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VMware View users forced to find alternatives for profile management

VMware pulled its profile management feature out of the View 4.5 beta, leaving customers with no choice but to shop around.

View users disappointed by VMware's decision to pull RTO Software profile management out of the next generation of its virtual desktop release, View 4.5, must now add another layer of software and expense to complete their VDI projects.

A complete virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) environment is made up of four pieces: the desktop operating system, applications, user data and profile management software. Together, they give IT pros a way to deliver personalized virtual desktops to end users. Without the profile management component, View 4.5 is considered incomplete.

People have no choice but to look for an alternative because you can't effectively do VDI without profile management.

Todd Knapp,
chief technology officer and founder of Envision Technology Advisors

"People have no choice but to look for an alternative because you can't effectively do VDI without profile management," said Todd Knapp, chief technology officer and founder of IT consultancy Envision Technology Advisors in Providence, R.I.

VMware rival Citrix already includes a basic profile management tool, User Profile Manager, in XenDesktop. RTO Software was to be VMware's competitive response. VMware included RTO in the first View 4.5 beta, but pulled it before releasing a second beta in mid-June because it did not support Windows 7. Windows 7 support is crucial since many customers plan VDI projects to coincide with Windows 7 migrations.

VMware also planned to release View 4.5 by July 14 but pushed general availability back to a vague "sometime this year" -- possibly around the VMworld 2010 show in early September, sources said.

With the second iteration of View 4.5 trial software, customers had expected to see a version that was at least a worthy release candidate, but what they got was another beta, minus a major feature, said one VMware expert and IT consultant from Washington, D.C., who wished to remain anonymous.

VMware did not respond to requests for comment.

RTO and roaming profiles
VMware acquired RTO Software's technologies -- RTO Discover, RTO PinPoint, and RTO Virtual Profiles -- last February and later said it would bundle those capabilities into View 4.5. Customers were excited to be getting the missing piece of the VDI puzzle for the same price of the View 4 license.

"You need a way to extend the [Microsoft] roaming-profile feature, which everyone knows is the root of all evil," said Jim Sanzone, a New York-based desktop and application virtualization consultant at a major IT services firm. "RTO makes roaming profiles usable, and it's easy to implement and un-implement. It was a good choice for VMware."

The trouble with Microsoft's roaming profiles is that they don't work well in virtual environments because they can't update user profiles across multiple sessions. RTO's Virtual Profiles software automatically synchronizes profile changes back to the server and synchronizes with all other concurrent sessions.

Needless to say, customers were disappointed when word got out that VMware View 4.5 will ship late and without profile management. But while RTO is certainly a useful tool that VMware needs to include in its VDI offering as soon as possible, users should keep in mind that it's still pretty basic compared with other available products.

Experts said that when it comes to profile management, there is easy and cheap, and then there is elegant.

"AppSense is elegant -- it's a big solution for more than just profile management, and it isn't cheap," Sanzone said. "RTO was easy to implement and un-implement, and because it doesn't require anything on the back end, it doesn't add a lot of cost to a project."

Other profile managers
Envision Technology Advisors' Knapp, who often evangelizes VMware View, said he prefers Liquidware Labs' ProfileUnity over RTO because it manages both traditional and virtual desktops, and it works with VMware's ThinApp application virtualization tool.

Brian Walker, a network administrator at the University of North Texas in Dallas, chose Unidesk Corp.'s persistent personalization offering with Pano Logic zero clients a few months ago over VMware View because he needed a strong profile management tool. Another reason he chose Unidesk and Pano was price: Those two offerings together cost about $200 less per desktop than a View license, Walker said.

"You can do VDI without profile management, but it's a lot easier to get users to accept [virtual desktops] if they are personalized," Walker said.

Some other products that offer profile management include RES Software's User Workspace Management and AppSense Environment Manager.

VMware shops that want to wait for VMware to reintroduce RTO back into View can manage user profiles without buying a third-party product, but not without pain, Sanzone said.

Customers in the VDI pilot or proof-of-concept phase might be able to make do with roaming profiles or use scripting and Active Directory features that redirect documents, which would also make for an easy transition to RTO.

"But if VMware's timeline for RTO is too far out, customers should consider a third-party product because profile management is an important component of a VDI project," Sanzone added.

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

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