Back in May, we announced Cloud Cache, a revolutionary new technology that allows companies to store user profiles in multiple locations at the same time, on-premises or in the cloud. Today, I’m pleased to announce that Cloud Cache has been released, and that it’s included in FSLogix Profile Container and Office 365 Container!
What is Cloud Cache technology?
To best understand Cloud Cache, you need to understand how our Profile and Office 365 Container products work. Since both are similar behind the scenes, let’s take a look at Profile Container specifically. (Office 365 Container works the same way, just with Office data only.)
FSLogix Profile Container works by encapsulating the entire user profile (file system and registry) in a VHD or VHDX file that lives on the network. This VHD is attached at logon, where FSLogix makes it appear that the profile is in its native, local location. This approach means that no profile is copied down, avoiding the problems of roaming profiles, and since the VHD file is the only “file” accessed across the network (everything inside the VHD is just data in the file), we eliminate the challenges associated with folder redirection.
This approach works great, and we have many happy customers who have reduced logon times from minutes down to seconds, while at the same time eliminating profile corruption and poor performance on physical, virtual, or RDSH desktops. And since Profile Container does everything Office 365 Container does, the technology has saved many Office 365 deployments to virtual desktops.
The problem with placing the profile or Office data on a file server, though, appears when the storage or network is interrupted. We’ve built resiliency into our products from the beginning, trying to re-establish connection to the VHD as soon as possible, but some applications don’t behave well in a disconnected state, even if it’s only a second or two while a SAN controller fails over.
To address this, we built the Cache part of Cloud Cache.
The Cache is simply a local cache on the desktop that retains information that is accessed from the VHD container. It can be configured as persistent or non-persistent based on specific use cases, but in either situation it acts as a buffer between the applications and the VHD container located on the network. Applications talk to the local cache (which is itself a VHD file), and if the blocks that contain the data the application is looking for exist, they’re served up out of the cache. If not, the cache will grab them from the remote storage location and hang on to them for future requests.
The cache alone provides some resiliency for applications that require constant contact with their data. If the storage or network disappears for a short period of time, the apps remain in contact with their data because there is a local cache. Writes to the cache are buffered until the storage comes back online. If those apps request data that is already there, everything behaves like normal. If they request data that isn’t there, though, or if the storage doesn’t come back online for an extended period, we still need some help. That’s where the rest of Cloud Cache comes in.
As you can see in the image above, the local cache sits in between the user and the network storage. This is pretty straightforward, but our approach goes beyond simple caching. The real magic of Cloud Cache lies in our ability to communicate with multiple storage locations at the same time, so that if one location goes offline, the user seamlessly and automatically switches to another location with no downtime.
Cloud Cache accomplishes this by writing to all configured storage locations, but reading from a single one. If that location fails to respond to a read request, Cloud Cache switches to another location, keeping the user up and running. When the primary comes back online, Cloud Cache will re-sync that location and switch the user back.
Cloud Cache supports up to four storage locations, so you can configure an SMB share on-premises as your primary location and another SMB share at a hot site as the secondary. The latest release of FSLogix Apps Suite, 2.9.4, includes support for Azure Page Blobs and Azure Premium Page Blobs, which means you can now use native, object-based cloud storage as a location in addition to traditional SMB-based resources, all at the same time!
If you’ve used Azure Page Blobs before, you’ll know that pricing is variable and is based largely on activity as opposed to capacity. In fact, around a two-thirds of a typical Azure Page Blobs bill is expected to be based on activity (reads and writes). Because of this, our Azure connector intelligently utilizes the local cache to build the most cost-effective payloads for Azure Page Blobs, which will save you even more money.
What use cases does Cloud Cache enable?
We’ve spent a lot of time talking to customers and thinking about potential use cases for Cloud Cache, and we’re certain you’ll be able to come up with more. Here are the top use cases our customers have highlighted:
- Globally-redundant, highly available profile storage – Cloud Cache gives you control over where data is stored, and it does it without requiring you to be a storage expert. You can deliver the ultimate in data high availability without expensive, redundant SANs or complicated, frustrating DFS.
- Container backups – VHD containers are tough to back up when they’re in use because the files aren’t backed up in a consistent state. With Cloud Cache, you always have multiple copies of your profiles, and if you need to take one copy offline to get a backup, it will re-sync when it comes back online.
- Profile storage location moves – Currently moving your profiles from one server to another is a huge project that involves late nights on the weekend along with a healthy amount of finger crossing on Monday in hopes that everything works. With Cloud Cache, you only need to configure a second storage location, wait for the data to replicate, and then turn off the primary.
- Cloud migrations – As more companies take advantage of the cloud (Microsoft just announced Windows Virtual Desktops, after all), there is no better way to prepare yourself for a migration. Simply configure both an on-premises storage location and a cloud-based location so that all your profile data is waiting in the cloud when you’re ready to move the desktops. If you have a use case that demands access to both cloud and on-premises desktops, Cloud Cache lets you keep the user experience consistent no matter where the desktop resides.
- Offline users – For decades, laptop users have been “special” because we can’t manage them the same way as other users. This is especially true for profiles, since a centrally-distributed profile doesn’t work well on a device that can spend a lot of time offline. With Cloud Cache, specifically the Azure Page Blob support, you can now use FSLogix Profile Container or Office 365 Container with laptop users. If you create a local share as one of the storage locations for Cloud Cache, as well as a location in Azure and perhaps on on-premises, the users’ profiles will follow no matter what desktop they use.
How do I get Cloud Cache?
Cloud Cache is easy to get, because the technology is included with both Profile Container and Office 365 Container. That’s right…if you’re an existing FSLogix customer, you simply need to download the latest version (2.9.4 or above) and update your desktops. By default it’s disabled, so you’ll need to enable it to take advantage of the caching and configure additional storage locations to begin using all of the functionality. You can learn more about the specific Cloud Cache requirements as well as how to get started in the Cloud Cache section of our Documentation site. There you’ll also find our Cloud Cache Quick Start Guide.
If you’re not yet an FSLogix customer, fill out the form to the right and an FSLogix rep will be in contact to set you up with and eval. All of FSLogix’s products are designed to be easy to install, and Cloud Cache is no different. You should be able to test it out over lunch!