User Virtualization in the Post PC-era?

Today I ran into an article which had an interesting quote;

 Persona Management isn’t mature enough yet, and VMware knows it, Dunkin’s Brennan said. The company probably added it just to “check the box”, but he speculated that VMware would get profile management up to speed by making an acquisition

We can have a discussion about the the first part in another article but especially the acquisition part caught my attention.

So, will VMware acquire another company to speed up its profile management? I think that is an interesting question. A different question but related to the first 1 could be; how important will User Virtualization be in, let’s say, 5 years? Yet another question; will you still need User Virtualization in 5 years?

First, let’s take 1 step back for a minute; Once upon a time, there were Windows PC’s and in Windows NT the profiling scheme was introduced. Then there were roaming profiles, mandatory profiles, default user profiles and Group Policies; all mechanisms to control the user, control and save their settings like printers/wallpaper, their permissions to shares and folders, what they are or aren’t allowed to do like accessing Control Panel. Also, store profiles centrally and users will have the same look and feel from any Windows PC. Separate the user from the Operating System.

Third party vendors like RTO, Appsense, RES and LiquidWare got into this space as well to fill gaps and add new features, moving on where standard Microsoft profiles and GPO’s stopped.

But, all the tools have 1 thing in common; Windows. That’s not a bad thing but it isn’t the only platform anymore to run applications. IOS/Android phones/tablets and Macs are out there in the enterprise, even privately owned ones. The world is changing and I believe it is the Post PC-era already.

Management will change. It has to change. Applications and data will be delivered to different devices in different ways; you access ThinApp apps via VMware View from your private Android Tab 1 moment. Next, you access a SaaS app on your corporate iPhone.

Instead of managing most things on a Windows level/device level, you have to take that management up a couple of levels. To me, that’s the user level. It will become more important who is allowed to access which application/data from what device and place. The underlying Operating System and device will become less important. Horizon App Manager will be that Universal Broker where you set those user based rules.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe Windows will be around for a long time as a platform to execute specific applications. But will that platform be considered to be big enough for VMware to invest in a Windows profile management tool? Again, interesting questions.

Cloud based data solutions- Are they forgetting about VDI? Part 2

A little while ago I wrote an article about Cloud Data Solutions like Dropbox, Box.net, Mozy Stash and Project Octopus and that these products can’t be installed in a Floating Pool VDI environment today. The Dropbox client gets installed in a user’s profile so you can’t install it in your master/parents/golden image VM and deploy it to your users. Other products save their config information (server, account name/email address and password) in HKLM in stead of something which is roaming like User\AppData\Roaming. That means all users would have to fill in their credentials every time they logon to a new VM. That’s not the way you want it to be, right?

But, is this the only issue when you look at Cloud Data solutions and roaming desktop users? Let’s brainstorm some more. Let’s assume this client issue can be fixed. Fixing where it saves the credential information shouldn’t be too hard to fix, right?!

So, let’s set the baseline here; we have a VMware View environment (the issues probably apply to other solutions as well), Floating pools, refresh after first use, roaming profile/Persona Management and Folder Redirection, and a Cloud data agent which is working just fine in a floating environment.

What happens when a user logs on for the first time? First thing that needs to be done is to configure the agent. Fill in a username, password and the URL of the Data server/provider. Dropbox, Mozy and other will place their own folder under user\data folder so you are ready to go. Add data to that folder and it will be synced to the “Cloud” (and this Cloud can be on or off premise).

Second time a users logs on, there is no need to fill in the credentials anymore. That was fixed. Yay! The folder under user\data folder is there as well. It’s being roamed by Roaming Profiles/Persona Management and so is your data. Maybe you will have to wait a bit till everything is in sync.

Data is part of your profile (in this example). Is that what we want? Not really. First of all, you will get a huge profile with all that data. When you are using Roaming Profiles you might experience slow logon and logoff times. This is much better with Persona Management though. Secondly, and more important, aren’t you saving data twice now? One time in the Cloud and 1 time in your profile. Your company probably paid an amount of money to get that “Cloud based data storage environment”, like Dropbox/Box.net/Mozy Stash. In this case they also have to invest more money in disks for their file servers because Roaming Profiles are exploding in size and they are saved on central file servers. Folder redirection to speed up logon time when you use Roaming Profiles won’t change a thing. You still need to have central storage to redirect to.

