Windows User Profile Disks are Good but…

GoodButWith the widespread adoption of Microsoft Office 365, OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox Enterprise, etc., Windows user profiles are now more bloated than ever before. In virtual workspace environments this can be a big challenge because if your users don’t have very fast access to their large user profile, user experience suffers greatly. Some type of profile containers/disks are now available from most desktop virtualization vendors. Profile disks, offloading the user’s profile to a virtual disk hosted on an SMB or in the cloud, is the very baseline type of profile that you must have to have a profile persist in virtual non-persistent desktop environments.

You likely already have a profile disk feature/capability included in your virtual desktop platform of choice. How easy or difficult it is to create and manage those profile disks varies greatly from vendor to vendor.

As stated earlier, a profile disk enables administrators to modify the way Windows works to offload the entire user profile to a virtual profile disk (VHD or VMDK). This approach allows for an otherwise large profile to be read at a block-level (very efficient) over the network. Liquidware ProfileUnity features the option to automate the creation of a ProfileDisk™ and additional profile containers in ProfileUnity. Profile disks and profile containers can be great – but there are many pitfalls you may experience if you rely on profile disks alone for your users.  Here are the Pros and Cons that you should know before you rely solely on a profile container/disk to provide an excellent user experience.

Pros

  • Good for making a users profile persist easily in its native form
  • Good for fast logons because a lot of data can be read at a block level rather than file-by-file
  • Great for offloading Office 365/Outlook caches
  • Ideal to solve Outlook indexing conundrums for virtual desktops like Citrix Desktop, Microsoft WVD/RDS and VMware Horizon View.
  • Really great at keeping cloud storage (Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox, Amazon Drive, Google Drive, etc) on a virtual network drive.
  • Great for anytime you have a large user profile

Cons

  • Profile disks run in the user context only and therefore can’t pick-up or virtualize other areas of the user profile outside of shell folders. If you have application that do not conform to app data areas, you’re user profile data list lost when using a user profile disk solution.
  • Profile disks are exactly like a local profile except it is on the network/cloud so they are susceptible to profile corruption. User’s really hate to lose their user profile and it can severely hamper productivity.
  • Profile disks by their very nature are locked to a Windows OS version so you must have a disjointed profile disk/container for every OS the user logs onto, the user cannot migrate their profile or co-exist it with another Windows version. Even Windows 10 has up to five versions of user profiles that are largely incompatible with each other!
  • Usually they are Network/Cloud attached only – most profile disk solutions have no method to go offline. Laptops that even occasionally leave the office are not a candidate for a profile disk/container.

The Good News
ProfileUnity was the first to offer the market a modern Profile Disk in 2014 and we quickly realized the shortcomings of relying on a profile disk alone.  Fortunately Liquidware has a complementary technology that fills the void and overcomes all of the cons above. When you leverage a profile disk from any vendor or ProfileUnity’s ProfileDisk with ProfileUnity’s ProfileBridge™ profile portability technology, you get a comprehensive Profile management solution. In fact, we’ve been implementing the two technologies together since 2014 to solve ALL of the typical Windows profile challenges and the latest market challenges including Office 365, OneDrive, and Skype for Business.

ProfileBridge technology leverages ProfileUnity’s Profile Portability feature to provide a robust, yet portable profile, that works across all Microsoft Windows versions (Windows 7, 10x, Server 2012r2/2016). The technology makes end user profile migrations on Windows obsolete and a user profile easily co-exist in mixed OS environments.

ProfileBridge and ProfileDisk technologies are designed to work closely together to achieve fast profile performance with the most flexible and dynamic Windows user profile in the industry.  For more information on how ProfileUnity’s ProfileBridge portability overcomes the shortcomings of profile disks and profile containers visit this page. Trial licenses are also available for download. 

 

The Best Tool to Measure and Trend User Experience (UX)

Preface

I want to start by discussing monitoring in general.  Monitoring products are in a funny place in the IT world.  Many companies consider them a luxury and not necessarily a requirement.  When they do start going down the monitoring road they almost always start by looking for a product that can do it all.  This will typically lead to the conclusion (correctly) that there is no singular product that can do it all.  One thing I learned while growing up with grandparents and my dad being produce farmers, you always pick the right tool for the job.  As they say, and I believe this applies to monitoring software as well, if all you have is a hammer, everything is a nail.

