Windows 2000 IntelliMirror is a set of technologies that should be considered for providing superior end-user roaming capabilities. We’re going to dig into the three categories of features that the IntelliMirror suite of technologies provides and walk our way through a configuration example. This will help you figure out whether IntelliMirror is a good choice to implement on your network.
The first thing that you should know about IntelliMirror is that it is not one specific feature. There is no IntelliMirror console in Windows 2000 that you need to learn how to administer. Rather, IntelliMirror is a term that Microsoft uses to refer to a group of technologies that can streamline network administration and enhance end-user productivity.
Microsoft has packaged IntelliMirror in Windows 2000 as an impressive new offering that supplements various Windows NT 4.0 features. IntelliMirror offers the following three categories of features:
- User Data Management: This is an offline copy of important folders for client computers that can give clients the files that they need most when not connected to a network. (Years ago, some of us became crafty with .bat and .vbs files to perform a similar function.)
- Software Installation and Maintenance: Software is installed and maintained on client computers through policy-based administration.
- User Settings Management: This will make any computer that an end user is authenticated on look exactly like his or her own computer, using the Active Directory framework along with user preference files.
Microsoft promotes IntelliMirror, supplemented with Remote OS installation, as a complete strategy to enable a user’s desktop for mobility and protect it for quick recovery, and this strategy works generally well. Obviously, this technology can be especially useful for roaming laptop users and users who move around between numerous desktop computers throughout an organization.
Which scenarios are best?
When evaluating if IntelliMirror would be a good fit for your IT infrastructure, there are some planning points that you should be aware of in the decision-making process. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do we have a solid Active Directory structure implemented?
- Would the offline data access enhance productivity?
- Do we want to push applications to client groups using Active Directory?
- Do we have a need for a new (or modified) client disaster recovery strategy?
- Do we want user settings transported across any computer on the network?
If the answer is yes to at least two of the last four questions, then IntelliMirror may be very beneficial for your IT Infrastructure. Note that the first question is if Active Directory is already present. The IntelliMirror features are wonderful, but it may be a stretch to implement Active Directory just for these features.
Selecting content for offline access
When evaluating the offline data access, be aware of what folders are good candidates for being available offline (and backed up on the network). Some examples of good candidates are:
- My Documents
- Start Menu
- A Microsoft Outlook Personal Folder
- A public shared folder, owned by a user (e.g., \public\johndoe)
There are bad candidates as well, including a client/server database, a shared file or folder that numerous people access and change frequently, or one that is not owned by any single user. Also, any situation where revision history is important or connected to another system would not be good for offline data access.
You should also give some consideration to what data would be available for synchronization. IntelliMirror has conflict resolution, but it does not merge changes, meaning you would be prompted to choose which file is the correct file. That becomes an issue if a workgroup is accessing these files. However, you could set a default so that only the network version is kept for all synchronizations. See Figure A for a screen shot of a conflict resolution message.
These User Data Management features can provide clients with some excellent offline access that they will quickly come to appreciate. This can also allow administrators and end users to meet in the middle in the old battle over not storing any data on local drives. As long as the end users connect to the network on a regular basis, the synchronization is automatic.
Setting up IntelliMirror is relatively easy. You can have a test scenario up and running within minutes, assuming you have an Active Directory installation in your Windows domain. In this example, I highlight the User Data Management features and use Group Policies.
For this example, I am also making the following assumptions:
- Windows 2000 Active Directory is installed.
- Windows 2000 Professional is the client operating system.
- Each client computer is already a member of the Win2K domain.
- Each user account already has a folder on a Windows 2000 Server for the user's private data.
With these criteria met, enabling IntelliMirror is easy. If you want to play with IntelliMirror, a test network and test server would be advisable for risk-free experimentation.
For a share that will be the IntelliMirror candidate, enable Automatic Caching For Documents. This is enabled from the Properties of a folder on the Sharing tab from the Caching button. Enabling this option makes files accessed in the specified folder available for offline caching. Figure B shows the window in which you set the caching configuration.
We will now use the Group Policy MMC snap-in to tell each client within a group to store their respective My Documents data on the network resource. The Group Policy is accessed from the Active Directory Users And Computers icon in the Administrative Tools group. Click the properties of any group that you want to make to illustrate these properties. In my example, I have made a group called RoamingProfiles as a container for all clients that will apply to this offline file access. (See Figure C.)
There are two users in the RoamingProfiles group—roaming and John L. Parks. These two users are sample users, but the properties are now set up for both accounts by applying the settings to the group, RoamingProfiles. When setting up this group, we specify that the My Documents folder be the same for each user within the group. By using an environment variable, the same setting can be carried for each user. (See Figure D.)
Now, we’ll configure the client computer to make the folder available offline by right-clicking on My Documents and selecting Make Available Offline. When prompted, answer whether you want just this folder or this folder and all its subfolders synchronized. Then, a synchronization process will occur on-screen. (See Figure E.)
That is it! Now, each time the user logs off, the My Documents folder is synchronized to the offline copy for use later. At anytime while connected to the network, the user can instigate synchronization by selecting Synchronize from the Tools menu while exploring the synchronized folder.
Group Policies are a useful tool for ensuring client computer consistency. Though Group Policies explained in depth are beyond the scope of this article, they can be used to greatly enhance IntelliMirror technology. One little plus that I would recommend if User Data Management is in use is to disable the ability of the user to change the path of My Documents. This can ensure that IntelliMirror will continue to operate on the client computer. Figure F shows the Group Policy screen where an administrator can use this setting.
IntelliMirror is a very useful set of features available for Windows 2000 and Active Directory. If you have a situation where you could benefit from IntelliMirror and/or the Group Policy administration, now is the time to go for it. This suite of technologies can certainly help administrators deliver a better service to their end users, while streamlining network administration at the same time. If you are ready to get started with IntelliMirror, then Microsoft provides some additional documentation and case scenarios on IntelliMirror.
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Rick Vanover is a software strategy specialist for Veeam Software, based in Columbus, Ohio. Rick has years of IT experience and focuses on virtualization, Windows-based server administration, and system hardware.