On the run up to VMworld 2009, there seems to be an increasing amount of activity on the subject of user personalization in VDI. Gartner has written about dynamic workspace includng user personalization as a key element of the stack. What does it mean? What is user personalization all about? And, where does it need to be? Let’s take a closer look.

Aren’t all PCs supposed to be personalized? What’s the big deal?

Personalization of the desktop is really all about making the working experience for the user as effective as possible. Sure this means users have photos of their family or favorite sports team as their wallpaper, but personalization is more than that! Think about all the things you have done to make your personal computer your own – from toolbar settings to your email signature, to applications you have installed since being supplied with your machine. Then think about how IT is able to manage the user-specific component of this machine – corporate policy, user access rights, PC lifecycle management, patching and security updates. It’s a constant struggle between IT who needs to manage the PC and the user to wants to personalize it. The more personal the PC, the less control IT has over that machine and the more expensive it becomes to manage.

Does desktop virtualization help or hurt the cause for users?

The emergence of desktop virtualization provides a real opportunity to address this long-standing struggle. Those assets of the desktop that are common to many users, including corporate OS and apps, can now be standardized and automatically delivered ‘on-demand’ to users from a central source. In fact, the only way to get scalable and cost effective virtual desktops is with single instance management of the corporate OS and applications – as with Citrix XenDesktop. A ‘corporate’ OS can be dynamically provisioned into a virtual image, and likewise, corporate applications can be delivered on-demand onto the virtual desktop as needed. The result? A scalable, low-management, low-storage, low-cost corporate desktop for all employees. The third key component of this scalable virtual desktop is personalization – so that you can make each user’s virtual desktop personal.

So, how do you pick the right solution?

Based on my interactions with customers successfully implementing virtual desktops, I have come to a conclusion that there are 5 key requirements that you need to consider for delivering personalized virtual desktops:

  1. Starting with managed user profiles or equivalent – A system that can store user settings and personalization changes. A system that can provide an easy and fast way to manage the settings for users. This is included as part of XenDesktop and gets you started with your personalized virtual desktops.
  2. Getting On-demand ‘personality’ – To increase the responsiveness of the desktop and logon, only provide parts of the user personality required by the user at the time when needed. Why load what a user is not going to use?
  3. Allowing user-centric configuration – This may be a bit counter-intuitive to personalization; however, role based configuration is a critical component of making every user’s desktop ‘personal’. It starts with configuring which applications a user has access to. XenDesktop (with XenApp as an application management system) offers the ability to control the applications. IT may need more granular control – such as what printers users will need and what drives they can access.
  4. System self-healing from user errors – To be able to automatically roll back to pre-configured user settings in case any personalized changes made by zero conflict centralized configurations.
  5. Ensuring visibility – Giving IT the ability to see into the user environment and solve potential problems before the user gets involved creates a continuously improving desktop estate as well as reducing costs
How do you get it going?

We have included #1 and parts of #3 in Citrix XenDesktop. To address other requirements that cover comprehensive enterprise-level control and management of personalization, I have seen customers successfully use the combined solution of Citrix XenDesktop and AppSense Environment Management to good effect. In addition, AppSense Environment Management is also able to offer Enterprise-level scale to cover not just your virtual desktops but also your physical environments, or environments where you may be using multiple technologies such as XenApp published/hosted or streamed apps to physical PCs and XenDesktop.

So when you hear about ‘user personalization’ or ‘user profiles’, look deeper into the details of what’s being discussed. Successful (low-cost, high adoption) VDI requires the ability to use a single instance of OS and apps on demand across an entire company. I have seen that customers have successfully combined Citrix XenDesktop with AppSense Environment Management to ensure user adoption across all platforms for thousands of users, and it’s being considered as the most complete solution for delivering personalized virtual desktops.

What to expect in coming weeks?

I expect to see more point solutions and some technology acquisitions and OEMs. However, they have two fundamental shortcomings, in my opinion:

  • They are built only with the perspective of user personalization. Any user personalization product needs a solid desktop virtualization solution.
  • They solve one of the requirements I listed above and may not be enough to address all of enterprise requirements.

As you are doing your assessment on personalization, I encourage you to review this list of requirements that I have seen in successful implmentations of virtual desktops. Also, I’d love to hear your comments on other requirements around personalization that I haven’t covered here.