User Virtualization represents a shift from traditional approaches to managing the user environment. Typical strategies rely on local, mandatory or roaming Windows profiles. Each of these approaches presents their own unique challenges:
A local profile is created at the initial user logon and stored on the physical hard drive of the computer. These profiles contain all of the user-specific files and registry items for each user that has logged on to the computer. Over time, these profiles can become bloated and unstable. They do not follow the user from device to device, thus resulting in many disconnected and inconsistent user personalities distributed across the organization. When application-specific issues or errors arise, the typical IT trouble-shooting approach is to log in as a different user and attempt to launch the app. If it works as expected, the conclusion is simple: something has gone wrong in the user profile. But in these cases, it is very difficult to isolate just what has gone wrong. Applications write to many different locations in the file system and registry, and for IT support staff, it is inefficient to dig through the user profile hunting for a potential registry item or file that may have caused the error. The approach? Delete the local profile and have the user log back in, thus re-creating their user profile and setting everything back to default settings. While this will often resolve the app-specific error, it causes incredible disruption to the end user, who must now spend days or even weeks slowly rebuilding their user environment in order to get it back to their preferred state.
Roaming profiles are essentially the same as local profiles: a collection of files and registry items that make up the user environment. However, the difference between a local profile and a roaming profile is that the roaming profile is stored on the network and copied down to the computer at logon, then copied back up to the network at logoff. This ensures that the user personality follows a user around and resolves the issue of multiple inconsistent user environments. But roaming profiles introduce new challenges as well. They are just as subject to bloat and corruption as a local profile, but the bloat now has a material impact on the user experience. As the profile grows, it increases the amount of time necessary to copy the profile from the network to the local computer at logon. Thus, roaming profiles are notorious for creating unacceptably long login times. As well, this approach does not resolve the problem of application-specific issues tied to the user profile. If a single app breaks and it can be attributed to the user profile, then chances are that roaming profile will be deleted and the user will be in the same situation of having to rebuild their world from scratch.
A mandatory user profile is one that is created at user logon, then deleted at logoff. Unless some kind of profile-management tool or script is used, end users will be reverted back to the default settings each time they log off and back on. Mandatory profiles are not subject to bloat or corruption and are much more stable than local or roaming profiles. However, they allow no user personalization to persist between logon sessions, and in many environments, this is not acceptable.
The Solution: User Virtualization
In an enterprise environment, the user profile contains not only the personality of each user, but also the user-based configuration items and policies that IT administrators wish to enforce. By decoupling the user profile from the PC and centrally managing both the policies and the personalization elements, user virtualization solutions effectively resolve the challenges and issues presented by the various Windows profiles. The typical requirements for a user virtualization solution are as follows:
- Policy and Personalization Management
- Automated Profile Management
- Personality Migration
- Profile rollback
- Offline mode
- Improve user login times
- Increase business agility
- Automation of typical desktop tasks (drive and printer mapping, etc)
- Enforcement of standard desktop configuration and security policies
- Reduce support and management costs
- Eliminate roaming profile corruption and bloat
- Compatible with application virtualization technologies
- Compatible with Citrix and Microsoft RDS
- Migrate user personality between OS versions
- Ability to manage Windows Group Policy