User Group Summary: User Profiles – London, March 9th 2011

Good to see a lot of new faces joining those who came for another helping. As well as attendees from Law, Finance, IT, Manufacturing and Government we had a number of housing associations and a delegation from Citrix User Profile dev & tests team for our session around “User Profiles”. We covered two main topics:

  1. User Profiles Inside Out”  a Q&A session from Sepago’s IT Architect Helge Klein (http://www.sepago.de/helge/)
  2. Microsoft Roaming Profiles – They Suck”, a round-the-room-as-a-table-wasn’t-big-enough discussion on managing user profiles at the coal-face.

We also had a brief look at the new Virtual User Environment Manager product from Citrixtools.net and had a preview of a new comparison document “User Profile Management Smackdown”.

We are grateful to have had AppSense, RES Software and triCerat sponsor the event, and take part in our ‘speed presenting’ trial.

User Profiles Inside Out

“If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles” wrote Sun Tzu. As you likely battle with the issues of user’s application settings going AWOL disrupting their day and yours, complicating deployments and creating hassle, understanding the nature of User Profiles is a great starting point.

Helge Klein is an IT Architect at Sepago and a Citrix Technology Professional (CTP). You might know him from such utilities as SetACL, the freeware security setting management tool. Helge’s experience as the architect of the product that later became Citrix Profile Management means he’s a splendid chap to listen to when you want to  understand how Windows Profiles tick: from the feedback forms I’m not alone in thinking that. You can check out other work that Helge has done at his blog http://www.sepago.de/helge/ or stalk him on twitter @helgeklein

In this session we discussed Microsoft’s User State Virtualisation is a fancy updated re-badging of three different technologies:

  1. Roaming Profiles,
  2. Folder Redirection, and
  3. Off-line Files

Helge highlighted that in 2010 the Windows Team Blog statedThe original design of Roaming User Profiles, Offline Files and Folder Redirection doesn’t really account for this newer type of work style“. By “newer  type of work style” they mean “anything other than a dedicated Windows PC workspace configured for a single user”. We discussed what made up a profile, the advantages and disadvantages of each of the different profile types (roaming, local, mandatory, 3rd party), the security implications of mandatory profiles in a XenApp environment, the difficulties in support profile replication and the pros and cons of folder redirection.

Key recommendations and discussion points included:

  • Strive to have one Profile per user, per platform. By “platform” we mean “an environment with a different image type” – so your win7 desktop is a platform.
  • That genuine “profile corruption” is rare:  it is more likely that settings within the registry, of files within the profile are not available as the application is expecting.
  • That the ability to debug profile issues is getting harder since the debugging facilities available in Windows XP and 2003 are no longer available in newer OSes.
  • Try and manage profile size – i.e. both the contents of the registry and the contents of the profile directories. Don’t set a quota size on disk space: you can lose data. There is a group policy setting specifically for profile size.
  • The optimum place for user experience while working is to have the profile local to the environment they are working on. Anything else will be some form of compromise.
  • Folder redirection can be a useful tool in reducing log-on times but don’t move AppData if you can help it. And if you do.. don’t tell Aaron.
  • Use DFS name spaces to distribute profile locations. With DFS name spaces you can have a number of different servers delivering profiles which can remove bottlenecks. But, don’t use DFS for replication of profiles – Microsoft don’t support this configuration.

The presentation is available to download as a PDF: we should have the video available soon.

Microsoft Roaming Profiles.. They Suck

This was a round table event intended to discuss experiences of roaming profiles in different environments. Key recommendations and discussion points included:

