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.

In the vein of being agnostic, ProfileUnity also supports native, object-based cloud storage across all three major cloud vendors:  Azure, AWS and Google. Supported started back in April 2018 with the release of 6.7.5 and AWS support.  6.7.6, also released in April 2018 saw support for Azure and Google Cloud added.  At the time of this writing, we have supported all three clouds for over five months.  Why is this important?  Traditionally, to save user profile information you would require access to a file share.  This is fine for on-prem but what if you want to move to some Windows boxes to the cloud?  Why should you have to put up a file server simply for saving profiles and incur the extra cost of running a file server or multiple file servers?  It didn’t make sense, so we added the ability to save to object-based storage which is significantly less expensive and much more resilient than IaaS.  This gives you a lot of flexibility in how and where you store profiles.  As an administrator, you are not restricted.

Second, let’s talk Office 365.  ProfileUnity has a technology called Profile Disk and Profile Containers that have been around since 2014.  It is a VHD or VMDK that is attached to Windows at user login and captures the entirety of the user profile.  This essentially makes the profile a local profile versus roaming.  What does that have to do with Office 365 though?  A few things:  1) it means we can capture a user’s OST so for all intents and purposes it is local and not over the network, 2) we can capture the search index for that user, 3) OneDrive can be redirected to it as well.  That’s the easy stuff.

Third is Profile Portability.  Microsoft has made it a habit of changing profile versions over the years.  This is important because if the version is changed, then user profiles are started over.  If you have two desktops, one is Windows 7 and the other is Windows 10, then the user will have at least two different profiles (Windows 10 has at least four profile versions already!).  All of these profiles are not compatible with each other.  For administrators, this dynamic can feel like a lose/lose situation.  As an admin, you lose if you decide to migrate profile information from an older version to a newer version.  This is typically labor intensive.  You also lose if you decide that it’s easier to simply start over new.  The lose is because your users will be extraordinarily upset because they’ve lost their customized settings. User productivity can also suffer if the move causes downtime.  Then you must deal with the fallout from that decision and if an executive gets involved…well, it’s not always pretty.

ProfileUnity is able to make a profile completely version agnostic to the profile version – in seconds at user logon.  If Microsoft flips the version bit, users will continue happily working along.  They will have their settings, configurations, etc.  Happy users, happy admin.  Ok, the profile is now migrated to Windows 10 but what if the user still needs access to Windows 7 for an important app that hasn’t been updated yet.  Most profile solutions the user would have two separate and distinct profiles now.  With ProfileUnity, the user can go back and forth between operating systems WITH THE SAME PROFILE!  This is not a one-way migration. This is true portability.

Policy Management

ProfileUnity will also help with policy management.  You can use ProfileUnity to assign printers, map drives, redirect folders, set environment variables, start menu, file associations and much more.  It can be used in place of Group Policy or along side Group Policy.  This will definitely help speed up log in times by moving many of the functions in Group Policy over to ProfileUnity.

Tired of making your users local administrators?  Take that away and use the privilege elevation function of ProfileUnity or deny privilege as well.  You can elevate on path, hash, or digital signature.

ProfileUnity assigns policies at an Admin level, even for Standard users. This powerful capability sets ProfileUnity apart allowing it to secure and lockdown desktops (disable USB save, hide control panels, etc), append to the user profile and registry outside of the user-level settings, and more.

Other Stuff

The ProfileUnity central management console is also leveraged to deploy Liquidware FlexApp layered applications as well.  This allows for one console to manage the entire user environment.  This also means that, on the user’s endpoint, there is only one agent, one filter driver and services to do all of this.  Due to this, it is very easy for Liquidware to coordinate all three pieces.  For example, a user’s profile can be delivered before a FlexApp is fully attached.  This is not an issue because the service knows it happened and can take measures to make sure that the profile pieces for that FlexApp are applied accordingly. Also,

Remember the context-aware filters (conditions) I discussed in the FlexApp blog?  Those same filters are used throughout ProfileUnity and can apply registry key edits and elevation for FlexApp applications if required. There are also triggers that can be configured to apply or take away settings.  For example, ProfileUnity can be used to implement location-based printing.  This is done through triggers, say with the reconnect trigger.

Conclusion

This is a very small subset of what ProfileUnity has to offer.  There are many more features that you can check out very easily by downloading and doing a POC.  I would encourage everybody to take a good look at what we have to offer to enhance the user experience on Windows and how easy it is for you as the administrator to setup and deploy.

My next article will be on Stratusphere UX and how that can quantify the user experience and give you insight into everything that would affect that experience.

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…”

In short, customers will have everything they need to deploy enterprise scalable Windows Virtual Desktops on Azure, directly from Microsoft. Solutions from Microsoft ecosystem partners, including Liquidware, can then be added to provide application layering, robust Office 365 and OneDrive profiles, and user experience monitoring, and more. Liquidware was honored to be on Microsoft’s RDmi panel discussion at Microsoft Inspire just a couple of months ago where several value added solutions were discussed.

Customers Will Be Compelled to Re-evaluate Their Desktops
Microsoft’s WVD approach with modern infrastructure like Azure Active Directory and all of the components you need for WVD turnkey ready in Azure is a game changer. Organizations that leverage virtual desktops or want to move to virtual desktops will be compelled to give it a hard look. Essentially, Microsoft WVD will give the customer the opportunity to streamline the way they are delivering desktops by providing an end-to-end solution where customers can choose add-on vendors that meet their needs for their specific enterprise use cases.

