Combining folder redirection with roaming profiles

Over the last several versions of the Windows operating system, including Windows Vista, Microsoft has provided designated folders that act as a document repository for the user's files. For instance, users normally store Microsoft Office documents in the My Documents folder.

By default, the My Documents folder -- and all of the other folders related to the user's profile -- is stored on the desktop's local hard drive, creating an absolute nightmare for corporations.

Fortunately, Windows has a built-in feature called IntelliMirror that allows administrators to redirect certain folders from the local hard drive to a network share. You can (and should) redirect the My Documents folder, all of its sub folders, the Application Data folder, the Desktop and the Start menu. Why?

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For starters, doing so lets admins back up user data and data that resides on the network at the same time. Redirecting folders to the network also lets admins apply disk quotas to the data should they choose. Users can also reap the benefits of redirecting folders as they can access data from any location.

Windows OSes also allow you to create roaming profiles, which causes the user's entire profile to be copied to a designated network server. And when used together, IntelliMirror and Roaming Profiles deliver powerful benefits.

The reason for this has to do with the way that roaming profiles work. If roaming profiles are enabled, user profiles are copied to the designated network location when they log out. The next time they log in, a local profile may already exist, but the roaming profile on the network is assumed to be more current, so it is copied from the network to the workstation.

However, note when roaming profiles are used, a network delay may occur since the entire profile has to be copied to and from the user's computer at each logon and logoff. Fortunately, using IntelliMirror to redirect folders helps resolve this issue, as Windows assumes that the information in the redirected folders is always current. As such, the contents of redirected folders are not automatically copied to and from the workstation at every logon and logoff.

To enable roaming profiles in Windows Server 2003, open the Active Directory Users and Computers console, right click on the user's account and choose the Properties command from the shortcut menu. When you do, the user's properties sheet will appear. Select the properties sheet's Profile tab, and enter the path that you want to use for the roaming profiles into the Profile Path field.

Typically, the path will be \\server\share name\User Name. You must therefore, create an open share that everyone has access to. Microsoft recommends that you allow the system to automatically create the individual user folders.

Folder redirection is performed through Group Policy settings. The redirection settings are located at User Settings | Windows Settings | Folder Redirection. You can redirect the Application Data, Desktop, My Documents and Start Menu folders, but you have to redirect each of these folders individually.

Brien M. Posey, MCSE, has received Microsoft's Most Valuable Professional Award four times for his work with Windows Server, IIS and Exchange Server. He has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and healthcare facilities and was once a network administrator for Fort Knox. You can visit his website at www.brienposey.com.

This was first published in April 2009

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