How VDI user profiles personalize desktop VMs

A virtual desktop user profile doesn't include personalized settings, but there are ways to make sure a user's favorites don't get lost in the fray.

VDI user profiles can simplify IT management but require some tweaks to meet end users' needs.

In a typical Windows desktop environment, a user profile defines the unique characteristics that personalize a user's desktop settings. These include options such as display settings, application preferences and so on.

More virtual desktop user profile resources

The introduction of virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) complicates the notion of user profiles because virtual desktops are hosted on a remote server rather than on a local computer at your desk. In most cases, the server spins up the required number of desktop instances from one (or a very few) virtual machine (VM) images. That means each virtual desktop image is initially the same.

Uniformity makes life easier for IT administrators because they no longer need to wrestle with obscure and often unperceivable differences between traditional desktop systems. But users don't readily accept these cookie cutter desktop environments.

To improve user comfort and acceptance of virtual desktops, VDI user profiles incorporate the notion of personalization: allowing users to apply a bit of customization to suit their preferences but still starting the desktop from a single VM image.

Personalization is typically accomplished by applying a separate user data file to the desktop image. As a rule, virtual desktop user profile data is stored in the same location where the server stores other data for that particular user. One example is VMware Horizon View's Composer feature, which adds Windows personalization (such as wallpapers and other preferences) from the user's profile once the initial desktop image loads. If the user makes even more personalization changes, the changes are saved back to the user profile. Windows provides a similar capability in its roaming profiles.

VDI user profiles are saved centrally along with the user's data and the original desktop VM image, so IT administrators can exercise full control over the desktop environment. For example, administrators can reset user preferences, establish guidelines for user preferences (characteristics that you can and cannot change), and backup or restore user preferences. In addition, administrators can create new master desktop environments or move users (and groups) to new desktop images. This preserves user preferences while giving users the features and functionality of a new desktop VM.

This was first published in April 2013

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