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The Need for Workspace Management

Managing the user desktop experience is getting more and more in the picture in almost every IT infrastructure. The User Desktop management started with arranging that the user settings configured within his desktop were retained, so the user only had to configure those options once. This started with implementing roaming profiles by Microsoft. While those roaming profiles had several issues, Flex or Hybrid Profiles were introduced.

But nowadays User Desktop management is a lot more of profile management. The wished and demands of the users changed a lot and expectations are higher. This is both from the user perspective that things are preconfigured/automated, because other services are delivered fully configured as the IT landscape. Summarized main reason that User Desktop Management is getting more important are from an endpoint user perspective:

  • Users expect that the application is preconfigured and starts without any user configuration actions
  • Users are working on several platforms, but wants that their configured settings are roamed over all the platforms (for example Windows XP workstation, while remote the users connect to a Windows 2008 R2 RDS server
  • Users expects that the start menu and other components showing application only shows the application the user needs to perform their daily activities
  • Users would like to determine via an easy tool where shortcuts to applications are placed



Beside the users' wishes and needs there also several business needs that make user desktop management more important. Several companies has requirements that some applications are only available within specific time frames, from specific locations, only may run on specific special workstations (for example special hardware requirements) and so on. Also the continuity and stability of the users' workplace is more important than before. When a user does not have to his applications many users cannot do any actual work anymore nowadays.

So both from the needs of the end user as business requirements managing the user profile has been moved to manage the User Workspace. I think there is actually no doubt that the managing the User Workspace has become an important task of IT department.  However arranging the user's workspace management is a bit more difficult. It started with roaming profiles and login scripts, but nowadays the needs won't fit in a login script anymore and many of those scripts are almost impossible to maintain and/or change. So another way to arrange the workspace should be found and this should be considered in early stage so if needed budget can be founded for it.

In almost every starting project this is one the most difficult tasks. Because most implementations already are pretty expensive (especially SBC or VDI) it's difficult to convince decision makers that a Workspace Management product is necessary.

And they are actually right, in every project you should consider if and what kind of additional product is required. Nowadays Microsoft offers via the Policy Preferences some nice basic configuration options like pre configuration of applications and managing shortcuts. But it can be that the GPO Preferences will not fulfill your needs. Also there is no hybrid profile solution by Microsoft available, so probably you will need to purchase a product for that (for example Immidio Flex Profiles, Jumping Profiles and so on). Also with scripting and freeware tools  you can do a lot to fill the functionality needs that Microsoft preferences won't fulfill, but also there will be limitations and it's difficult to maintain and adjust. I have seen several implementations done with scripting that worked actually fine, but when something needs to be changed the system administrators did not have a clue what to do.

In my opinion it's really advisable in large infrastructures to implement a Workspace Management solution. Take this already into account in the starting phase and create a budget for such a product. It's difficult to convince a decision maker for such product into the budget of a project, so make a good plan with strong arguments why such a product is needed (possible with a business case, although there are not many hard wins on budget).

There are several products available, like RES Workspace Manager (formerly known as PowerFuse), AppSense Management Suite, Tricerat Simplify Suite, Scense, Liquidware Labs and so on and so on. It depends on the requirements and wishes of the client, but also on the type of system administrator which product suits best. Normally I will setup the requirement list and build a PoC with the selected products and let the customer choose between the fulfillment in their requirements and the feeling system administrators have with the product. A good start is het Smackdown of Ruben Spruijt and his colleagues, which can be found here.

Conclusion

Managing the User Workspace is definitely one of the major topics in IT infrastructures nowadays mainly the users expects a fully preconfigured environment, but also using of more and more platforms (where the user would like to see the same configuration) and business requirements. Microsoft extended with the GPO preference their possibilities and it can be that this functionality fulfills the needs, however you will need to have a product for managing the profile (remember that Citrix XenApp/XenDesktop has such functionality in their product). If the requirements are more complex than a Workspace Mangement product will be essential. I recommend selecting the product on both the requirements as the type of system administrators.