TL;DR

Ok, lots of words here but what does all this mean?

YOU CAN BE PROACTIVE VERSUS REACTIVE!!!!!

 

Wouldn’t that be nice for a change?

How you may ask?  Read on my friends!

And now I give you….Stratusphere UX

Stratusphere is designed from the ground up to measure and trend user experience.  There is a lot of functionality in this product and, truthfully, I cannot do it justice in one blog.  After you are done reading through this, please give these links a read as well to get a better understanding of the various topics I touch upon.

To the matter at hand though.  I’ve talked about FlexApp and ProfileUnity and how they enhance the user experience but how is the user experience defined?  Truthfully, for each user, it’s a bit different.  While I may be happy with my login time, my cube mate may not be.  He may be happy with his Windows performance, but I may feel it’s laggy.  It’s very subjective and as we (administrators, IT, etc) become more user oriented, this can be a problem.  How do you measure that which cannot be defined?  That brings us to Stratusphere UX.

To start with, I would never claim that Stratusphere can do everything, but it will work hand in hand with other monitoring products.  Many customers are doing this today because, as I’ve said before, you pick the right tool for the job.  There is no one ring to rule…..wait, I mean, there is no one tool to rule them all.

While the Stratusphere UX is lumped into the segment of monitoring software, it is all about giving you and your colleagues the ability to easily quantify the user experience.  Sounds simple right?  Citrix does that, VMware does that, other products can do that……Or can they?  Citrix and VMware will really only look at their pieces of the puzzle.  What if the problem doesn’t lie in the vendor portion?  Stratusphere can monitor from the endpoint (physical, virtual, cloud) to the virtual desktop or Session Host they may be accessing, or you could simply monitor the endpoint.  It’s entirely up to you.  Stratusphere will give you the whole picture of what is happening from CPU, memory, disk and even collate event logs from the end point to the latency of the network to the protocol being used (ICA/HDX and PCOIP/Blast) to the hypervisor to the virtual machines and that’s just a small part of the data being collected.  It doesn’t give you a slice of the pie, it gives you the entire pie!

Many people will initially look at a product like Stratusphere and use it to troubleshoot existing issues and then either sort of forget about it or only use it when an issue comes up.  They will try to give the tool to their help desk to help them troubleshoot.  Stratusphere can be used by the helpdesk but, truthfully, because Stratusphere is not real-time monitoring, it’s not the best tool for the help desk.  Help desk usually needs a look at what is happening at this moment in time, not what was happening a bit ago, and they typically don’t have time to dig into root causes.  Their job is to get the user back up and running and move on to the next call.  There are tools designed to do exactly this and they work great.  Troubleshooting is a valid use for Stratusphere and is an important piece but the ability to look at the bigger picture is critical and that’s what Stratusphere gives you, the administrator, through it’s ability to show long and short term trends.  Let’s look at an example, someone on the help desk mentions to you, the administrator, that they’ve gotten several calls this week on a particular problem all from different users.  The question now is, is it an anomaly or is something else happening that is affecting users?  How would you typically handle a situation like this?  Vendor tools may give you an idea if it’s within their sphere of influence but typically it’s only an idea.  You still need to dig to find out what and where the actual problem lies.  If you have a large farm of Remote Desktop Server Hosts (RDSH) or virtual desktops, this could be difficult to troubleshoot.  Stratusphere has the information you need!  You could start by looking at the just the users that called in to see what was happening and then, after identifying the actual issue, you can take a look at the bigger picture and see, is this happening to all users, a group of users or just these users.  You now know if it is an anomaly or something else that you need to take care of before it gets out of hand.

Let’s look at another example with virtual desktops.  Organizations moving to virtual desktops will try to size their virtual environment appropriately, but they don’t always have the tools to do so.  It becomes a guessing game.  It could be educated guesses, but it’s still guesses.  Stratusphere can monitor the users desktops and give you the information to size the environment appropriately.  Let’s not stop there though, in my experience, once the you start transitioning to virtual desktops, the users will almost always come up with complaints on something being slow.  Typically, it’s login times but it could be application launch times or whatever.  The phrase is “It’s not as fast as my physical desktop”.  Unfortunately, I’ve seen many times where these concerns are dismissed by IT and IT continues to move forward migrating users.  Why?  Because many times there is no data to confirm or deny the end user observation.  We, as IT, tend to think that the end user is just imagining these things much to our detriment.  Now the migration hits executives and they see slowness, lag or whatever.  Now it’s getting serious because if the execs are unhappy and they find out their employees are unhappy, guess what happens?  The migration may fail and virtual desktops get a really bad rap at the organization making any attempt to try again almost assuredly a no go.

