I expect VMware to introduce profile management in a future release, but most organizations aren't willing or able to wait. For companies that need profile management in View 4.5, there are other ways to deliver customized and consistent virtual desktops to users -- from their mission-critical applications down to the picture of their kids on their desktop wallpaper.
Why is profile management important?
Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) separates the primary components of a user's desktop -- including the hardware, operating system, applications, user data and user profile -- and recombines them when a user connects to offer a typical desktop computing experience. The benefit is that by separating the desktop parts, you can easily make changes to one component without affecting the others.
VMware acquired the Virtual Profiles product from RTO Software to provide the profile management mechanism in View 4.5. Virtual Profiles gave users a consistent desktop experience, and that's one of the factors that can make or break a VDI deployment. But while RTO's technology can fill the profile management gap, it offers basic capabilities compared with other products.
Profile management alternatives in View 4.5
The cheapest profile management alternative for VMware View 4.5 is Microsoft's Active Directory-based roaming profiles. Many people may dismiss this method because of its history of corrupt profiles and slow login times, but there are ways to reduce these potential risks.
Active Directory's folder redirection feature is the most effective configuration. It can redirect user data out of the profile and into a separate network share, thus reducing the profile's size.
More costly options involve products that offer the same profile management functionality as Virtual Profiles, such as those from Liquidware Labs, AppSense and tricerat -- although each may solve the problem differently. Most third-party products not only separate the user profiles from the operating system but also provide additional management features. In some cases, these capabilities exceed what can be done with AD-based roaming profiles, group policies and even Virtual Profiles.
Using other View 4.5 features for profile management
A final profile management option is to use the built-in user data disk in VMware View 4.5. This option automatically redirects the user's profile to a separate virtual disk file, which can be persistent, even when the user's virtual desktop is not. The major drawback of the user data disk method is that the profile is not portable across different virtual or physical desktops, as it would be with the aforementioned third-party products.
If you're looking at View 4.5, you should seriously consider profile management. Your end users want a consistent and pleasant experience, and nothing is more pleasant than seeing a picture of their kids as their desktop wallpaper every morning.
About the expert
Brian Knudtson is a system engineer for a large Midwestern enterprise technology provider with more than a decade of IT experience. He is a VMware Certified Professional, vExpert and co-founder and former leader of the Omaha-area VMware User Group, and he maintains a VMware-related blog called knudt blog. Follow him on Twitter @bknudtson.
This was first published in December 2010