Back in the days of Windows NT, the roaming profile was all the rage. A user could go to the office and work at his own computer, using the network, e-mail, files, and other resources. If, for some reason, that user has to switch to another workstation temporarily, he logs on to a different computer and Windows downloads the settings for his individual profile; just as if he were sitting at his own computer.

The problem with roaming profiles is the amount of bandwidth they can consume, resulting in a slow network for other users. Sure it is a bit of an inconvenience for users if they don’t have all their desktop shortcuts, but they aren’t necessary to get the job done. The important thing for the users is to have access to their data.

Windows 2000 introduced the concept of folder redirection, and XP and Vista built on this concept. How this concept helps both users and administrators in a Windows environment is the focus of this post.

What is the difference between folder redirection and roaming profiles?

Basically, roaming profiles include personal desktop settings and other user-experience items such as shortcuts, but folder redirection is a feature that allows specified user folders to redirect to a central server location, making users’ data accessible from any workstation they log on to.

Why use folder redirection?

The reasons to use redirected folders are probably as numerous as the number of times someone at Microsoft gets asked about the Windows 7 Release Candidate, but my favorite two reasons are fairly simple:

  • Data availability for the users: Automatically redirecting users’ Favorites or My Documents folders to a network folder allows the data to always be available in the same place for the user.
  • Disaster recovery: Having your users store all their data on a network server allows the IT department to back up the data as part of a normal routine. This ensures the files your users need are available even in the event of a recovery scenario.

What about offline files?

Folder Redirection and off-line files are two different animals entirely. Folder redirection points a specified folder or folders at the network location where the data is actually stored. For example, if you redirect My Documents on the client machine to \\servername\users_share\%username%, the folder will display the contents of the share.

If you synchronize My Documents on the client machine with the user folder mentioned above, the data in My Documents will be a replica of that on the network share, allowing a mobile employee to leave the office and still be able to work on files as if at work. In Windows Server 2008, offline files can be managed for entire sites (see my post on branch caching).

Simple configuration of folder redirection

Folder Redirection is handled by Group Policy to ensure that as the user logs on, her redirected folders are showing the correct data.

To configure Folder Redirection in Group Policy, complete the following steps:

1.       Create a new GPO called Folder Redirect. Note: A new GPO is not required for folder redirection, but it may help keep Group Policy settings more organized to create a GPO for a single desired result. I will look at that in a future post.

2.       Expand the User Configuration Node.

3.       Expand Windows Settings.

4.       Expand Folder Redirection.

5.       Select the folder you wish to redirect, right-click, and choose Properties.

6.       On the Folder tab from the Properties dialog box, select the setting for redirection from the dropdown list:

  • Not configured: Redirection will not occur on this folder; this is the default.
  • Basic: Redirect everyone’s folder to the same location. You can configure the target options associated with this selection. These settings tell Windows where to put the redirected data.
  • Create a folder for each user under this root path: This is the default.
  • Redirect to the following location: Places all redirected data in the folder at the path specified.
  • Redirect to the local userprofile folder: This will redirect the users’ data back to their local user profile location.
  • Advanced: Specify locations for various user groups. This allows redirection locations to be different based on a user’s group membership. Using this option will require you to add security groups and paths for folder redirection. (This configuration is beyond the scope of this tip.)

7.       Once the destination choices are made, enter the network share path where the data will be redirected, for example \\servername\datashare.

8.       Use additional settings regarding exclusive rights to redirected content and the handling of existing content in the original location that can be found on the Settings tab of the Properties dialog box.

9.       Then, click OK.

Configure the other folders to be redirected as needed.

Folder Redirection can be a great help to both the users and IT staff in an organization. Hopefully these features of Windows get even better as new versions of the operating system are released, and they will give you something to consider when deciding how to handle the volumes of user data generated within your organization.