Smackdown: Citrix User Profile Management vs. VMware View Persona Management

VMware and Citrix's user profile management tools help secure virtual desktop data and reduce latency during login and logoff better than basic Windows roaming profiles. Learn how the two vendors treat profiles differently.

Citrix and VMware both have user profile management tools built into their desktop virtualization products that...

reduce virtual desktop startup times compared to using Windows' roaming user profiles.

Managing user profiles is one of the key challenges of a virtual desktop environment. User profiles store data that is unique to each individual user. If an organization uses roaming user profiles, the profile data lives on a Windows server and then copies to the desktop as a part of the login process.

User profiles tend to present a challenge in virtual desktop environments for two reasons. First, most virtual desktops are nonpersistent, which means they reset to a pristine state at the end of each user session and cannot store user profile data directly on the virtual desktop. Second, user profile management is challenging because users often access virtual desktops remotely. Depending on an organization's method for remote connectivity and its user profile configurations, workers may have to download their profile data at startup, which could make for a very slow logon and a poor user experience.

Many organizations use Windows roaming profiles because they're a simple and cost-effective way to store users' settings and data, but that method comes with drawbacks. Roaming profiles live on a network server and admins can configure Active Directory so that it connects users to their associated profile. However, roaming user profiles often grow sizable and can cause latency during startup, even when using folder redirection to accelerate the process. Thankfully, virtual desktop vendors such as Citrix and VMware offer tools for managing user profiles to provide a better experience for end users and administrators.

Citrix User Profile Management

Citrix enables profile management with User Profile Management, which is available in the XenApp and XenDesktop Enterprise and Platinum editions, and XenDesktop Advanced. The Citrix User Profile Management tool is compatible with Windows environments, but it overrides Windows roaming profiles.

Similar to Windows roaming profiles, Citrix stores user profiles centrally, either on a UNC share or in a path connected to the user’s home folder. The user must have write access to this location, and Citrix recommends using the employee's existing home directories because all the required permissions should already be in place. The User Profile Management tool reads the contents of a user’s Citrix profile at login. When the user logs off, the tool uploads any changes or additions the user makes to the profile store, ensuring that those changes carry over to the next time the user logs in.

Citrix designed its profiles to improve performance, while also reducing the profile size. User Profile Management allows administrators to pick and choose which folders to synchronize, which means they reduce the profile size by excluding unimportant folders. Admins can also include key folders.

Citrix User Profile Management also tracks the deltas resulting from write operations. It would likely take a considerable amount of time to upload a user’s entire profile to the profile store each time he logs off. Instead, Citrix uploads only the granular changes made to files, folders and registry keys.

Another advantage of Citrix's approach is that it reduces the chance of data loss when an employee works from multiple devices. If Citrix rewrote a user’s entire profile at each log off, any user who logs in simultaneously from multiple devices runs the risk of accidentally overwriting his changes.

VMware View Persona Management

VMware's View Persona Management tool -- which is included in Horizon 6 (with View) -- replaces Windows roaming profiles and streamlines the login and logoff process.

One thing that makes a VMware persona different from a Windows profile is that the View Persona Management tool only downloads the profile elements that are absolutely necessary. It downloads any other user profile data on an as-needed basis. VMware's approach greatly expedites the virtual desktop logon process and reduces the effect of boot storms when too many users log in at a time.

VMware View Persona Management is also unique in that it doesn't wait until the user logs out to upload changes to the profile. Instead, user profile changes automatically sync to the server every 10 minutes, although businesses can customize that schedule to sync more or less frequently. VMware's approach keeps the stored profile up to date and also reduces the volume of data that has to upload when a user logs out, thereby also reducing the amount of time required to logout.

VMware and Citrix have both put a lot of work into improving upon roaming user profiles, and VDI shops can reduce their users' login and logoff durations as a result.

Next Steps

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This was last published in December 2015

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