Are Citrix and Microsoft shopping for profile management tools?

Citrix's User Profile Manager and Microsoft's Roaming Profiles are both long in the tooth and in dire need of a refresh. An acquisition could be near.

Citrix may be on the verge of adding another management tool to its desktop virtualization portfolio to help IT pros manage virtual desktop layers. Meanwhile, Microsoft seems poised to update Roaming Profiles with some type of profile management tool.

Neither company is talking, of course, but Citrix Systems Inc.'s XenDesktop customers and integrators expect Citrix to improve its profile management capabilities, either through internal development or by acquisition. Its current profile management tool in XenDesktop, the Sepago-based User Profile Manager, is outdated.

One possible fit might be profile management technology from RingCube, in part because the company's software gives IT pros a way to manage user profiles and user installed applications (UIA). Some say RingCube's real value is in single image management for departmental applications.

"There's a real need for a simple and stable platform that can capture everything that is unique to user's environment and apply it to a shared VDI solution, " said Steve Greenberg, a virtualization services provider and founder of Thin Client Computing in Scottsdale, Ariz. "If RingCube can do that in a cost effective and easy to manage way, it would be a valuable addition [to XenDesktop]."

Speculation on Citrix's next acquisition comes as VMware Inc. prepares to launch View 5 with the user profile management technology acquired from RTO Software baked right in. Industry watchers said if Citrix acquires layering technology from RingCube, or some other profile management startup, XenDesktop could leapfrog View as VMware closes in on VDI feature parity.

Roaming Profiles is near the end

Citrix leverages technology it bought from Sepago in 2008. It is bare bones and lacks the sophistication of technologies from AppSense, Liquidware Labs or even RTO Software, said Ian Song, an analyst at IDC, a Framingham, Mass.-based market research firm.

Citrix is also actively developing its Sepago-based User Profile Manager software for migrating from Windows XP to Windows 7. Sources said part of the problem with sepagoPROFILE is that it is based on Microsoft Roaming Profiles.

Microsoft Roaming Profiles is static and doesn't provide the granular controls that other profile management tools enjoy, according to industry experts. For example, IT pros can't choose parts of the profile to deliver, so profiles bloat and the log-on times are lengthy.

Microsoft customers often skip Roaming Profiles and buy third-party profile management tools to migrate from Windows XP to Windows 7. Microsoft will also need an efficient way to migrate XP customers to Windows 8, which is due out next year.

"Desktop virtualization isn't too high on Microsoft's list of things to do, but a profile management technology would be good for Microsoft’s Windows business," Song said.

Companies such as RES Software, RingCube, UniDesk or Liquidware Labs are all potential candidates for acquisition by Microsoft or Citrix.

A Liquidware Labs rep said much of the company's business comes from customers that need an easy way to migrate from one version of Windows to another, but don't want to use Roaming Profiles. Liquidware also plans to disclose a UIA management tool as part of ProfileUnity during VMworld 2011 later this month.

Spotlight on RingCube

Many virtual desktop industry watchers said they think RingCube management software would be a great fit for Citrix XenDesktop because then Citrix customers wouldn't need to buy application packaging software or third-party user profile management tools, which add to the expense of VDI.

RingCube's VDI Edition of vDesk workspace virtualization product already integrates and extends Citrix XenDesktop -- and VMware View. It gives users a workspace to personalize their desktop and every workspace contains user or departmental-installed and any data and settings the administrator chooses to store in that layer. So, IT can install a base image to manage end user profiles and also use it to manage departmental application layers.

Venture-backed RingCube started in 2004 as a workstation virtualization company and has since expanded into profile management. Some RingCube customers include ING bank, CSC and Convergys and the start-up has over 250,000 registered users, according to one RingCube investor's website.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho or follow @BridgetBotelho on Twitter.

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