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In the Spotlight: RES Software and User Workspace Virtualization

Last time, I blogged about the different layers of abstraction and how we live in the age of abstraction. Now, I want to focus your attention on one of those abstraction layers: user virtualization. (No, not literally; you are not going to get off that easily by virtualizing your users) It's also known as user workspace virtualization.

Some of you are already nodding, yep, a fancy name for profile management or a roaming profile look-a-like. The truth is, user workspace virtualization is advanced and true profile management, whereas roaming profiles, mandatory profiles; GPOs, etc., are very limited in what they offer.

Let's begin by saying that with traditional roaming profiles, you are limited in terms of what is captured to everything in the user's specific folder. More specifically: It's whatever is modified in the registry key Hkey Current User (HKCU) or other application-specific settings that are saved in the user's profile directory.

Roaming profiles are also cumbersome and difficult to manage. If you've ever used roaming profiles, you inevitably hate them. They slow logons and logoffs, and all the changes the user makes are committed once the user logs off. This can cause issues, because if a copy process times out, the network fails or for whatever reason you don't get a clean logoff, you also get profile inconsistencies, corruptions and all sorts of headaches.

Roaming profiles are also limited to the same operating system, which means if you migrate from XP to 7 or 8 or 9, you have to re-create the profile and reconfigure application settings, etc. This process is long, cumbersome and expensive and you have to do it every time you change OSes. What if there was a way to alleviate that?

Let's circle back to user workspace virtualization, which allows you to deliver a consistent user experience across different types of endpoints and across different flavors of Windows. UWV captures more than just the HKCU and the user profile directory. It captures application- and user-specific data that can be applied across operating systems. A perfect example is if you are migrating from XP to Windows 7 you can use a UWV tool to streamline that process.

Where else is this a good fit, you might ask? Of course, no Eli blog would be complete without mentioning desktop virtualization. If you have embarked on a desktop virtualization project or if you are about to, make sure you have a user workspace virtualization strategy properly crafted. Whether you use a persistent or non-persistent image, the technology is needed. However, it definitely flourishes' when combined with a non-persistent, read-only-image because it delivers to the user the same user experience consistently and it completely eliminates profile corruption, slow logons and logoffs. It does this by copying files to a network share immediately; it does not wait for logoff to initiate a copy of the changes as is the case with traditional roaming profiles.

One other differentiator with roaming profiles: You copy over your files every time. That is, every time you log in, that NTUSER.DAT file is copied down to replace what is there or it creates a new local profile. On the other hand, UWV simply copies the necessary settings, not everything in the profile directory.

Why is RES Software in the spotlight? Well for starters, it has an awesome UWV solution. RES also has a technology called "Reverse Seamless." What this allows you to do is to serve up locally installed applications into your VDI or Terminal Server session. This is really cool: Picture an environment where you want to roll out VDI for instance, but you want to do it slowly. Maybe you have certain applications that are installed on desktops for special users and you want to be able to make these applications available to your VDI or Terminal Server sessions. You most definitely can use reverse seamless. Think of it as "XP Mode."

If you have not looked into UWV, now is a great time to do so. Whether you are planning a desktop virtualization rollout now or later, abstracting the user workspace from the operating system and the applications is definitely the correct step in the right direction. Later, if you decide on desktop virtualization, a big chunk of that project would have been already figured out. If you decide never to adopt DV, then you have streamlined and enhanced user profile management and made the next OS upgrade so much easier while providing interoperability between OSes.

Posted by Elias Khnaser on 04/28/2011 at 12:49 PM


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