User Profiles and Folder Redirection

There are so many topics related to computers that it is difficult to cover all of them, even in a full and diverse career. Obviously some are more important than others while others can be safely ignored.

In my own career, I’ve come across issues with user profiles quite a few times. During my two year tour of duty as a reseller, it was quite often a problem area. As a user, I get to experience the flakiness myself.

Probably the most annoying problem is when things are forgotten. This probably happens due to corruption with a reset to a known default profile state. For the most part it seems to be more of an art than science. It seems like such an easy topic but once you throw in the potential for multiple uses concurrently, there are bound to be complications.

Specific companies have formed businesses around these problems. AppSense and Sepago come to mind.

Anyways, the point of sharing this with you is that I found some interesting web pages related to this topic and it seemed like a good idea to post them here. Hopefully I can add some more value after having handed these links to you.

The first is a tutorial about how to deal with roaming user profiles and folder redirection. It is actually more like an article but it reads like a tutorial. From this you should get the basics of what is going on and why you would want to do this in the first place. The key message is that roaming profiles give you the ability to move users around (with their preferences and files) while still being able to perform well by offloading certain folders (like My Documents) to network shares.

The three biggest drawbacks to roaming profiles comes from concurrency, load time, and a lack of customization for the host computer. The concurrency problem can lead to corruption or lost configuration. The load time is based on bloated profiles over relatively small network links. The customization is difficult based on the fact that each computer is going to be different with regards to what it has installed. The load time can be alleviated by using Folder Redirection but it should not be thought of as a panacea. The Folder Redirection only works with five folders anyways so you are bound to still have issues with other locations. The concurrency problem is much more difficult to solve given the simple rules that Windows uses to store the profile during logoff. Basically the last writer wins. Things really get messy when you have two writers at once. It is bound to happen eventually and is much more likely in a server based computing environment.

AppSense has a Windows User Profile Management whitepaper that covers these very topics (and more). It’s always good to see companies that have thought long and hard about such problems and have come up with good solutions.

Microsoft obviously cares about this and has provided documentation about Folder Redirection. It does seem odd that they have not addressed the weaknesses of User Profiles. Perhaps I’m just not aware of any recent improvements. If you skip up a level in the Microsoft documentation, you will find yourself at “User Data and Settings Management“. From here you get the whole view and can easily pick which area most interests you.

The value add I can give you is that it is important to realize that user profiles, even roaming ones, do not guarantee that the user will be able to run the same applications from machine to machine. In fact, unless the machines are deployed the same way, it will be virtually impossible to guarantee that the user will get any access to the applications from their normal desktop. This issue becomes more important the further you roam away from the data center. In the wild frontier, no one can hear your screams when your profile arrives but you cannot do anything with it.

In this way, user profiles can actually hold you back. Unless you stream the applications, you have little hope of starting what you really want to do your work. From this perspective, user profiles are really only half of the battle. The rest requires transporting the applications in relation to the user profiles. It seems like an obvious distinction but yet most users would assume that since they got their desktop preferences that they also got their applications as well.

Well, perhaps in the next version of Windows they will include some version of application and desktop virtualization which allows for full portability of the whole desktop. It will certainly be a good day when that happens.

Feel free to add any angst value to this topic. What kind of troubles have you had? What worked for you? What do you wish would change that is out of your control?

4 responses to “User Profiles and Folder Redirection

  1. Aaron.

    I have been using AppSense Environment Manager to manage our user profiles for almost 2 years now. I do not agree with your suggestion to avoid using the solution, although I would be interested to know your reasons since all I have seen is success here so far. Our solution encompasses thousands of user and hundreds of servers.

    Yes, there was a small amount of upfront work associated with the implementation, but it has been running now for almost 2 years and my personalization issues are no longer a problem. I have recently spoken with AppSense regarding their roadmap and they have hinted on several occasions a new version will be released in the coming months with functionality to automate profile setup and reduce that admin overhead involved.

    Thanks

    Sunil

  2. Jeff,

    Good blog and very nessecary. I am surprised to see you mention there is no control over the profiles etc with Roaming Profiles. Other vendors have successful conquered these issues. Entrigue and Script Start come to mind. It is the most comprehensive solution we could find. It automates end user profile settings and their most robust version makes Profiles completly portable. This rids you of the issue of little control over roaming profiles. The solution, in fact, gives you total control over end user profiles while remaining portable and flexible in any Windows environment.

  3. Hi,

    this is a really good compilation of information about user profile management. In addition to the resources mentioned I’d like to point you to my whitepaper about Citrix User Profile Manager which also contains an extensive discussion about traditional remedies to solve profile problems. You can find the latest version here: http://blogs.sepago.de/nicholas/2008/05/21/future-development-of-the-user-profile-whitepaper/.

    Regards,
    Nicholas.

  4. Hi All,

    I like to use a combination of Folder Redirection and Citrix profile ives me great control and flexibility.