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User virtualization - the key to successful desktop virtualization

By Pete Rawlinson, VP Marketing, AppSense, special to Network World
July 30, 2010 04:05 PM ET
This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

Network World - For companies deploying desktop virtualization, the main criteria for evaluating the success of the project is the end-user experience, according to a recent survey of 1,500 IT executives.

Desktop virtualization cheat sheet

But what exactly does the user experience consist of? Performance is key; a slower desktop is bad news for both end users and the organization. Mobility can be important ("What do you mean I can't take my desktop home?"). But a third component is the ability to maintain a familiar computing environment -- custom settings and usage policies.

Users should have the ability to maintain a fully personalized virtual desktop when not on the company network, and be able to take that 'personality' with them regardless of access device or OS environment.

User personalization is not new. Technologies to personalize the PC experience have been around for years. For example, Windows uses local profiles to load a user's preferences when the machine is booted up. In shared user environments, such as Terminal Server or Citrix XenApp, a modification to the local profile method, referred to as a roaming profile, is used.

But while personalization is essential, it is also vital for the business to be able to enforce corporate policy. An important consideration for businesses moving to the virtual desktop is the concept of ownership. A PC, by its very definition, is typically managed by the user (who is frequently the least qualified person to manage such an asset). However, when the environment is virtualized and centrally hosted, the perceived ownership transfers to the business (specifically the IT department).

This means that implementation and enforcement of company policy become more important - and more realistic - in virtualized environments. Policy is not the same for everyone and is subject to change as business agility dictates, which in terms of virtualization, leads to a need for tailored policy.

Policy represents what the company dictates (for example what network drives to map, what printers can be used, what applications can be accessed, etc.) and it must be tailored since policy varies depending on role (for example engineering vs. sales), device and location. Therefore, tailored policy becomes part of the user's virtual personality. It is the combination of corporate policy (what a user is allowed to do) and personalization (what they want to do) that defines the virtual user personality.

Both Citrix and VMware have recognized the need to incorporate a level of personalization into their desktop virtualization offering. They both have integrated profile management capabilities that provide the necessary personal experience for the user within that platform. However, the profile method is not optimized for use in virtualized, heterogeneous environments.
In desktop estates where more than one desktop delivery mechanism is used (for example Server Based Computing along with a physical desktop), profile management is seriously challenged since the entire user profile needs to be copied around the network and applied each time the new desktop is constructed in the delivery mechanism of choice. 

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