FSLogix adding Folder Redirection Containers to lineup that also supports network OSTs and Profiles

FSLogix is continuing to carve out features from its flagship Apps platform and sell them as standalone products. This is good for everyone, because their stuff solves problems we've dealt with for over a decade.

It’s been a few months since I covered FSLogix, and after a recent conversation with CEO Kevin Goodman, I learned of a few things that they’ve done since the last time I wrote about them that I wanted to talk about here. Back in July 2015, I wrote primarily about how their Apps product worked as part of a rundown of all the app management products that have emerged in the last few years. More recently, I wrote about their Office Containers product, which they’ve seen tremendous success with in the intervening months.

Before getting into that, let’s take a look at what FSLogix sells today. Originally founded as an application management company, they quickly realized that their approach to compartmentalizing applications was really a data container that, properly tuned, could be useful in many scenarios beyond apps. They expanded their flagship product, FSLogix Apps, to include support for Folder Redirection (that actually works and isn’t the mini DOS attack that you get using it out of the box), Windows Search, profiles, and Outlook OST files.

Over time, they encountered customers that were already heavily invested in other application or user profile management platforms (think App-V and AppVolumes, or AppSense and RES), but still needed one of the features that FSLogix could provide. Not wanting to rip and replace a platform that was heavily invested in and otherwise worked, they basically had to continue soldiering on without one of those features. Because of this, FSLogix chose to start breaking out their features into standalone applications, which can exist alongside other management platforms to provide one-off features that companies need.

Profile Containers

The first feature to be pared off was Profile Containers, which places the contents of a user’s profile into a VHD file that is then mounted and redirected via FSLogix’s filesystem filter driver to appear as if it is a local profile. That means that the machine thinks the profile is local and logs in as if it is without copying it first. And, because the profile is stored in a VHD file, the desktop only has to make a single SMB connection to VHD file as opposed to a new connection for each file in the profile.

Paring off Profile Containers into a standalone product means that even if you’re already committed to a certain application management platform, you can still use FSLogix Profile Containers to help with profile management.

Office 365 Containers

After Profile Containers came Office 365 Containers, which builds upon the fact that storing data in a VHD file and mounting the VHD file amounts to a single SMB connection. That approach means that for the first time ever you can support Outlook running in Cached Exchange Mode with an OST file. Though that’s been the bane of our existence for many years, it becomes more critical than ever when companies switch to Office 365 and let Microsoft host their Exchange services. If you do that, you simply have to use Outlook in Cached Exchange Mode (or OWA). Kevin mentioned that many of his customers that had switched to Office 365 found they still had to maintain an on-site Exchange server for their virtual desktop users. This product alleviates that need.

One important thing to note is that while the product is called Office 365 Containers and comes with an ADM template that lets you easily deploy it, you can use this on older Exchange environments, too.

Along with solving a big problem with Outlook, Office 365 Containers also adds in more functionality that we’ve been deprived of in the desktop virtualization world. The same VHD-based approach enables Windows Search index and the OneDrive for Business cache. (VMware can do some of this, too, but their Writable Volumes approach is more tied to the local storage on the hypervisor and isn’t as easily scaled or roamed.) This combination of features is really powerful, especially when combined with the fact that you can deploy it alongside other UPM or app management platforms.

Java Redirection

The other standalone product they offer is Java Redirection, which aims to solve to age-old problem of different apps requiring different Java versions. There are many ways to deal with this, such as packaging applications with different versions of Java and isolating those applications from each other, or even running old versions of Java for all applications (which is borderline crazy, given how vulnerable Java has been shown to be over the years).

FSLogix’s Java Redirection uses their filesystem filter driver and a process called to bind specific Java versions to applications, so when an application requests something from Java, the driver intercepts that request and sends it to the proper Java installation. This means that you can keep the old version with the gaping security hole around for a single application, but use a more secure, newer version for other apps.

Today, and looking forward

That brings us up to today. At Citrix Summit in January, FSLogix expects to have a new product: Folder Redirection Containers. It’s been a part of the Apps suite for a while now, but after Summit it will be available as a standalone offering as well. We all know how bad folder redirection is, since it suffers from the same limitations I mentioned above with relation to SMB traffic. Breaking this out once again enables customers to keep the other endpoint, user, profile, and application management platforms they already have while opening up functionality that has untouchable for so long.

While they’re putting in the work to enable Folder Redirection Containers to work standalone (a task which usually enhances the product’s feature set, too, which then gets rolled back into FSLogix Apps), FSLogix is also adding some features based on lessons they’ve learned from large customer deployments. For instance, a network blip could cause VHD files to become detached, which could cause all sorts of “file not found” errors and require the user to log off and back on again. They’ve addressed this by adding fault tolerance that gracefully deals with that scenario and reattaches the VHD as opposed to freaking out. They also learned that the way you mount a VHD file is important. Done incorrectly, it can appear as a network drive, which causes issues with Enhanced Protected Mode while also not included a Recycle Bin. They’ve found a way to support both features.

So that’s what FSLogix has been up to. It’s an impressive lineup of straight-to-the-point problem solving tools that can do as much or as little as you need. The products that they offer have been shaped by customer requests, and odds are if one company is asking for this, others will too. FSLogix isn’t trying to lock you in and make you switch everything you do. They’re happy to get their foot in the door while helping you solve some critical problems.

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