Back in June (2016), AppSense released Environment Manager 10 and in doing so skipped Environment Manager 9 altogether. Personally, I am not a fan of this. I think it was them trying to jump on to Microsoft’s Windows 10 coat tails and trying to ride that wave. Microsoft can be excused for doing this because they had a valid technical reason for doing this… As far as I know AppSense don’t have a technical reason for doing this.
Nevertheless, its still a software release and as such there are some changes that need to be discussed.
Environment Manager 10: Whats New
The first change, aside from the minor changes to the setup program, will be the Server Configuration Portal. AppSense have removed the old Server Configuration Utilities and replaced these with a new web based console. The SCP can be accessed by browsing to http://localhost:7750 on a machine with Personalization Server 10 installed. Whilst this web console is considerably slower that the original Server Configuration Utility and far less intuitive the intentions are good. AppSense are in the process of making the product friendlier for large organizations deploying a number of servers. The idea behind the Server Configuration Portal is that you should eventually be able to configure and manage all of your servers from a single portal. Personally, I don’t think that AppSense have done enough on V1 of the portal and would have liked to have seen the old SCU ship alongside the portal for at least another version or two until such time as the portal had some of this new functionality that has been spoken about.
The next change you will notice is the distinct lack of colour in the console which is down to the re-skinning of the product consoles. I’m not a fan of this change whatsoever! Sure the consoles looked dated and desperately in need of a refresh but removing the colour and adding hand drawn icons isn’t really what people were talking about. In fact, I find the colourless consoles more difficult to use.
On a positive note, AppSense have added additional actions into Environment Manager 10. The Drive and Printer mapping actions have seen a lot more functionality introduced. Simply things like providing a friendly name to a drive mapping, using the next available drive letter or hiding a drive all mean that the drive mapping action is relatively comprehensive. In terms of the printer mapping action, this has also seen a number of additional options, most notably, the ability to specify the driver to use for a printer mapping. New create text file and Update Text File actions have been added to allow user to create ini / cfg files for applications using policy if required. New Outlook actions have been added allowing Administrators to create mail profiles, update mailboxes and also implement standard signatures for users which are all actions that customers have been asking for for many years. Next a Set Desktop Wallpaper action allows administrators to implement a desktop wallpaper for users through a single action instead of using complex scripts, registry actions or group policy actions like they used to have to do in the past. Last but not least, a Pinned Items action allowing Administrators to pin or unpin items from the Windows 7 or Windows 10 taskbar and start menu’s.
Personalization Server has seen slightly more dramatic changes. First and foremost, a change to the default TCP port. In the past AppSense simply used the default web site on port 80. With the release of Environment Manager 10, AppSense has changed the default port to 7771. This is because the Personalization Server no longer installs into the default web site. If you don’t like this change you can configure host headers so that this new Personalization Server web site shares port 80. In my experience its easier and quicker to simply open up port 7771 in the Windows Firewall on the Personalization Server than implementing host headers. Upgraded installations will not be affected by this change and will continue using port 80.
Next the removal of the Personalization Group boundary. Environment Manager 8.x used to treat a Personalization Group as a boundary. If a user was a member of two Personalization Groups their data was completely isolated. Consider the scenario where two Personalization Groups exist with membership rules configured whereby users logging on to a Laptop would be members of a Laptop Personalization Group. Users logging on to a VDI image would be members of the VDI Personalization Group. In this instance the user would have two completely separate “profiles” in each Personalization Group. Environment Manager 10 changes this so that the user may have different settings applied to each group (e.g. Offline Mode) however the application groups and windows settings would be consistent. If you wanted to achieve the same results as the Environment Manager 8.x infrastructure you could either create two instances of an application group, for example, Office 2016_Laptop Group and Office 2016_VDI Group and then assign each to the respective personalization group. Alternatively you would need to leverage the multi-instance support introduced in Environment Manager 8.5 and configure two separate instances.
Two of the most reported issues with Environment Manager 8.x have been the inability to perform bulk operations and the speed of the file based registry (FBR) file. With the release of Environment Manager 10, AppSense have release a Personalization Operations Console, which replaces the old Environment Manager Browser Interface. This console allows administrators to perform operations, in bulk, for their user estate in addition to the legacy per user capabilities. One point to note is that this console does not provide self service capabilities to end users. The File Based Registry has also been removed and replaced with native HIVE files which will improve logon performance particularly over time when the registry typically becomes bloated. The way this has been implemented is that each application will load its registry hive into the HKEY_USERS hive thereby still retaining isolation between applications. Whilst its not perfect, and can lead to the HKEY_USERS hive looking very messy making troubleshooting a session on a XenApp machine somewhat more troublesome it does go a long way in reducing the number of performance related issues previously seen with the FBR file.
A number of minor changes have also been made under the hood. Additional Advanced Settings have been introduced;
- InactiveUserExpiryADCheck – will check if a user exists within Active Directory before deleting their profile after InactiveUserExpiryDays has elapsed.
- InactiveUserExpiryDays / InactiveProfileExpiryDays – Both of these used to be Months but have now been changed to Days. Bear this in mind when referencing best practice guides and do not set this to 13 as this will mean if someone goes on a 3 week holiday their data will be purged. You want this to be somewhere between 356 and 396 depending on your companies policy.
- UpgradeFBRToHive – All new installs will have this set to true by default. Upgrades will have this set to false. DO NOT change this until all agents have been upgraded to Environment Manager 10.0 or newer. You cannot switch this back AND legacy agents cannot use the new Hive files created in Environment Manager 10.
Legacy Windows Support
Support for the following operating systems has been dropped:
- Windows XP
- Windows Vista
- Windows Server 2003
- Windows Server 2003 R2
- Windows Server 2008
In addition, AppSense have updated their licensing to their V2 licenses. A point to note here is that a legacy Management Center cannot deploy a V2 license. This means that the first action to take when thinking about an upgrade is to get the Management Center updated so that you can deploy V2 license files to your endpoints.
In addition, you will need to contact AppSense to obtain your V2 license files.
Should you upgrade?
This is the question on everyone’s lips! If you’re running Environment Manager 8.5 or below, you should definitely start planning an upgrade to Environment Manager 10. It performs significantly better than those legacy versions and will be a supported product for some time to come. The obvious draw back is if you and your support teams rely on Persinfo for your day to day operations. At the time of writing there is no version of this that supports Environment Manager 10 and the Endpoint Self Service Tool introduced in Environment Manager 8.5 is nowhere near good enough to meet the capabilities of Persinfo. If you’re on Environment Manager 8.6 already I would install the latest hotfixes of this and wait until Environment Manager 10.1 before I started upgrading.
By all means, implement Environment Manager 10 in your test environments to familiarise yourself with the items in this article but I wouldn’t rush it into production.
In conclusion, whilst on the surface it looks like the same old Environment Manager, it really isn’t. There are a number of “features” I really don’t agree with (e.g. Personalization Group boundary) but these are in now and probably not going away any time soon. All in all its a good release. The only real issue I have experienced in my testing was an installation issue on Windows 7. AppSense requires a specific Windows Hotfix to be installed which is included / superseded by a patch in the convenience rollup. Unfortunately if you install the convenience rollup first this patch isn’t detected and as such will not install. The only workaround I have found to date is to remove the convenience rollup and then install the patch and finally re-install the convenience rollup. A minor inconvenience if you’re building a new Windows 7 image. That being said, if you are still building new Windows 7 images you probably won’t be installing the latest version of DesktopNow.