Persona management refers to technologies that isolate aspects of an individual user's personal settings or customizations from the base operating system image. We find user persona technologies to be a widely misunderstood topic, as there are a variety of approaches and categories for these solutions and the various categories serve different purposes and solve different problems for customers. With the arrival of VMware View 5 and our View Persona Management functionality, I thought I would take this opportunity to call out the various categories of persona management technology and what each of them does.
Persona management is definitely not one size fits all!
The most basic form of persona management is simple file/folder redirection. Take the Microsoft Windows "My Documents" folder and place it on a network share. This makes files accessible from multiple OS images, as long as the storage is accessible and is a very basic OS capability.
The next category adds user settings to the file redirection and is what I would call profile segmentation. Segmentation splits the profile contents up into pieces, can perform some data transformations and typically stores these settings in their native format. I think of this category of technology as profile backup/restore sequences with some data management thrown in. The backup is performed at Windows Logoff time and the restore is performed at subsequent Logon. This technology can preserve user settings between sessions and handle profile conversions, such as the format differences between WinXP and Windows 7. Examples of this type of technology would be Liquidware Labs' Profile Unity, Immidio Flex Profiles or even native Microsoft Windows Roaming Profiles if XP/Win7 profile conversion isn't required." These technologies tend to make Login and Logout times longer, due to the required data transfers and also increase I/O loads during these operations.
VMware View Persona Management (read more about View Persona Management here) belongs to a different category, that I will call profile streaming. This technology also stores the profile outside of the OS image, however it concentrates on managing the I/O aspects of loading and unloading the user profile. By streaming or paging the profile in from a CIFS file share when elements are referenced, traditional logon delays and I/O impacts are deferred. Only the files and registry settings necessary for the logon operation are transferred and cached. Similarly, changes to settings and files are periodically updated to the share, always providing at least crash consistent profiles and reducing I/O load on logoff. Unlike profile segmentation, there is no transformation of the data. For this reason profile segmentation and profile streaming can be quite complementary.
Beyond pure profile management, there are a couple of categories of broader solutions that include profile management among their capabilities. I call one category workspace Management, which goes beyond profile management and encompasses both policy-based management and control over startup sequences and services. Such solutions are more complex to deploy and entail a backing database engine. Examples of this type of solution would include AppSense or RES Software.
And last but not least, beyond workspace management is an emerging category of solutions around image layering and composition, adding the ability to individually manage applications of all flavors and recomposite the image out of its constituent parts. Unidesk and Wanova are examples of this new category of technology.
Hopefully I've shed some light on the various types of persona management solutions in this post and gave you some insights into how they can be used to address different needs.