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Personalization software cuts one barrier to VDI

End users won't accept virtual desktops unless they can be personalized. Here's how two IT pros handled the problem.

Many small vendors offer personalization software for desktop virtualization, each with its own style but with one common purpose -- getting end users to accept virtual desktops.

Desktop virtualization is great for IT management; it lets IT provision virtual machines, operating systems and applications in on a centrally located server instead of managing individual desktops. But, if end users can not log on and see their own settings, data and desktop applications, "the user barrier to adoption will be insurmountable, and these deployments will fail," said New York-based tech analyst firm The 451 Group in its August report, "User Virtualization: Roam if You Want To."

And IT pros using desktop virtualization agree that the technology is tough to sell to end users without personalization.

"With desktop virtualization, you have to sell the software to end users, and people want their pictures and their desktop icons," said Landon Winburn, Citrix systems administrator at the University of Texas Medical Branch. "You can't sell a virtual desktop to the end user if it doesn't do what their regular desktop does."

Dan Powers, IT manager at Omaha-based Cox Communications' data center, said he needed personalization (or user profile management) software to get end users to accept the virtual desktops he installed with VMware View.

"We had been deploying VDI [virtual desktop infrastructure] for about two years, and there was always a tradeoff for users," Powers said. "Due to the lack of personalization, our call center reps would spend 15 to 20 minutes reconfiguring their signatures and apps every day, and [they] had to do it all over again every time they logged in. They lost productivity because of it."

Powers and his team tried to alleviate the issue by writing their own scripts, but managing user profiles takes more time than they had to spare. "Without some type of personalization software, we were not going to roll VDI out to more users, so our environment was stalled," he said.

Personalization software essentially abstracts user profile data and replicates it on a centrally managed server, so when an end user logs on, his personal settings are delivered automatically.

There are a number of personalization software vendors to choose from, and Powers considered Quest Software and RTO Software, which has an OEM agreement with VMware for use with VMware View 4. Ultimately, he chose to invest in the personalization software endorsed by VMware and Citrix -- New York-based AppSense.

There are free versions of personalization software, such as Flex Profiles, and other third-party software companies offer various types of personalization software, including Tranxition, RES Software, triCerat and more.

More on personalization

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Balance user needs and IT department policy using VDI personalization

VMware vs. Citrix virtual desktops -- what's the better deal?

XenDesktop has built-in user profile management features, but they are limited, said Winburn, who also uses AppSense.

"XenDesktop's built-in profile management is the equivalent of the old version of AppSense," he said. "There were cool settings that could be applied, but with AppSense [Version 7], you can design group policies, and it personalizes settings on the fly."

Winburn first deployed desktop virtualization after Hurricane Ike flooded the university in September 2008, ruining hundreds of student and faculty PCs. He said XenDesktop together with the personalization software delivers a desktop that looks no different than his traditional PC.

And aside from the end-user experience, some user profile software makes desktop management easier. AppSense Environment Manager, for instance, eliminates some other desktop management issues with its policy functions, Powers said.

"One of the biggest reasons we started using AppSense on nonpersistent desktops is it eliminates the need for antivirus software, which chews up CPUs and is a big headache for IT managers," Powers said. "It lets me restrict any executables that I have not approved, so a virus can't execute."

So far, Powers has deployed virtual desktops to 80 users, and he plans to increase that number of 300 people when he upgrades to VMware View 4 next year.

AppSense was a good option for Cox and the University of Texas, but it may not be for everyone. Powers suggested that administrators create a list of what they want to get out of a product to help guide the decision.

"Each vendor can leapfrog the other, day in and day out, so you have to be very clear about what you need," Powers said. "RTO [Software] might be good for a small environment, and [Quest Software's] vWorkspace includes a broker environment. ... AppSense might have too many features for someone. It all depends on what you need."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho, News Writer.

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