So, this way, data will become expensive. How to solve these issues? Well, the easiest way is not to use an (offline) client. You won’t have the client issues inside a floating desktop and you won’t have to save data twice. Everything you do regarding your data is via your browser. Create a document and upload it directly to the Cloud. Realistically, this can be done but it’s difficult, especially when you edit documents a lot; downloading, edit, uploading again.

Maybe the offline clients can redirect data in a smart way; the folder does show content but it all is located in the Cloud. When you double click a file, then it will be downloaded to your machine, to a temp cache folder. Same happens to other way around. When you drag and drop a file from your VM into the data folder, it will sync to the Cloud and deleted from your VM.

I’m not a developer so I’m not sure if this is possible. What I do know is that Cloud based data solutions and VDI still need some work and thinking. I’m positive though. It will be great.

VMware View4-Persona Management; Basics

In September 2009, VMware announced it signed an OEM agreement with RTOsoft to integrate RTO Virtual Profiles with VMware View. A couple of months later, VMware announced it acquired certain assets from RTOsoft and Virtual Profiles was 1 of them.

To me, this made sense;

-With server/desktop virtualization, you get rid of the dependency between the physical hardware and Operating System,

-Virtual Profiles allow you to remove the dependency between user settings/data and the OS,

-With ThinApp, you will break the dependency between applications and OS.

This way you break apart each component. Now you will be able to manage them separately. All components are isolated/encapsulated and won’t disrupt each other anymore. Now you will be able to move from a 1. device centric (apps, data, profile and OS are bound to the device) approach to a 2. user centric approach; See below..

According to me, this is the right way. The device isn’t important, the user is! The user needs to be able to access his/her data, profile and apps (persona), no matter where and from which device.

So, what is Virtual Profiles and what are the benefits?

With Virtual Profiles, a user’s profile is stored in a central place, the data center. Yes, the same as with roaming profiles everyone is familiar with. You can even use the same profile path for Virtual Profiles as you are using for your roaming profiles. This makes the implementation of Virtual Profiles very easy.

One of the problems with roaming profiles is that logons and logoffs can take quite some time. This will increase when a profile gets bigger and bigger. This is understandable because with roaming profiles there are 2 triggers; logon and logoff. On those moments either the complete profile gets copied to the (virtual) desktop or completely written back to the central place.

One of the goals RTO had was to speed up logon and logoff times significantly. So what Virtual profiles actually does is tricking Windows. When you logon, Virtual Profiles starts working and lets Windows believe the profile has been loaded, but it hasn’t. Well, that’s not entirely true. Some important parts get copied over but most of the profile won’t. Those parts are just pointers to the central place and will get copied over when you need them. An example is a big .iso file on your desktop. With roaming profile, this .iso file will get copied over when you logon. This can slow down the logon process. With Virtual Profiles you will see the .iso file on your desktop but it actually is in the central place. When you access the .iso file it will get copied over. Through, at that moment you will have to wait for the copy to happen but when you don’t touch it (and when does it happen you access ALL your file inside your profile every day?) it just stays in the data center.

This mechanism works both ways. When you save a file to your desktop, it will get copied to the central place immediately and not during logoff.

So, Virtual Profiles will speed up logon and logoff times. I’m not sure if VMware announced a time frame when to include Virtual Profiles in VMware View, so I can’t say anything about that….yet.

One question I get regarding the take over of RTO/Virtual Profiles is whether customers still would need 3rd party tools like RES/Appsense/Scense. This is an interesting question. Bottom line I would say yes. All 3 have good products which will work on top of Virtual Profiles and gives you even more flexibility on user management. They are complementary. I do think though, that the need for those products will move up to larger customers a little. Meaning; that the need for those products might change from, for example, 50 users customers to 100 users customers because Virtual Profiles and a couple of GPO’s could do everything for those customer who would otherwise have bought the 3rd party tools.

Personally, I’m a big fan of those 3rd party tools. Mainly because they are pretty simple to use, easy management interface and gives me more flexibility when it comes to user management; adding short cuts, changing settings etc on a user based base. Also, you could do a lot with GPO’s but that’s not my kind of tool. In my opinion; the more flexible and dynamic you want to be around user management, on top of Virtual Profiles, the bigger the need for tools from those vendors.