When IT professionals decide whether they need to deploy user profile management software in their organization, it is important for them to clearly understand both how their environment works and how the users interact with it.
IT pros should start the decision-making process by asking themselves the following questions about how their users work:
- Are they laptop users who take the same device everywhere?
- Are they desktop users with a specific assigned machine?
- Do they use a laptop and a desktop?
- Do they rotate between multiple devices?
- Do they access applications remotely through Remote Desktop Session Host (RDSH) or use a home machine to log in via a virtual private network?
- Do they have VDI instances to connect to?
Users may have a combination of these options or even all of them. Gaining an understanding of precisely how users can connect to and access corporate resources is the first step in a business case for user profile management software.
The second step is to determine how to deal with device failures. IT admins typically reimage the device when a laptop or PC fails. When an RDSH server or VDI instance fails, admins can provision a replacement from a golden image. When a personal device fails, the user either has to replace the device or find a fix.
It is also necessary to understand not just how often failures happen, but how much of an effect they have on user productivity. If an IT pro must reimage a device, the user will lose time while the IT pro is working. The user can also lose productivity adjusting to any reconfigurations after IT is finished with the reimaging.
IT must also understand how its applications operate.
- How do applications behave in terms of retaining user-level settings?
- Does IT store settings on the server or the client end?
- What degree of user customization is available within applications?
- How do applications integrate with others? Do they have export functions to Microsoft Office software or link to browser applications?
- Does the level of integration and inter-application communication affect the profile management platform?
- Are applications packaged in any way, such as through Microsoft App-V?
- Does any packaging software affect the potential for profile management?
Considerations for adopting user profile management software
On a device level, user profile management software is typically most beneficial for organizations that:
- rely on hot desking;
- have users with multiple devices and connection types; and
- use nonpersistent VDI or have a significant investment in RDSH or Citrix XenApp.
It is also important to understand the difference between persistent and nonpersistent VDI. With persistent VDI, each user has his own specific desktop, and he can save any changes he makes to his desktop.
With extensive research into profile management software, TechTarget editors have focused this series of articles on vendors that offer profile management as a native platform. Our research included Gartner, Forrester and TechTarget surveys.
With nonpersistent VDI, each VDI instance reverts to a pristine state when a user ends a session -- essentially, any changes to the session are discarded and admins can assign the instance to any particular user. For management and storage purposes, most VDI implementations tend to be nonpersistent, which makes them well-suited for a profile management platform.
From a failure perspective, IT pros must balance the prevalence of device failures against the amount of effort they must put into recovering from a failure. They must then calculate the loss in productivity.
Organizations that use Windows 10's semiannual channel may be more susceptible to device failures because full OS upgrades occur more frequently. In such situations, being able to quickly restore a user to his functional state after a device failure is vital not only to productivity, but also to establish user trust in the deployment.
Applications-wise, it is also important to strike a balance. Users may find it disruptive to have to restore application settings, but if the applications have integration or packaging technologies that make using profile management difficult or resource-intensive, then it may not be worth the effort. On the other hand, if the platform enables easy management of user settings, then providing them to the user can be a considerable boon.
There are other miscellaneous factors to consider when deciding whether to deploy a profile management platform.
- Do you expect to manage user policy -- enforcement of specific user settings -- as well as personalization -- saving user customizations -- when performing profile management? This may enable IT pros to concentrate their user settings in one particular area, as well as to extend the capabilities of their policy enforcement, but it may come at the expense of complexity and resources.
- Does IT expect to manage user settings across different operating systems or profile versions? Occasionally, between Windows 10 versions, Microsoft will adopt a new profile version, making the new ones incompatible with the old ones. This capability is available with some user profile management vendors, whereas others need workarounds to achieve this, or may even split user settings into two disparate silos.
- Is IT trying to improve user logon times or other key performance indicators (KPIs)?
Benefits of user profile management
Solid user profile management software can offer numerous benefits.
Failure recovery. IT can work with user profile management software to restore user settings without reconfiguring anything, which can reduce the disruptions associated with device failure.
Smooth roaming. Users can move from device to device and maintain a consistent look and feel. This can be done on a lower level to carry over the most useful settings or it can provide an identical experience on every device.
Consistency between multiple Windows OSes or profile types. Many profile management tools enable roaming between different OSes and profile types.
Migration support. Upgrading to newer OS versions or new Windows 10 versions is much easier because user settings are portable and IT can easily restore the settings after a failure.
Avoid profile corruption. Traditional roaming systems, such as Microsoft roaming profiles, were subject to corruption and bloat issues. More modern user profile management software avoids these issues and makes it easier to reset particular parts of a user's configuration settings rather than removing the entire profile when problems arise.
KPI improvement. Profile management tools can improve KPIs, such as logon time and application performance.
Challenges of user profile management
It is very important to balance risk versus reward when looking into user profile management software.
Increased storage. There is storage overhead IT must address when it moves profile settings away from local storage and onto the network.
Complexity. Some profile management tools, particularly higher end ones with both policy and personalization capabilities, can introduce a considerable amount of complexity. In extreme situations, especially when trying to mirror the user experience exactly across disparate device types, the amount of necessary upkeep can far exceed the user benefits. In these situations, it is important for IT to consider just how many user settings it actually needs to roam from device to device to improve the user experience.
Resources. Some profile management tools require web services and databases to function, as well as requiring high availability and disaster recovery, which go with these infrastructure components.
Agent deployment. A lot of profile management tools require agents to work, and some of these agents are quite intrusive. It is important to ensure application compatibility with these agents, and also to cope with deployment overhead.
While user profile management tools have previously benefited VDI and RDSH deployments the most, the failure recovery and migration support features they now offer make them a compelling prospect for more traditional setups that use a much more aggressive update process.