I had a phone call yesterday with Pete Rawlinson and Martin Ingram of AppSense . They talked about how their focus as a company is evolving away from tactical things like performance and security and profile management and into the more broad “User Environment Management.” This sounds almost identical to what I heard two weeks ago when I talked to Tom Trogdon from RES (except RES calls it “User Workspace Management” instead).
The basic idea from both RES and AppSense is that as application delivery environments increase in complexity, we need to manage the user environment across all usage scenarios.
So whether the user is running a server-based computing desktop (VDI or Terminal Server), or whether they’re running a desktop locally (traditionally managed, streamed via Ardence, VMware ACE, etc.), or whether they’re accessing streamed or published applications, users will need a common “environment.” This includes traditional profile things, like icons, shortcuts, printers, drive mappings, colors, fonts, etc., and also things like guaranteed performance, security, and portability.
Personally I’ve always thought of this stuff as “profile management.” I’ve traditionally viewed the main architectural decision as a choice between roaming, mandatory, or flex profiles. But AppSense’s Martin Ingram views it a bit differently, saying:
The problem with calling it “profile management” is that people tend to think of that term only in the context of Windows profiles—roaming, mandatory, etc. But in reality that’s only part of what it’s about. As I see it, “profile management” is really about two things: First is the user changeable settings. These are settings and preferences that users themselves are able to change. The second part is policy-type settings. These are the settings and preferences that administrators need to force on users and that users cannot override.
(Note: this was paraphrased because I couldn’t type fast enough.)
Regardless of what you call it, I think everyone would agree that yes, you do need a way to manage both the user-changeable and administratively-forced settings, and you need a way to do this that is applicable across all usage scenarios. Ideally this will be flexible enough to apply in the right way across different scenarios while still being managed from one place.
The “traditional” method
How have people managed the user environment previously? Of course you can use roaming or flex profiles for user settings, and group policy and maybe software restriction policies to enforce settings. There are some drawbacks to this method, mainly stemming from the fact that neither profiles nor policies were really designed to work this way. It will require a lot of scripting and to figure out how the user is connecting and to save or restore the appropriate settings for the user.
Of course these profile and policy management capabilities are built right in to Windows, so you don’t have to buy any additional products—you just have to spend time figuring out how to make Windows do what you want it to do.
The “user environment” way
These holistic tools, like those from RES and AppSense, do provide one central management console where you can configure what settings you want to enforce on the users, and what the users can change. You can then apply these settings for specific usage scenarios or across usage scenarios. They’re database-driven and purpose-built for this task, so the products work well and are easy to use. Essentially they create one central set of rules to control the entire user environment which can then be tweaked for each connection scenario. (AppSense can even hook their settings into Citrix SmartAccess endpoint analytics scans from a Citrix Access Gateway.)
Of course it seems like there’s an almost endless lineup of vendors in this profile management / user environment management space. In addition to AppSense and RES, there are:
One vendor noticeably missing from this list is Citrix. It’s actually kind of surprising actually that Citrix hasn’t made any acquisitions in this space. With everything they’re throwing into ever-broadening “application delivery” umbrella (WAN optimization, password management, end-point performance monitoring), you’d think something as simple as cross-workspace printing and profile management would be something they would have added years ago.
Then again, Citrix is not the be-all, end-all vendor, and they still wouldn’t be even if they did buy a user environment management vendor.
What’s the right approach?
Again, probably everyone can agree that having some kind of profile management / user environment management product would be nice, and if the products just magically appeared for free, they would be used. But these vendors have stiff competition—not from each other—but from people choosing to “do nothing” about user profiles and the user workspace. Even though most of these products are relatively cheap (maybe $50 per user?), their costs add up, especially after you consider a TS CAL, a Citrix Presentation Server license, a VDI license, etc.
I guess I can sum up my thoughts with a question. In today’s environments that are moving beyond “pure TS,” is simply managing user profiles in traditional ways enough, or is it finally time to truly embrace this ‘user environment / user workspace’ issue as part of our core solution?
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