Stratusphere would have the data from the original end points and the new data from the virtual desktops.  As the administrator, you could compare the data to see if there is an issue.  On top of that, you would have network information and hypervisor information to tie it all together to get a look at the overall picture once versus a piecemeal look and manually having to correlate the information.

That’s great but what if you have a virtual desktop environment already, how does Stratusphere help there?  Virtual environments can be tricky when doing capacity planning.  A lot of times, capacity is reached, or very close, and the administrators are scrambling to expand as users are now complaining.  What if you could see the trend of the usage of the desktops in relation to the virtual environment and see that consumption is growing at X% every month, quarter or year?  Or maybe your company bought another company and you want to integrate them into your existing virtual environment?  Unlike your existing users, you have no idea on how they work or consume data.  Pushing Stratusphere down would give you that information.  Either way, you look like a hero!

What’s New in Stratusphere UX 6.1

I’m excited to share some detail about our latest release of Stratusphere UX. Version 6.1 packs a ton of new features, including a new custom dashboard builder, a host of new Advanced Mode Inspectors, SpotCheck views and an all-new process optimization feature.

Whats-New

User experience can be an elusive goal in your end user workspaces. With this release we deliver a solution that continues to lead the market with features to help you quickly resolve issues, minimize risk, save time and money.

Broader Use Case Support Through Visibility

Stratusphere UX 6.1 introduces new dashboard views and a builder. Administrators can easily customize a graphical view of important metrics and information through a collection widgets. The solution ships with more than 10 built-in dashboard views and offers the ability to add and customize views based on your own KPIs and criteria. Interactive dashboard widgets can be easily moved, resized and focused to provide for almost limitless customization.

20181030-Whats-New-6.1-Dashboard
Watch a short video about the Stratusphere UX Advanced Mode Dashboards.

In addition to the dashboard builder and views, this Stratusphere UX release introduces a series of new Advanced mode inspectors. The process network visibility inspector expands Stratusphere UX’s application and process-level metrics by providing greater visibility to network connectivity, data usage, and latencies associated with process that communicate over the network. For each Windows process active on the network, the feature identifies domain, IP address, port, protocol, throughput, as well as metrics on associated latency while that application or process is communicating with a network or remote entity. Watch a short video on the Stratusphere UX Network Process Inspector.

Stratusphere UX 6.1 also introduces the ability to harvest Microsoft Windows Event Logs. This feature can be easily configured to capture, aggregate and trend specific log event details from Application, System, and Security categories, as well as filter based on Windows severity level (Critical, Error, Warning, Information). Specific Event IDs can be included or excluded, and associated built-in reports can be run and scheduled.

20181030-Whats-New-6.1-Event-Log
Learn more about the Stratusphere UX Event Log Inspector.

To further extend the Liquidware SpotCheck Methodology, this release includes a new SpotCheck view that employs over 100 grouped metrics and applies smart threshold filters to easily identify problems in the environment. Each SpotCheck metric offers threshold values that can be tailored to provide guidance in form of quick identification of issues. I’ll delve deeper in the SpotCheck views in a future post.

This release also includes visibility for VMware Blast metrics. Adding protocol support for this remote display protocol, Stratusphere UX 6.1 extends session details for Blast on VMware Horizon Agent 7.3 and later.

Process Optimization and More

All new with Stratusphere UX 6.1 is a process optimization feature. It provides an easily managed set-it-and-forget-it option to better manage user experience on sub-optimally-sized machines to enhance productivity and increase desktop density, while optimizing end user experience. The feature works to prioritize the most actively used, in-focus application while non-invasively deprioritizing resources consumed by other applications and background tasks. The feature can be easily enabled with built-in performance profiles on single-user and multi-user Microsoft Windows platforms. All optimization settings can be reported on with a built-in set of process optimization reports.

