If you haven’t worked with Sync Center (or avoided it like the plague as the mere mention gave you nasty flashbacks to XP’s offline files, Win9x’s Briefcase and other administrative horrors), then now is really a good time to circle back for a closer look. Sync Center was also around on Vista, but it’s become pretty darn good with Win7. Sync Center is especially relevant if you provide your users access to central resources, while also giving them a laptop to work on when away.
Some may argue in this day and age with 4G MiFi’s and WiFi on planes and trains, there’s hardly such thing as offline, so why bother? True, while access is virtually omnipresent, I do believe we all can agree that your milage will vary immensely on bandwidth and quality. Get far enough out into the sticks and you can kiss all that sweet low-latency 20Mbit 4G bandwidth goodbye and it’s hello banjomusic and back to plain old 1x, roughly equivalent to 9600 baud (for those who once owned a modem). That is, if you can get any bars at all! While a crappy connection may get your email done in a pinch, it’s no fun having to connect into the corporate super-duper-online centralized environment. So there’s the point for those of you with your head too far up your virtual machine: Laptops are still necessary.
The problem with Synchronization setups is, that we as admins don’t necessarily always know what the users want to bring along with them. What we do know is: It’s probably a good idea to set up some sort of centrally administered sync of the user’s core personality stuff. For example the user’s home directory and perhaps some of the profile tree are known items. which falls into this category. If you’re already using the Workspace Manager’s User Settings feature for this, you actually only need to worry about bringing along the homedrive. For the purpose of syncing known folders, the RES Workspace Manager has offered the Folder Syncronization feature since 2010. Again, this is a feature designed to keep two or more known folder pairs in sync without user intervention. In other words, the existing Folder Synchronization feature is indeed still relevant, as it will eliminate your need to set up any central policies for Sync Center.
Where Sync Center comes into play, is for the personal and individual synchronization needs of the user. For example: A user needs to bring a (to him) known chunk of files (or a folder) home from a shared network drive, such as a department drive. Depending on the layout, a typical department drive could very well contain hundreds of Gigs of data or more. Across thousands of users, there will be no good way for the admins to set up a general sync set without grabbing too much stuff.
The downside of Sync Center is, as mentioned previously is that if you need to configure it centrally, it’s back to using policies again. Something we here at RES like to help our customers avoid. Another thing which may get you down, is the mapping of the network drive when the laptop is offline. If you’re using login-scripts, you’re out of luck as they’ll only execute when you’re online with a Domain Controller where you can run the script from the Netlogon folder.
So what does all this mean? Essentially you now have two scenarios at hand, which you now can cater for in the best way possible:
- Personal scenarios: I as a user and need folder X from the departmentshare available offline = Use Sync Center + WM
- Corporate scenarios: I as the admin need the users to have the following folders synced up = Use WM .Net FolderSync.
The next question would be, okay fine – so how do I set it up? This is the nice part: You hardly have to do anything as everything is happening transparently. If the user has access to the Sync Center control panel applet, the RES Workspace Manager will take care of the rest. Let’s do a case scenario:
- As an admin, you will already have set up a network drive mapping in workspace manager. Let’s presume that P: is mapped to \\server\share. On the share there is a folder called department-docs.
- Now a laptop user connects to the network and Workspace Manager ensures the P: drive gets mapped either at logon or at a refresh triggered by network connection change.
- Anticipating to go on the road, the user wants to bring the department-docs offline, so all he has to do is to rightclick on the folder (or a file) and choose Always available offline.
- The Sync Center will do it’s thing in the background.
- Later the user pulls the plug or walks out of range of the network. A refresh may be triggered by this, but that’s actually not important as Sync Center will transparently ensure that the network share is still accessibleand the files and/or folders the user made available offline will still show up.
For this to work, you need to verify that Workspace Manager will be mapping the drive no matter if the laptop is online or offline. This is the default behavior, however some integrators may have adapted a best practice to set network drives to only be available when online. So make sure the Required Connection State is set to both online and offline connections.
The other thing which you need to do, is to ensure the user has access to the Sync Center control panel applet. This is only relevant if you’ve hidden or otherwise restricted the control panel in your Workspace Manager’s Desktop lockdown and/or Security configuration. If you want to create your own WM managed app, the best commandline for launching the Sync Center control panel applet is this one:
%windir%\system32\control.exe /name Microsoft.SyncCenter.
To make life a bit easier for you, I’ve created a Workspace Manager buildingblock of this particular control applet. For other control panel applets, check out this article. With the buildingblock below, you may notice I’ve moved the executable into a task. This to avoid an issue with an incorrect icon being displayed. All this app does is launch the Sync Center, so the user can manage the folders which he’s bringing offline.