Thursday, November 8, 2007

Let's talk Roaming User Profiles

Regular readers of my blog will know that I have written a lot of articles about Vista's User Files Folders and the Folder Redirection feature. Folder Redirection is beneficial because it moves all of the User Files Folders to a network share. Not only does this make user data accessible from any workstation on the network and facilitate data security, it also offers some wonderful benefits for Roaming Profiles.

User profiles are made up of the User Files Folders, local AppData folders and the user registry settings. By redirecting the User Files Folders to the network, the largest part of the user's profile is taken off of the local machine. The resulting lean User Profile can then be made to roam quite effectively.

A Roaming User Profile:

  • is a User Profile that is stored on a network server share.
  • is copied down to a workstation at logon time.
  • provides all of the user's settings/preferences while using Windows.
  • is copied back to the network server share when the user logs off.
  • is stored securely on a server and backed up until the next time the user logs on.
It is wonderful to have a user's entire collection of settings and preferences follow them from one workstation to another without being stranded on any particular one. Having Folder Redirection shrink the size of the User Profile so that it can be copied down to the workstation quickly at logon time is a godsend.

I haven't planned to write much about Roaming User Profiles because it is very much a "set and forget" kind of thing as far as the configuration options go. The hard work is navigating all the Folder Redirection options and I've already covered that (check the archives in the blog if you want to see those articles).

Here is a very nice document from Microsoft Windows Vista: Managing Roaming User Data Deployment Guide that will get you started. It will tell you how to activate Roaming User Profiles for your users.

The document also talks about cohabitation of Vista with XP. As far as I am concerned, you will have to treat XP and Vista profiles as two completely unique and separate entities. Users who must roam between the two OSes will use a different profile on each OS without settings following them back and forth. After reading my past article Introducing the User Files Folders! I think you'll forgive me if I also declare that you won't be able to share Vista User Files Folders with XP Personal Folders in a mixed environment. They are just too different. If users wish to access the same data from each of the OS versions, they will have to browse to it manually via a network share or mapped drive - the two OSes won't be able to default to the same locations.

A warning... One thing I am discovering about Roaming User Profiles as I deploy Vista in my organization.... it does not appear to be very reliable. I am encountering instances of some user's profiles not roaming - not copying themselves back up to the server at logoff time. There is an interesting array of behaviours and errors that I am investigating at the moment. If I come to any conclusions or discover any universal solutions, you can be sure I will share them with you here.


Steve said...

I too have found to be inconsitancies from one vista system to another when configuring profiles. The most of annoying has been when the profile does not copy and there is no error to allow further investigation of the issue.

The only way around the issue so far has been to remove the users local domain account from the system, remove their profile from the system, remove their profile folder from the server and then log back into the system. At this point the profile folder is re created on the server and all seems to be fine.


Gordon Martin said...

That's good advice Steve. But you have to admit that you are weilding quite a heavy hammer there to get things to work. In my shop we have seen a wide variety of behaviors when we experience failures. We really haven't had time to troubleshoot since it would be a new feature for us and we are just struggling to get basic functionality going.

But if you've got time and money, I'd suggest opening a support call with Microsoft on your issue. Even if you do not see anything in your event logs, they can have you generate a report with much lower-level detail that will likely help them lead you to a solution.