Windows Server 2012 Introduces Two New Profile Management Methods

On 14 October 2013 by Pete Petersen

User Profile

With the release of Windows Server 2012 and its associated components, Remote Desktop Services (RDS) has taken some fairly big leaps in a positive direction. We could talk about broker cluster management, updates to Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) Remote-FX, session shadowing (2012R2), DX 11.1 support, auto-resolution update, etc. But for this post, we will focus on the two included profile management options available with Windows Server 2012 R2: Collection-based VHDX, which Microsoft calls User Profile Disks, and User Experience Virtualization (UE-V).

Profile management is often either missed in an implementation, or scaling becomes a problem at some point. Using roaming profiles for a VDI implementation is a good example of that. At some point, pulling traditional roaming profiles around the network will eventually lead to corrupt profiles, possible network bandwidth over-usage, and a less-satisfying user experience since it’s more of an all-or-nothing approach.

User Profile Disks

A very elegant solution. But one major drawback.

Instead of capturing specific profile information and keeping a database or file structure on it, there is a VHDX file for each user saved in a profile location of your choice or the user’s home location as defined by the user’s Active Directory object. When the user makes changes–any changes–those changes are saved in a sort of “snapshot” VHDX that is on a file share. When they connect to various machines, the VHDX is loaded at login time, and those changes are available to the user–invisible to the user. This is true for both VDI and for shared session-hosting sessions as well.

As long as each session the user is launching sessions in the same data center as the VHDX file, this is a very elegant and beautiful experience. It certainly simplifies many of the complexities in managing the end user experience.

But there is one major drawback. And that is that the VHDX file can only be associated with a single collection. A collection is a XenDesktop-style collection of identical machines published to the user. So if you want to wander between collections, VHDX is not for your implementation.

One other drawback is that the VHDX files are named based on the user’s SID, which is not as easy to get as their FQDN.

User Experience Virtualization (UE-V)

Very similar to Citrix User Profile Management (UPM), there is an agent that is controlled by GPO settings with the user settings stored in a definable file server location.

The data that is stored in the UE-V solution includes user profile settings (session and app), along with the user’s My Documents and Desktop and related folders. Since the data is actually copied into the session at long and back out during logoff, this could become very lengthy if the users happen to store, say ISO files or other very large files on their desktop (which I have been known to do) or in their home directory.

Good news is that UE-V can be combined with folder redirection, which means that the UE-V solution now only needs to manage the settings and not the data.

Another benefit to the UE-V solution is the UE-V Generator. This tool can be used to sort of modularize the profile and create templates of desired saved settings. This feature is good for a couple reasons. One is the benefit of saving the user profile in pieces, which means that any corruption doesn’t have to take out the whole profile. It also means that different application groups can be setup to capture different styles of settings, which makes management of the whole experience easier.

The drawbacks to this solution are: complexity and corruption. Complexity in that there are a lot of moving parts in a user profile, and ensuing that levels 1 and 2 support staff understand the workings and locations is sometimes daunting. In addition, the solution, like Citrix UPM, has the possibility of profile corruption as files are moving back and forth between the session-hosting server and the file storage location. But to be clear, that corruption is as rare to this style of profile management as it is common to traditional roaming profiles.

Recommendation

Which is the recommended solution? Answer: Depends.

If you only need one collection, then a whole-hearted recommendation of Collection-based VHDX can be had. It’s simple, elegant, and supportable.

But if you need anything further than that, but still have fairly simple requirements, then UE-V can be recommended. Beyond the fairly simple options available in UE-V, there are still third-party options available, with vendors such as Liquidware, AppSense, ResSoft, and others, that can be had an additional cost.

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