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BOSTON -- An operating system migration is fairly easy between physical desktops; administrators can simply transfer the hard drive from a Windows 7 machine to a Windows 10 machine, for example. But VDI muddies the waters in the move to Windows 10.
The transition from Windows XP to Windows 7, for example, was a nightmare for many VDI shops, in large part because virtual desktop user profiles and applications were not compatible with the new operating system. With the move to Windows 10 in process or on the horizon for many organizations, compatible apps and profiles are the Holy Grail.
Tools such as ProfileUnity and FlexApp from Liquidware can help IT admins harness the power of profile and application compatibility for their move to Windows 10 in a VDI deployment. Attendees learned more about the technology at last week's Boston VMware User Group UserCon.
"I like the idea to be able to move between different environments quickly and easily," said Jeremy Couture, senior virtualization engineer at DXC Technology, a global IT services company that's currently considering desktop virtualization. "Everyone is going to Windows 10, and it seems like this actually helps that decision."
It starts with assessments
Before doing anything with users' apps and profiles in a switch to Windows 10, IT must understand how many resources its users consume. But admins must account for each user's individual work style, not simply average out the amount of storage and IOPS a particular department uses, said Matt Boyajian, a senior solutions architect at Liquidware, in a session at the conference. For instance, one user might consume very few resources by closing his apps and limiting the number of browsers he has open, while another user might have 15 apps open constantly, Boyajian said.
Jeremy CoutureDXC Technology
"Figure out ... what makes your people different," Boyajian said. "How do they work? What is your corporate thumbprint for consumption?"
Effective assessments can prevent IT from overbuilding or underbuilding their supporting infrastructure. If IT overbuilds, it is planning for more resources than users require, which can waste money. If it underbuilds, performance can suffer, and users won't be happy.
How to make profiles compatible
Roaming profiles may seem like the best way to make profiles compatible across OSes because they separate profile information from the operating system. A user can log in to his profile from multiple devices, and Windows then identifies the user when he enters his credentials. The problem with roaming profiles, however, is that they copy the registry to the network, but do not put any safety measures in place in case something happens to the registry.
"You end up with network hiccups, you get storage hiccups and you get stupid users who hold down the power button, and you get registry corruption," Boyajian said.
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Liquidware ProfileUnity exports the registry to a series of REG files, splitting the registry into several pieces -- each representing different parts of the registry. Some of the pieces are generic and can apply to any version of Windows; others are very specific and work only on certain service packs. By splitting up the registry, IT can deliver users everything they need to run a specific app on a specific version of Windows, and it's backed up, Boyajian said.
"Now I don't have to worry about this entire process of dealing with the profiles," Couture said. "That technology, in general, seems really good."
How about application compatibility?
If ProfileUnity addresses the profile side of the equation, then Liquidware FlexApp takes on application compatibility. FlexApp is an app layering tool admins can use to deliver specific apps to users or groups of users based on their departments, locations, device types and more. It separates the apps from the virtual desktop operating system, allowing apps packaged with FlexApp to be compatible with -- and appear as native to -- any Windows OS. It is included as part of ProfileUnity or as a stand-alone tool.
Apps are stored in containers on a virtual hard disk, making the app portable to the target operating system in an OS migration.
"You have one package that can work with Windows 7, 8, 10, Server 2008, 10, 12, 16," Boyajian said. "Cloud, physical, virtual -- as long as it has a network connection, it's going to bind."
There are a couple of caveats to keep in mind. First, to make an app work across OSes, admins must maintain bit compatibility. So, if they capture the app on a 64-bit OS, they have to deliver it on a 64-bit OS. Second, they must maintain package compatibility. If the app requires C++ 2010 Redistributable, for example, they have to include that as part of the package or make it part of the application image.
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