Is the persistent VM the new user profile?

Here's a simple question for Monday: in today's world (and moving forward), has the persistent Windows VM become the new user profile? In the "old" days, the value of roaming profiles was that they packaged up all of the important bits and allowed us to run "our" environments on whatever Windows instance we happened to be connecting from.

Here's a simple question for Monday: in today's world (and moving forward), has the persistent Windows VM become the new user profile?

In the "old" days, the value of roaming profiles was that they packaged up all of the important bits and allowed us to run "our" environments on whatever Windows instance we happened to be connecting from. In today's world, it seems like we can do that with an entire VM, right? Like we don't need "just" the profile, rather we can just get "our" persistent VM on a client, in our datacenter, or from a DaaS provider.

Today's storage solutions are making this even more possible, with techniques like single-instance block-level storage, disk image streaming, and NFS booting that allow our persistent images to be booted from any device that has a decent connection to the storage location.

We're even seeing this extend to loosely-connected and non-connected client devices. Client hypervisor technology makes it easy to run a VM anyway, and smart data synchronization and caching (like VMware Horizon Mirage and the myriad of file-level enterprise sync products) mean that we can package up what appears to be a single VM per user which can be made accessible to them no matter where we are.

Even if this isn't 100% possible today, storage, computing, and networking technologies are advancing faster than client disk images are growing. We regularly download multi-gigabyte files without thinking twice about it, and many consumers are using cloud-based backup solutions to store hundreds of gigabytes of data in the cloud. (And now you can get 50GB of storage for under $5 per month from companies like Amazon and Google.)

Of course this doesn't address the broader conversation of the future of the desktop and how we deal with balancing Windows, SaaS, and HTML applications. But as a general concept, I'm starting to see roaming profiles as a thing of the past. Screw it! Just give each user their own persistent VM and use the myriad of other technologies to ensure that that VM is available to them in the way that they want to connect.

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@Brian - You are beginning to make sense, grasshopper.


In effect, a user's desktop will reside anywhere but will be remotely accessibly by any of their devices. This was the only limitation of remote control in days of yore but no longer.


I still see this as a transitional approach until the comprehensive infrastructure is in place to support "AppAnywhere" which will combine remote desktops, app streaming (app accessibility),  personalization (is this even necessary moving forward?) and above all enterprise security all in the name of productivity and collaboration. DaaS and VDI are enterprise configurations needed to enable productivity, uptime, security, and accessibility but do not solve the age old dilemma of management costs.


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@Brian:


I think you just ignored one thing at that's how the big names in the VDI space handle personalization on persistent VM's.


For example Citrix's PVD, does only one simple thing: create an additional vDisk and redirect things like %appdata% and %programfiles% to that disk.


I've seen in production that the vDesktop of one of my executive level users was broken and had to be destroyed and recreated completely.


And one does not simply tell a manager that he lost all the stuff he saved on his PVD/profile because the desktop crashed (of course we told him that saving stuff in his userprofile is at own risk).


At that moment I was very happy that we still use roaming profiles in our VDI environment, so my user only lost the applications he installed himself en he could easily reinstall.


Of course there will be other tools for this, but in SMB's there's not the money for that, but they want to do VDI so they need Roaming Profiles to secure their data.


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@John,


For Citrix (for example), you don't have to use PVD. What if you just give each user a fully persistent desktop and let the storage handle the capacity and performance needs for that type of environment?


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@John...


thats now how PVD works.


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@brian - I agree with the outcome, but for even more profound reasons...


Today we are indeed in a world where traditional, windows user profiles still matter, though that is eroding to some degree based on changes in storate, etc. that you mention.


However, a bigger sea change here that IMHO will even more radically erode use of traditional profiles is the need for a much broader virtual workspace profile.  A fair % of this future profile's value is outside of windows. I may still need a rich "windows desktop" for authoring content, but even in a MSFT centric universe, I think it's fair to expect that Redmond will want a lot of that traditional profile to reside on the Office360 cloud space.  If one is trying to stay away from that and be more platform neutral, mobile profiles like those associated with one's MDM/MAM solution (VMware bias for AirWatch of course), or even cloud storage & file sharing vendors like Dropbox or Box.  And of course some of it already resides with SaaS apps themselves (e.g. Salesforce), and then there are our Google friends in Mountain View.


Long story short as these new sources of "profile" gain more traction, it continues to reduce the need for much when it comes to windows profiles.  At some point, it is reduced enough to the point where the need may very well be met by  just a persistent windows desktop for many workloads -- at least knowledge worker and up.


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@Robert,


I agree 100%! I wrote something about this awhile back.. Whoa, more than 3 years ago actually:


www.brianmadden.com/.../the-ultimate-user-profile-manager-will-sync-windows-mac-ios-android-saas-etc-now-will-someone-build-it-please.aspx


I wonder if this is something that the AppSense's of the world will be able to drive?


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I've seen shops that no longer care about profile management and will just force mandatory profiles as most of their apps are now web based front ends.  I think at some point profile management will become less important when majority of apps are web front ends and cloud based storage for settings.


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@Brian, I see your point but the Windows profile needs to remain dynamic. And the User Environment is much more than just the Windows profile itself.  And that's what many vendors, Liquidware Labs with ProfileUnity and FlexApp provide, AppSense, etc provide.  As for us, we've long considered  the User Environment to be made of of these main things:


1) A dynamic profile that works across Windows OS versions and one that is actually manageable...because all apps don't write to the profile area.


2) Context aware Policies so you get your apps, printers, files, where you need them or where it is acceptable for compliance reasons


3) Access to User Authored data via file shares or cloud services


4) Application Rights - secure rights that that follow the user via Application Layering, app publishing, app virt, etc.


The reasons for the User Environment needing to be dynamic, and not tied to a VM or desktop are many but here are a few:


* OS upgrades- Microsoft has broken every profile format from XP forward and it continues to be broken to Windows 10.  We're at Profile "Version 5" with Windows 10.  Crazy I know but if the profile is tied to one VM OS it is not dynamic.


* Disaster Recovery - new desktop- User Environment returns in seconds and no time lost...even across OS and delivery.


* Applications that follow the user and are delivered just in time across OS on any device


* Change in strategies - a few years down the road a company many want to Switch from VMware to Citrix or vWorkspace or something else, they may want to get away from VDI altogether...maybe go back to something proven like SBC/Shared Hosted Desktops :-), HP Moonshot, or something else. If the profile is tied to a VM and OS type it's not dynamic and there will be pain


Re: support of Apple, Linux, Android, etc.  We've thought about it and I know our competition has too.  For better or worse, Windows remains the tie that binds, the level playing field for Applications and at the end of the day, one of the core things a managed user environment does is ensure seamless delivery of user AppData, policies, and access to applications. Windows remains the standard for that reason.


Apple, Linux, Android, are all good OSs but what would you really want to make portable?  Email settings?  Already in the cloud.  Access to User Authored data?  Already in the cloud too.  


Hybrid Windows desktops-- VDI, SBC, Physical, Moonshot, etc -- are here to stay for a while and the only way to co-exist these strategies is with a winning User Environment Management and Application delivery strategy.   The only thing certain is change and organization's need a user environment solution that adapts.


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