings between operating systems and application versions (say in migrating to Windows 7, or a new version of Microsoft Office) Virtual Profiles (VP) was not a best fit solution.  Indeed, if you want to manage application or operating system settings between sessions, perhaps to restore settings that were changed accidentally – again, VP wouldn’t be of use. It is likely that your user’s won’t always use the same device  – perhaps they’re working on VDI session, then they come to work on a traditional PC/laptop, perhaps they even launch a Presentation Virutalization application  – your profile solution should be able to maintain their settings regardless of  their device. Again, VP focus was on quick load times, not managing user settings in this instance: Virtual Profiles improved the performance of Microsoft’s default Roaming Profile rather than introduce better management of settings within that profile that may change with the users workspace environment.

To manage a user’s environment in this instance third party solutions give far greater control. AppSense‘s Environment Manager, LiquidWare Labs’ ProfileUnity Pro, RES‘ PowerFuse, Tricerat’s SimplyProfiles – all help administrators manage and maintain user profiles so that users logon times are not only fast, but that the application experience is consistent, is recoverable and are deliverable regardless of which environment they may be switching between – be they workspaces delivered as part of Presentation Virtualisation service, a Virtualised Desktop or a  traditional PC/laptop.

Don’t Split Personalities.

Citrix and Quest’s introduced profile management tools into their VDI offerings to not only reduce logon times, but to prevent users who switched between environments from losing settings. Virtual Profiles’ Persona Management will reduce logon times – this feature may be even more useful should VMware release an off-line solution – but it’s focus was just that – reducing logon times.

Obviously, third party solutions have an additional license cost. In some instances, there is additional infrastructure required: for example, both AppSense and RES require that profiles are no longer stored in the ‘standard’ Microsoft file store – both migrate settings to a centralised database to give complete management features.

However, what the third party tools provide is a profile management solution that allows your user’s workspace settings, their persona, to be managed and maintained before, during and after a VDI implementation.  Having a reliable profile solution in place before rolling out a new environment means you’ve a better control of the environment to make the whole transition, and future transitions, less painful.

VMWare View users can undoubtedly look forward to faster logon times, but is that the only thing they need?

If your organization’s desktop environment is typically one physical desktop