  • Multiple profiles and Profile Replication – most organisations (especially those with multiple offices) had tended towards implementing the “one profile per user, per platform” model discussed by Helge. An issue to consider here is a “profile” is user data. Delivering the profile quickly for remote users may be good for log-on/off times; but what about the rest of their data? Their home drive, their email, their shared drives? Rather than replicate a profile; provide access to a remote desktop/application running at their home site.
  • Many had looked at limiting profile space with varying degrees of success. Some had developed quite thorough cleaning procedures.  There is also a free tool you can Sepago’s Profile Nurse. Profile Nurse allows the automated execution of a series of file system and registry operations on an arbitrary number of profiles: this helps minimise profile size, which in turn reduces log-on /off times and minimises the likelihood of user settings getting lost.
  • When re-directing folders, be aware that the re-directed folders can have a lot of individual files and/or be referenced very frequently (e.g cookie folders, favourites, recovery files in Office, java cache). This  will have an impact on file server performance. Windows 2008 with SMB v2 offers a performance improvement over previous versions of Windows: but understanding this can give an answer as to why changes to folder redirection can cause unusual delays and application pauses.
  • The facility of third party tools (such as those of the sponsors) to be able to load application settings on demand – and to allow administrators to reset application settings for a specific application rather than the whole profile was seen as useful. The Citrix User Profile team suggested this was a feature being considered for inclusion in a future release.
  • Attendees who had used third party tools for user profile management – such as those provided by AppSense, RES Software and triCerat had found them very useful in stabilising their user’s workspace experience and speeding up the logon/off process.
  • It is possible to move from Flex or Citrix profiles to a third party solution if required – however many considered that starting afresh was the better option as it created a cleaner environment. That said, don’t underestimate what the impact of “having a new profile” can be. The CEO’s sudden loss of favourites, cookies, and their Outlook nicknames file can be a very character building experience for all concerned that will take a long time for everyone to be in a position to laugh about.
  • There may well be a discussion around “If only developers did a better job my own job would be so much easier.”

Again, we should have a video of the presentation available soon and you too can not only listen in on the discussion but hopefully marvel at how quickly 40 people can re-arrange the seating in a room.

Citrixtools.net Virtual User Environment Manager

Pierre Marmignon from Citrixtools.net has a great track record in providing free or low cost utilities to make administrating Citrix environments easier.  I gave a brief preview of the new Virtual User Environment Manager suite that is in final stages of beta.

VUEM has been designed to provide a first level user environment management solution: with it you can configure how a user’s workspace is presented to them and if necessary customised depending on when, how and where they log in. It works using a agent launched on logon or as a service. The agent is configured using Active Directory Group Policies to reference a Microsoft SQL database which acts as a central repository of the items, filters and rules that define a user’s workspace.

Look out for this product – could well be a very useful addition to better manage their user’s workspace setup but don’t have the time to configure lots of GPO logon script settings. We’ll sort out a more complete review when the product hits the virtual shelves later in March.

User Profile Management Smackdown – first public preview

Aaron Parker (@stealthpuppy) was sadly let down by his iPad but soldiered on to give a heads-up that his fabled opus “User Profile Management Solution Comparison” spreadsheet is being worked into a Smackdown document with Ruben Spruijt (@rspruijt). Aaron has considered the features for profile management solutions – not just from the likes of AppSense, RES Software and triCerat but from vendors such as Citrix, Liquidwarelabs, Scense, Quest, and others.

Aaron said that difficulty with a Smackdown comparison was a considerable challenge because each vendor approaches the issue in a slightly different way. The comparison is therefore not about “which is the ‘best'” but “which method fits most appropriately with what you need”.

We’ll keep you up-to-date on that documents release and content.

And finally..

Hopefully you’ll get a chance to see the vendors’ presentations – each useful and informative on how AppSense, RES Software and triCerat can help you solve your profile issues. We’ve all sat through vendor pitches before, to make it a bit different we asked that no pitch be longer than five minutes: a Dragon’s Den style encounter rather than death-by-powerpoint. Well done to David Shepherd from Appsense for getting his pitch in at 5mins and 1 sec. I’ve kept the times, maybe we’ll sort out a Vendor Wall of Fame later.

Thanks to Norton Rose for making us welcome and providing refreshments.

The next user group meetings are planned for June.  Didn’t quite get there this time but we’ll try to target two events in the UK one in London and one … somewhere else. As a user group it was pleasing to see the various sponsors and vendors present grilling the attendees over coffees and the later beers on how to make their offerings better. Come along to meetings and help shape future ,or if you can’t make it and you’d like to ask questions, offer suggestions or stick in your 2ps worth on anything on the above feel free to use our UK Wide group.

Don’t forget the Citrix UK User Group is on LinkedIn and on Twitter as @ukcitrixug and feel free to check out the sponsors.