With the rapid adoption of Office 365, successful user acceptance is crucial to ensuring that Office 365 migrations go smoothly. Because of this, a top priority on every IT administrator’s list when considering a deployment, is to ensure their users have the best application performance, and user experience. This becomes a much bigger challenge when migrating users who are working in non-persistent environments, where they need to interact with their Office 365 mailboxes.
When configuring Outlook for 365 you have the following options:
- Use Exchange Online Mode – This makes a direct connection to the 365 mailbox in the cloud. Access to emails is instant, however, user experience can be hindered by poor or lagging connection. Additionally, users will have inadequate search capabilities when using this mode. End Result – Bad application performance and user experience.
- Use Cached Exchange Mode – This is Microsoft’s recommendation for Office 365 deployments. With this setting, Outlook will download a local copy of the mailbox (OST file), storing it in the users profile. This configuration addresses potential network and performance issues, and offers full search capabilities. However, in non-persistent environments, the OST file would need to be rebuilt at each logon. This will result in high network usage, and poor performance during the download process. End Result – Bad user experience.
VHD Containers to the rescue! A VHD container solution allows you to enable “Cached Exchange Mode” where by helping to address the challenge of “where do we store these OST files” in non-persistent environments. This functionality works by attaching a VHD container to the user’s virtual session, and configuring it to store the Outlook OST file. This solution can also be used to store large caches for other applications like OneDrive for Business, or OneNote. This VHD container can be stored, and mounted from a network share, allowing it to roam seamlessly between sessions. Accessing files located inside an attached VHD opens a single SMB connection to the share, and uses Block Level transfer to access the data. This introduces significant improvements when accessing large files, and helps to ensure the best application performance and user experience in Office 365 deployments. End Result – Great application performance and user experience.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the VHD container solution offered in Ivanti’s Environment Manager platform, so that we can see how this solution can help with addressing these Office 365 deployment challenges.
Ivanti’s latest release of Environment Manager (EM) 10.1 FR4 now includes a brand-new feature titled “Cache Roaming for Virtual Sessions”. This feature enables administrators to attach a VHD container to virtual sessions, allowing persistence of application caches, like Outlook OST files that are too large to store within the Personalization database.
This functionality is a replacement of the previous PowerShell scripts, and offers a much more reliable, and user friendly GUI configuration. Let’s dig right into this feature.
Within the EM FR4 console, the following new [Actions] are listed:
Here are the practical applications for each action:
The [Manage VHD] action is where administrators will create the VHD container, and mount it to a folder in the user’s profile. This VHD file can be located on a network share, assuming the share offers performant I/O. The VHD is mounted within a user context allowing users to mount it in order to store large application caches like Outlook OST files and/or OneDrive for Business caches in non-persistent sessions.
The [Cache Roaming] option is where administrators configure an application’s folder to create a symbolic link to the mounted VHD folder that was configured via the [Manage VHD] action. Administrations can also configure a symbolic link directly to a Network Share using the [Cache Roaming] action.
The drop-down list on the [Cache Roaming] action contains pre-configured settings which auto populates the “Application Name” and “Original Location” fields. Choose the “Select or Create New” option to specify details for an application that is not on the drop-down list.
When using the [Cache Roaming] action to create a symbolic link to the mounted VHD folder, ensure that the [Manage VHD] action runs beforethe [Cache Roaming] action so that the VHD mount is created first.
If you’re feeling hacky and want to streamline operations, the pre-configured applications in the “Cache Roaming” action can be modified by updating the following XML file:
%Program Files%\AppSense\Environment Manager\Console\Templates\Cache Roaming\CacheRoamingTemplate.xml.
Additional applications can be added to this XML file, which would allow for drop down list selection within the action. Honestly, it is just as effective to simply use the “Select or Create New” option.
We, at Alchemy, are working with a number of our customers to enable the successful upgrade from previous versions of Environment Manager to FR4. These upgrade services allow for streamlined practices, certified tasks, and further product adoption. Historically, many of these customers were making use of the PowerShell scripts which performed the VHD container function as documented by Ivanti [AppSense] here.
There were 2 main issues that Alchemy has observed when using the PowerShell scripts for VHD interactions:
- Increased complexity within the Environment Manager configuration
- Extended logon times running scripts during logon (running at the Desktop Created trigger can yield inconsistent results)
As a result of the FR4 release, these issues are now resolved. Using the new built in actions, the Environment Manager configuration will benefit from less complexity – and since these actions are using Windows APIs, logon times are much improved.
Using one of the industry-leading platform monitoring tools ControlUp, a comparison was performed of logon times using two endpoints from a real production environment. One client used the PowerShell Scripts to manage the VHD configuration, and the other used the native VHD actions in FR4. The results, displayed below, demonstrate logon times are greatly improved by utilizing the native actions in FR4.
If you are an existing Ivanti AppSense Environment Manager customer, and are currently using the PowerShell scripts to manage VHD containers, this feature is for you. It is recommended to upgrade to the latest release to make use of these native VHD actions.
As with any new product release, there are some opportunities for improvement. Being that this is the first iteration of the features, there are some noticeable omissions that the community would like to see of future updates, namely support for concurrent sessions. We’re looking forward to seeing how the product portfolio for Ivanti continues to evolve in 2018 and will share the highlights along the way.