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Five features good user profile management tools should include

When looking for user profile management tools, VDI admins should search for the best possible user experience, multi-platform support and more.

User profile management helps VDI shops support persistent personalization even when running nonpersistent virtual...

desktops, but finding the right tools can be tricky.

With profile management, IT administrators can centrally manage and deliver personal profile data such as bookmarks, browser histories, wallpapers, documents, image files and more.

Many VDI vendors include built-in user profile management tools. For example, Citrix offers User Profile Management, and VMware includes User Environment Manager as part of Horizon Enterprise.

Even so, some organizations need more from their user profile management tools that built-in options can't offer. To help find the best profile management option, explore five features the top user profile management tools should include.

High-quality user experience

The efficient and effective delivery of profile data is crucial to a positive VDI user experience. If users have to sit through lengthy login and logout operations because of profile data synchronization they will grow increasingly frustrated. And if their profile data is not available when and where they need it users are less productive and have difficulty completing tasks.

Login can be particularly painful with VDI as users wait for their profile data to load. The process only gets worse when everyone logs in at the same time, causing a boot storm.

Persisting user changes, which often occur at logout, can also affect the user experience. As a result, most of the major user profile management tools allow users to choose which profile data to save and which to not save. For example, AppiXoft Scense Live Profiles transforms the profile data into small packets, delivering each one only when necessary, such as during app startup or shutdown.

Contextually aware personalization

The efficient and effective delivery of profile data is crucial to a positive VDI user experience.

Users are on the move, and they want their profiles to move with them. They expect to be able to work within a familiar environment despite their locations or devices. As a result, most user profile management tools support contextual policy settings that integrate profile portability.

For example, AppSense Environment Manager provides contextual settings that make it possible to deliver profile data to any location or device. Administrators can apply conditions based on where and how a user connects to a desktop or app. Logins, logouts, startups and shutdowns can all trigger different settings.

VMware User Environment Manager also supports contextual policies that make it possible to map settings to the user's device or location. RES ONE Workspace supports contextual rules that take into account variables such as location or connection type. Liquidware Labs ProfileUnity detects when, where and how a user logs in and then controls resource access accordingly.

Multi-platform support and integration

Admins must take into account the types of desktop technologies they support and plan to support in the future, and then make sure the profile management product they choose can handle those.

Fortunately, many user profile management tools now accommodate the fluid and varied nature of today's mixed networks. For example, ProfileUnity works with any Windows desktop or server operating system and supports various platform types, including VDI and Remote Desktop Session Host (RDSH), as well as streaming and layered application modes. It also integrates directly with Active Directory to retrieve user account information from domain controllers.

Scense Live Profiles supports physical and virtual desktops, terminal server sessions and even unmanaged PCs, whether they're running 32-bit or 64-bit Windows. The product also supports virtual, streamed or locally installed apps.

Even VMware User Environment Manager can support physical and cloud-based Windows desktops, along with virtual desktops. In addition, User Environment Manager can also support non-VMware deployments, including RDSH and Citrix XenDesktop and XenApp.

High scalability and availability

Any profile management product should be able to handle the current load and grow as needed. Admins should also have a good sense of what it takes to scale out the product and ensure its availability.

When assessing user profile management tools, admins must push past the general marketing promises to get at the specifics. Liquidware Labs, for example, claims ProfileUnity can scale to thousands of users, with some reports suggesting admins can manage as many as 10,000 profiles from a single interface. VMware takes this even further, promising that User Environment Manager can support more than 100,000 users.

Availability is also important. For instance, Scense Live Profiles supports a disconnected mode in which a local cache holds the user's profile data until it syncs that data with the central server.

Low administrative overhead

No matter what a profile management product promises to deliver, admins better have a good idea of what it takes to implement it and manage the user profiles. A product might be able to deliver a wide range of features, but it might also add a great deal of complexity and administrative overhead.

A big plus for options such as Citrix User Profile Management and VMware User Environment Manager is that they're built into their respective VDI products, which means admins don't have to implement and configure a third-party product.

At the same time, when assessing the degree of complexity and overhead, admins should also account for the systems they already have in place and the level of in-house expertise they have at their disposal. In addition, they should verify the type of support their vendor provides and what that support means going forward.

Admins should also verify whether they need any additional backend systems and, if so, what those systems are. For example, they might need to implement and support a separate database to store user profile data.

Be sure to research all the specific features and processes. The better admins understand how a product works, the better they can determine what it means to implement and support that product.

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