Top tools for user profile management
You can manage profiles with Active Directory or the tools built into your VDI software, but third-party options from AppSense, RES software and Liquidware Labs offer more features and can reduce storage needs.
Third-party user profile management tools overcome roaming user profile bloat and they provide added features to streamline push-and-pull settings across many different end-user devices.
This guide looks at several profile management tools. Many organizations with smaller virtual environments tend to stick with Active Directory and roaming profiles to keep costs down, and other organizations use the profile management tools that come with their virtualization platforms.
But as the number of users grows, third-party commercial tools can greatly reduce storage space for profiles.
AppSense Environment Manager
AppSense Environment Manager separates the user environment from the supporting infrastructure, which lets you manage user profiles from a single console. You can migrate users' personalization settings from a physical, standalone workstation or server to virtual desktops and you can migrate settings from one operating system to another. The tool lets you customize settings at the user or application level and apply them based on device, location or application policies.
As a safety measure, Environment Manager offers a rollback feature that lets you revert to a previous profile for users or applications that you know worked correctly. You can also let users work offline while retaining their profile settings, which are available locally.
The most common approach when using Environment Manager is to first create a mandatory profile that contains all necessary application settings, then redirect folders so users' personal files and settings are saved to another location outside of the profile. Next, manipulate files and folders -- to eliminate very large files, for example -- and modify the Windows registry to save settings when a user logs off.
Environment Manager works with Windows XP through Windows 8.1; Windows Server 2003 through Windows Server 2012; 32-bit and 64-bit machines; and Microsoft Terminal Services, Citrix XenDesktop and VMware View. A per-user AppSense license retails for about $85.
RES Software Workspace Manager
RES Software Workspace Manager supports the same operating systems and virtualization platforms as AppSense Environment Manager, and its feature set is similar, but RES Software licenses Workspace Manager across different levels -- or modules -- designated as Bronze, Silver and Gold. All modules include the Dynamic Configuration module. The Silver license also offers either the Delegation and Compliance or the Adaptive Security module.
The Dynamic Configuration module lets users create a personalized desktop, including all of the usual user settings. Delegation and Compliance is an administrative module that provides visibility into configurations and changes. The Adaptive Security module provides compliance and security features.
All three modules are part of the Gold license. A per-user Workspace Manager license retails for $30 (Bronze); $60 (Silver); and $90 (Gold).
ProfileUnity is a Liquidware Labs product for physical and virtual desktop management that's known for its scalability; it can manage more than 10,000 user profiles from one interface. ProfileUnity gathers user profiles locally and can deliver a single profile per user across different types of desktops. The software also applies policies based on user type, location and other contexts, and includes application rights management control.
ProfileUnity retains user profiles in the native Microsoft format, so you don't have to worry about vendor lock-in. You can easily convert --or revert -- to Citrix or VMware profile management tools. A per-user perpetual ProfileUnity license retails for about $39.
Other profile user management options
When researching user profile management tools, be sure to check out ForensiT Ltd.'s User Profile Manager, Tricerat Inc.'s Simplify Profiles and Immidio B.V.'s Flex+ products. These tools are more lightweight than the others that are described here -- they have fewer features and are more narrowly focused on simple user profile management. Simplify Profiles and Flex+ are similar to the AppSense, RES Software and Liquidware Labs products.
Tricerat offers Simplify Profiles as a standalone product, or you can purchase it as part of the Simplify Suite, which is an all-in-one printing, profile, application and security management tool.
The Immidio Flex+ website includes specific scenarios in which you can use Flex+ along with a section on benefits per role, both of which are handy for the prospective buyer.
ForensiT's User Profile Manager lets you create one user profile that's shared by a group of users, which is useful for computer labs, call centers and other environments where users don't need a lot of customization. You can also create profiles by job role.
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