Microsoft acquires FSLogix – are they finally taking RDSH and VDI seriously?

Last Thursday, FSLogix were acquired by Microsoft (announced today). This is a very interesting move!

Firstly, there seems to be some changes afoot over at Redmond. For years, anyone who has followed my articles will have noticed that I’ve been very critical of Microsoft over their attitude towards Remote Desktop Session Host (formerly Terminal Services) and users that work in non-persistent environments like XenApp and XenDesktop. Users set up in these ways, either using RDSH or VDI, seemed to be treated as very poor relations by Microsoft – even to the extent of being completely passed by. Certainly, Windows 10 was endemic of this attitude – it was an absolute nightmare to get the OS set up to support roaming users.  For a very long time, Microsoft’s consultants and support teams pushed the line that users should have dedicated devices, and anything else was a niche use case that would be addressed last. Finding people within Microsoft who would take profile problems seriously was like looking for a needle in a haystack. But recently, there have been signs coming from the Redmond giant that they’d started moving away from this mindset.

Microsoft’s announcement about Windows Virtual Desktop was the first real big indication of a sea-change, with the offering of a true client virtual desktop running in Azure as part of an Office365 subscription finally arriving. It is stated that this will be available to run either in true one-to-one mode, with each user having a dedicated desktop, or on multi-user Windows 10, with shared client systems essentially replacing RDSH servers. However, when thinking about this model, some of the old questions spring to mind – and the one that jumped out at me straight away was managing user profiles when using non-persistent sessions or multi-user environments. Would Microsoft use roaming profiles, possibly one of the most problematic features they’ve ever given us? Or would they leverage UE-V and ESR (Enterprise State Roaming) in some form of Azure service? Of course, there was always User Profile Disks, which has been around for a considerable period of time – but it remains stubbornly single-session and annoyingly problematic when it comes to releasing file locks.

I believe that FSLogix’s Profile Containers feature is the big target of the Microsoft acquisition – because Profile Containers is, essentially, UPD on steroids (lots of ’em!) It works in very much a similar way, mounting the user profile to a VHD or VHDX on a remote server or cloud storage, but has a plethora of extra functionality which makes it so much more of a viable proposition for a true non-persistent solution. Profile management has been a missing link in Microsoft services for years, but now with FSLogix wrapped up into the WVD service, we can finally have something that handles all of it for us near enough straight out of the box. Details will be pretty sketchy, for now, as they are around the WVD service itself, but I’d expect to see the entitlement for the “FSLogix UPD” piece come as part of the Office365 subscription. Whether this will be the same subscription level that is required for WVD alone, or something extra beyond that, remains to be seen.

FSLogix wasn’t all about Profile Containers, though, and the App Masking and Java features may well also be rolled into the WVD service. Office365 Containers might be the part that gets discontinued, as this was primarily aimed at customers with third-party profile management solutions who wanted the VHD solution for large files such as the Outlook OST and Search databases, etc. Given that Microsoft will probably be using FSLogix as the entire profile solution for their service, it would make sense that the handling of large files is covered simply by the Profile Containers solution itself.

App Masking may well prove to be a part of the FSLogix feature set that can be very useful for the WVD service, particularly in the Windows 10 multi-user area. I can see App Masking being used as a solution primarily for software licensing, so that you can have your Windows 10 image loaded with software that can only be accessed by named users. Again, the Java remediation features will also be useful in handling legacy software that may need access to older Java versions – and maybe Microsoft could use the filter driver that handles this to even deal with compatibility issues within software beyond Java itself? If you’ve got a piece of software that, for instance, needs access to a legacy library that is either insecure or incompatible with another component, you could use the FSLogix filter driver to restrict the interaction in some way. And there’s always the FSLogix Redirection feature that is a handy tool for getting around odd issues – you can do weird and wonderful things like configure multiple default profiles, multiple Start Tile modifications, all sorts of cool stuff (some of which I will be covering in an article soon).

Of course, what does all this mean for existing FSLogix customers? Well, naturally, company acquisitions take time to gain any traction, so for now, I think that everything will carry on pretty much as it was. The real questions are around how FSLogix ongoing licensing costs will transition across to part of the Office365 subscription, and whether those using it as an on-premises solution will be able to still consume it when it heads towards the Azure model. Partners are another area entirely – how will this translate for partners who are selling FSLogix licenses? All of these things will hopefully be cleared up over the next few days.

But anyway, exciting times ahead, as I feel that the Microsoft acquisition validates the FSLogix approach I’ve been pushing to people over the last few years. I’ve always said that the issues with roaming profiles, folder redirection, logon times, device licensing and Java remediation can be overcome with this tool, and probably many others besides. I’m not going to stop working with FSLogix – far from it, there is a lot of cool stuff that can still be done with it – but it’s going to be interesting and exciting watching as it develops into a new piece of Microsoft’s (hopefully!) new-found and long-lasting engagement with RDSH and VDI users!

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