A Huge Opportunity for Microsoft Partners!
Although Microsoft will now have a more direct relationship with customers there are really big opportunities for partners, system integrators, and solution providers. For years the industry has waited for a true turnkey cloud desktop solution. With this announcement, Microsoft has stepped up to the plate and looks to be the desktop that millions of organizations will rapidly adopt. So what are the opportunities?

For starters, partners can register to be a “Microsoft Cloud Solution Provider” to sell Windows Virtual Desktops themselves. And just like RDS and on-prem VDI, there will be integration/consulting services that enterprise customers will require, and there will be value added solutions from vendors like Liquidware that add functionality like application layering, environment/profile management, and user experience monitoring. You can register on the Liquidware web site to become a partner of ours if you aren’t already.

Windows Virtual Desktop + Liquidware Essentials – A Complete Azure Desktop
We have been honored to have worked closely with Microsoft’s RDS/Azure Virtual Desktop product management team since very early this year to ensure compatibility across our Application Layering, User Environment Management (including profiles and Office 365/OneDrive cache), and Monitoring and Diagnostics. We’re pleased to announce that we’ve already been fully supporting Microsoft’s own internal testing of Microsoft WVD across our entire product line including FlexApp Application Layering, ProfileUnity User Environment Management, and Stratusphere monitoring and diagnostics.

With Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop and Liquidware, joint customers will have an end-to-end solution that delivers high-fidelity Azure-hosted desktops at scale and at a cost-effective price. Liquidware solutions enable the following benefits with Windows Virtual Desktops on Azure.

  • Plan, grow, and scale with the industry leading user experience metrics – Stratusphere has been used by thousands of organizations to assess for virtual desktops and assessments for Windows Virtual Desktops are quick and easy. Solution providers and customers alike can plan and size their WVD enterprise with confidence with Stratusphere. After deployment, Stratusphere is leveraged to know User Experience at a glance and enables administrators and help desk staff to quickly diagnose negative trends before they impact end-user productivity.
  • Seamless user migrations from your current virtual or physical desktops to Microsoft Virtual Desktops with zero downtimeProfiles, applications, policies, and user data are all available at first logon. Even if you are upgrading from Windows 7 to Windows 10, ProfileUnity automatically makes user profiles compatible in seconds at logon.
  • Streamlined base image management – FlexApp has already been tested with the latest Microsoft modern desktops to layer applications on Windows 10 multi-session desktops.
  • Enterprise grade profile management -Office 365 caches and OneDrive necessitate a fast profile cache in virtual desktop environments. ProfileUnity’s Profile Disk technology enables quick logons for persistent and non-persistent desktops and once Microsoft launches a single user version of WVD (also thought of as VDI), ProfileUnity Profile Disk will be of even greater benefit. When coupled with ProfileUnity’s cross OS profile compatibility for Win 7/10/Server environments, there is no comparable solution today.
  • Process Optimization- Stratusphere’s process optimization features for desktops was built with virtualized environments in mind. The solution automatically adjusts workloads with process optimization for CPUs to provide the best desktop performance available.
  • Quicker Overall Logons – Stratusphere can be leveraged to analyze logons while ProfileUnity can be leveraged to dramatically improve overall logon times with centralized profile and policy management. Microsoft Azure Active Directory look-ups are streamlined with ProfileUnity to apply policies to any of over 144 context aware settings.

Current Liquidware Customers Are Prepared!
If you are currently a Liquidware customer you are prepared to seriously consider Windows Virtual Desktops as soon as they are available. Regardless of the virtual desktop platform you are using today, because you’ve chosen industry leading  workspace management from Liquidware, our products will make your transition to Windows Virtual Desktops easy and simple.  If you are not a customer or partner, you can try our solutions for free today here.

You can learn more and sign up for Microsoft’s Public Preview of WVD here.

Footnote: Another excellent source of information on WVD is Rob Beekman’s Blog which can be found here.

 

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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Going to Microsoft Inspire? Join our Speaking Session with Microsoft – RDS/RDmi Applications & User Profiles from Azure

Microsoft Inspire is their worldwide partner conference and it will be held at the Mandalay Bay Conference Center next week in Las Vegas – July 15-19, 2018.Capture

We’re proud to have been asked and to be participating in a speaking session on Remote Desktop Services (RDS): Partner business opportunities for hosting Windows desktops and applications on Microsoft Azure.

The panel will be chaired by Microsoft’s Principal Program Manager Lead, Remote Desktop Services, Clark Nicholson.

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Stratusphere UX Profile Score: User Experience Quantified

User Experience is the hot buzz-phrase du jour. Vendors in the end user computing space want to associate their product with it. Often you’ll hear and see claims like, “we enhance user experience” or “we make desktop user experience better.” And while I agree with these sentiments, I can’t help but think the issue isn’t about flowery marketing language, but about taking the subjective and making it actionable for the benefit of IT operations.

ux-profile_01

Meeting user expectations and delivering user experience is hard. Translating what is inside your users head and defining IT process and operations around meeting these subjective desires can be an almost impossible goal without the right visibility detail. About a year ago I wrote about Baselining the User Experience and Defining a Measure of Success with Stratusphere UX. I wrote about the shift towards using user experience as a definition of success and the opportunity to define SLA and KPIs that can quantify your approach.

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