Let's make it official and call it "user virtualization"

When we talk about desktop virtualization, we often discuss the "layer" concept where we split the Windows OS into virtual hardware, OS, application, and user layers.

When we talk about desktop virtualization, we often discuss the "layer" concept where we split the Windows OS into virtual hardware, OS, application, and user layers. The industry has generally agreed on terms like "hardware virtualization" and "app virtualization" (and even "desktop virtualization"), but when it comes to the user layer, it seems like every vendor uses their own term, including:

  • Profile management
  • User profile virtualization
  • User workspace virtualization
  • User environment virtualization
  • User experience management
  • User state virtualization
  • User personality
  • User workspace management

From this point forward, I'm going to collectively refer to all of this as "user virtualization."

User Virtualization is more than just Windows profile management. In the days of Terminal Server-based solutions, slick ways to manage Windows profiles were all we needed since our Terminal Servers were only used for single application publishing (where the users' "real" desktop was still local) or for full desktop publishing for task workers (with simple needs). But now that we're trying to do desktop virtualization for more complex users, we need to capture "everything" the user does, not just the stuff that's been conveniently placed into the user profile folder or HKCU key.

Most of the user virtualization products have followed suit, evolving from "profile management" products in the early 2000s to full user virtualization products today.

The ultimate user virtualization product will capture everything a user does on a non-persistent desktop image, allowing that user to log off and log back in to a newly-refreshed image and have everything exactly as he or she left it.

Most of the products on the market today are pretty good, accounting for multiple OSes (Windows XP, Win7, 2008 R2) and allowing the user to be simultaneously logged into multiple desktops. (Maybe a local desktop plus a few remote Terminal Servers?) We're just now getting to the point where these user virtualization products intelligently deal with user data and user-installed applications, and we're starting to see some intelligent links between the user virtualization and app virtualization worlds.

User virtualization is big and will continue to get bigger. We'll be writing more about it on BrianMadden.com over the next few months, including a comparison of the top products (hopefully for Geek Week 2011).

By the way, here's a working list of the main vendors we're tracking in the user virtualization space:

  • AppSense
  • Immidio
  • Liquidware Labs
  • RES Software
  • Scense
  • triCerat

The Big 3 all have initiatives here too, although so far they're all more like traditional profile management products and not as advanced as some of the third party full user virtualization products.


Join the conversation


Send me notifications when other members comment.

Please create a username to comment.

Quest should be included in this list as they have profile management features included in vWorkspace


I think that name fits plus it aligns with the layered naming convention.  One thing that makes user virtualization interesting is the blurring of lines between the layers.  If we allow users to install apps, then that is a user virtualization thing but most would try to use an app virtualization technique to do it.  It seems like in order to make this whole thing fit together pretty slick, you need to have some pretty tight integration between the layers.Plus it needs to do it in such a way that it appears seamless to the user while still protecting the infrastructure and protecting the user from themselves.


I think you should call what you want....

"My Desktop anywhere"

I don't see being able to install applications is either a good thing or being needed.  

The golden Image with non-persistant VM's is the way to go.

However with assigned VM's for each user you get that.  Personally I like the assigned VM approach rather then non-persistant VM's.  With all the tools one has for desktop management and deployment... Snapshotting and Backup technologies I seems to make more sense to throw up User VM's like a server...  The TS or Citrix way of doing things is fine too...  but P. VM's are simple to manage and support.  


Thats funny. I posted a comment an hour ago that never showed up....


Sorry, don't like that idea one bit.

Remember those meetings when server virtualization was first put forwards and the response from the business was "What makes you think you are going to virtualize MY server!".  

To walk in to a business meeting announcing "Hey, we're going to do user virtualization" suggests that IT views the "user" as some anonymous cypher that has no importance in our world.  That's not a good message to start the day with.

Sure "User virtualization" sounds good, but I'd rather go with something that didn't carry with it some level of negative connotation.  

Accepting the possibility of extending this beyond profile and into user installed apps, profile virtualization isn't a good fit either.  So I'd suggest either workspace virtualization or my perferred choice Persona Virtualization.

And to anyone at VMware who think that they can lay claim to this, sorry guys but you didn't ship so you don't get a vote.


I'm not a fan of the term, because in most cases we aren't actually virtualising anything - especially not the user (as much as we would like to).

Microsoft are certainly stretching the word virtualisation to call their technologies User State Virtualisation.

There's got to be something better, but damned if I know what it is.


We (AppSense) have used a few terms in the past to define what this category is, and user virtualization has been very well received.  We talk to enterprises every day, using user virtualization to help explain what it is we do.  It's been kinda self-explanatory in our experience.

Now that we see this independent management of the user on the desktop as something that many organizations, tech vendors and market analysts are talking about, it's important we have terminology that ensure we're all talking the same language.  

All us vendors may differ in our approach and technology, but we're all trying to solve the same problems and achieve the same objectives.  Virtualizing all that is the human in the machine is no simple feat. As Brain says, it's so much more than profile management.  We see it has an important role to play in the broader desktop - not just virtual. It deserves a category and a name.


Brian, you bring up an important topic. However, we think user virtualization, as defined, needs to be viewed in a broader context. The ultimate objectives are:

1.To enable the user to work comfortably with his “user environment”, including user data, settings, Identification, and applications (both corporate and personal) – and enable the user have a consistent user experience regardless of the underlying platform – whether virtual or physical, and regardless of the execution location – whether centrally or locally executed.  

