User Profile Disks (UPD) is a new feature of Remote Desktop Services in Windows Server 2012. User Profile Disks is an alternative to roaming profiles and folder redirection in RDS scenarios. The point of UPD is that user data and apps (i. e., a user profile) are stored as a separate VHDX disk on some dedicated file share. This disk is mounted to the user session as soon as the user signs in to the RDS server, and unmounted when he logs out.
In this article, we’ll describe the peculiarities of User Profile Disks configuration and its operation on a server with Remote Desktop Services role running on Windows 2012 / 2012 R2.
First of all, on any corporate file server you have to create a shared folder to store user profiles as VHDX disks. In our example, the path to this folder looks like this: \\rdvh1\DemoLabOficeApp. Servers being a part of RDS collection have to be given full rights to access this directory.
User Profile Disks mode can be enabled and configured in collection settings of Remote Desktop Services. This mode can be enabled during making a new collection, or you can come back to it later.
In our example, the collection already exists, so in the Server Manager console, select this collection and in the upper left corner click Tasks-> Edit Properties.
Then in User Profile Disks section check Enable user profile disks, specify the path to the previously created network folder (\\rdvh1\DemoLabOficeApps) and a maximum profile disk size. Save the changes.
After you saved the changes, make sure that NTFS permissions for Profile Disks folder have been changed. In our case, the collection consists of one RDSH01 server, having full rights to this folder.
On the share level, Full Control has been given to RDSH01 server.
When adding new RD Session Host servers to the collection, the wizard automatically changes the permissions of this directory and gives the new servers access to it. It is very convenient, since when scaling a terminal farm you don’t need to remember to set permissions for the profile folder.
Go to the network share with user profiles. A UVHD-template.vhdx file is now being stored here.
This file is the user profile disk template. When a user logs on to the RDS server for the first time, this template is copied and renamed as a VHDX file, containing user SID in its name.
Let’s see what a user profile disk contains. To do it, right-click the VHDX file and select Mount. (The disk can’t be mounted when in use.)
As you can see, the VHDX disk contains a set of folders and files of a standard user profile. At logon, a user gets completely transparent access to the data stored in the profile.
On the side of RD Session Host server, a .vhdx user file is mounted to C:\users\<username> and looks like this:
Data are written to this file in real time. It means that when copying data to a user profile on an RDS server, the VHDX file size increases at once.
If the user profile folder already exists in the system, the folder with an old profile is renamed as <username>-BACKUP-<number>.
By default, a User Profile Disk contains all the user profile contents. However, in the collection settings you can exclude certain folders from the list of stored directories, or specify the folders to be stored. Thus, all the changes made to the folders in the list of excluded directories are not saved on the VHDX disk.
The second variant allows to configure only the storage of the specified directories in the profile.
If necessary, the last variant allows to implement the scenarios of saving the settings of the Start Screen, which are stored in appsfolder.itemdata-ms. In this example, we have only added the path to \AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows folder as an additional path to be saved in the UPD.
So, we have discussed the major peculiarities of User Profile Disks in RDS/VDI solutions running Windows Server 2012. UPD configuration is much easier than the configuration of roaming profiles or redirected folders. The disks are connected to the RDS collection and can’t be damaged when using the shared profile by several servers (unlike the standard profiles). The User Profile Disks can be stored in SMB shares, CSV, SAN or on the local disks. Also, Microsoft reports that when using UPD, the user environment startup speed is reduced.
Anyway, since User Profile Disks is a quite new technology, prior to mass UPD implementations, it is recommended to test their work and possible problems in a test environment.