Additionally, this release includes Bring Your Own License (BYOL) support for Amazon Marketplace and Microsoft Azure. In terms of end-points, this release also increases our support of Apple end points with support for macOS Sierra, High Sierra, and Mojave.

We’re quite excited about this release, and think you will be too. I’d love to hear about your diagnostic and user experience monitoring blind spots. Write me and share your end user challenges as it relates to meeting expectations and quickly getting to the root cause of challenging issues.

ProfileUnity – Defining User Experience

ProfileUnity has been around for a number of years in the Liquidware portfolio. It delivers user environment management, including user profiles, secure policies, and access to user authored data. Sounds simple right?  After all, there are other one-off tools in the market that handle these individual things.  What sets ProfileUnity apart?  Why use it when you may already have “free” single use case tools or a solution provided by another vendor?  Read on my friends…

Profiles

First off, the Liquidware portfolio (ProfileUnity, FlexApp, and Stratusphere UX) is completely agnostic by not favoring a particular desktop delivery platform.  Really, what we are managing is Windows. That’s it.  We have no requirements for a particular broker, hypervisor, cloud, anything. In fact, with all three products, you can manage Windows across physical, virtual and cloud.  Are your desktops completely physical today and you are looking at moving some or all of them to virtual or full cloud. Or are you even going back to physical desktops?  Liquidware has you covered the entire way.

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Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop is a Big Deal! Read to learn why…

Brief Overview: Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) was announced a few days ago at Microsoft Ignite in Orlando. We at Liquidware think it’s a really big deal. You may have seen that Liquidware is mentioned in Microsoft’s announcement blog as already having incorporated support for WVD.

What is Windows Virtual Desktop and Why It’s a Really Big Deal!
With Microsoft’s announcement they are evolving their modern desktop technologies (formerly RDmi) to deliver, for the first time ever, a turnkey Windows Virtual Desktop hosted exclusively on Microsoft Azure Cloud. More specifically, WVD is a multi-user version of Microsoft Windows 10 that is only available on Microsoft Azure – workloads and storage will be hosted on Azure.  This is significant because previously customers had to procure everything they needed on prem or in the cloud of their choice and then assemble the parts. The solution is touted to be cost-effective because, as of now, any customer with a Windows 10/Microsoft 365 and E3/E5 or F1 subscription is eligible for WVD at no additional charge except for Azure compute and storage costs (which you’d have to pay in any cloud scenario).

Microsoft is marketing WVD as truly turnkey saying you can, “Quickly virtualize and deploy modern and legacy desktop app experiences with unified management—without needing to host, install, configure and manage components…”

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The 9 Most Requested Layering Features Over The Years And FlexApp Has Them

Introduction

This blog is really about what I thought I knew about layering products and how much I simply didn’t know.  I’ve been working with layering for about as long as anyone and I made the mistake of thinking that all layering products were essentially the same.  Sure they each did things a little differently but in the end the concepts were the same and their abilities were, for all intents and purposes, the same.  Boy was I wrong.

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Hello EUC World, It’s Me, Jeff Pitsch

For those that don’t know me, I’ve been in the EUC space for 20+ years.  I cut my teeth on WinFrame in what feels like a lifetime ago (in technology time it actually was).  In that time, I was a founding member of the CTP program and a Microsoft MVP for a number of years in Terminal Services/RDSH.  I’ve worked with small companies and Multi-national corporations on their Citrix environments but six and a half years ago I took a job at a company called Unidesk.  They had this technology called layering and it offered a way of delivering applications that was unique.  Over those years layering companies have come and gone (including Unidesk) but layering has grown in popularity and has, in my opinion, really started to take off in enterprise application deployments.  Why has it taken so long?  Simple answer is every technology takes time to grow and when it reaches a certain point it either stays and grows or dies on the vine.  Basically, smaller companies work out the “new technology” kinks and enterprises pick it up from there.

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Real-Time Visibility: Necessary or Cover Up?

I’m often asked if Stratusphere UX offers real-time metrics and information about the user experience. It’s a good question, for sure. Who doesn’t need the ability to visualize end user workspace issues and get to the root cause quickly. That said, I would ask that you not associate immediacy as an important variable in the ability to determine root cause.

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