2. To provide key services for the user environment: backup and continuous protection, portability across (Hardware and OS) platforms , high availability, and universal yet fast access.  


I kind of like User Virtualization.

Machine Virtualization= os on a hypervisor (data center or end point) ?

App Virt = app not statically coupled to the OS ?

Network Virt = heck, things such as Wan Optimization and I/O caching could go here, right?

User Virt = ibid

Data Virt = tim magnan was right, and so dedupe, caching, and others things make sense here - as well as some new stuff yet to be unveiled

Endpoint Virt = is this an endpoint that morphs to "accept" the workspace+user requirements+environmental limits+admin policies at the time of use?  Not sure.

So, yes, we do indeed see all these layers combined in the present architectures we are all working with, and in some cases the layer is not "virt" and in others, it all is, etc.

Anyplace, anytime, any machine, any app, any data has to = my productive workspace

Users Create Content, and Users Consume Content ... isn't that what we all are building - ways for them to do that more productively (for both users, and IT+budgets ?)


"It's all about the data".  We're not virtualizing users, we're virtualizing their data.  But whatever...

@Ron - the community server system does have a filter that will catch comments once in a while and hold them for ransom until brian frees them.  Not sure what triggers it, but a colorful guy like you is more likely to get caught!


The most important point of this article. "It's more than profiles," as Brian mentions above and stats in a previous article. That is 100% the case, whether you call it User X, Persona etc. What the big three have in this regard is $HIT, and that's the bigger question that needs to be pushed with them. MS is just rebranding the same crap that is basic. VMW have given up on RTO, and if they ever pull it off, it still won't meet the requirement because as I have always said that too is a $hit product. The Citrix Sepago thing is a joke that was 5 years too late for XenApp. I think at the end of the the Gartner definition will stick which is all around personalization. That's the message the senior guys hear. I agree with @Simon. Nobody knows WTF User Virt is, especially the end user. There is no benefit with using that term with them. Tell them instead about personality which can include many sub categories and it's a better business conversation.


I hope I don't sound like a pitchfork-wielding torch-waving villager, but I too dissent on the "user virtualization" label.  Until we can digitize our users, I don't think we've virtualized them.  Don't get me wrong, I would love for my commute to occur at the speed of light, but I just don't think the technology is there.

Personalization is a familiar and applicable term that I would support.  In addition to persisting customizations, some of the vendors listed are working on "other" capabilities such as software installation persistence.  Imagine that your "personality" is not just what background you've selected but also which applications you've installed.  At that point, there is nothing a user can do to their workspace that doesn't persist and follow them through the cloud.

Now if we could only find a way to virtualize ourselves...


The fact that the user's personal data is being captured and overlaid on top of any type of desktop instance, i.e., physical, virtual, or even RDS, doesn't necessarily make the thing "virtual". Indeed, we are nowadays putting more emphasis on what's "user" and what's not,  and as such we're managing this complex layer much more efficiently than ever before.  

What we've really done is to isolate the user's personalization data into a distinct layer in order to increase its portability across multiple desktop environments. In the past ,we used to treat the user's personalization data, the OS, and installed apps as a single monolithic stack, and that 's the essence of the age-old desktop management problem.

I don't mind the use of the term "virtualization" in this case since all of  the above-mentioned products feature some sort of  "director"  tasked with capturing, isolating, managing, and delivering the user's personalization data to the target desktop.  However, I would have preferred the term "user state virtualization" instead so as to avoid reducing the "person" that we affectionately refer to as "user" to a mere layer in an IT stack. (Even though he/she is so from an IT perspective).  

On another note, where do products such as RingCube fall in this whole scheme of things? After all, they are user state virtualization products that can be overlaid on just about any desktop. Yes, they do app virtualization as well, but the underlying engine can easily serve as a user state management engine.  I remember seeing a video to that effect on their web site months ago.

Finally, why not define a "workspace virtualization reference model" similar to the OSI reference model. In this case, I can see it composed of four layers:

- Hardware

- Operating System

- Application

- User


Guys, check "Gartner Hype Cycle for Virtualization, 2010" document.

Free download courtesy of Intel Premier IT Professionals.



I am with Simon and Aaron on this. I don't think we are virtualizing users, but rather their workspace, which consists of preferences, data, etc. If we must have the term "virtualization" to provide consistency with the other layers, then I think "workspace virtualization" may be an acceptable replacement.

However, after putting the keywords from this blog into my" jargon generator", my personal favorite to describe what we are doing is "Workspace Portability", but it doesn't fit the model. :)


EdgeSeeker had mentioned RingCube and I did not know much about them so I went off and did some research. Turns out they have a booth here at the McAfee show so I stopped in to learn more and get a demo.

RingCube has a slick solution that embodies the term "Workspace Virtualization", in fact they use that term in their marketing slides. They have virtualized not only the user's data and "personality" but also their installed applications. Their solution is called vDesk and allows users to move between pooled desktops and keep their settings, data, printers, and even installed applications.


Paul and EdgeSeeker, thanks for the message. I work for RingCube.

This blog from Brian, is a problem that we hear a lot in the field during our conversations with enterprise customers rolling out VDI and wanting to use pools as opposed to assigned desktops. Pools offer better resiliency over assigned desktops as they take away the single-point-of-failure problem.

We have some large enterprises that have deployed vDesk to solve the user personalization problem with VDI. The term we have always used is 'workspace virtualization'.