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Migrating User Data : Understanding User Data

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12/2/2011 4:04:57 PM
A growing number of organizations are doing what they can to keep data off local workstations. The most obvious benefit is that server shares are routinely backed up. If something happens to the user's computer, data is safely waiting on the server. Data can also be replicated between sites so that it is not only available for users moving from computer to computer, but from site to site.

Often simply establishing a policy that instructs users to save data to a network share is not enough. Typically, a combination of policy, folder redirection, roaming profiles, and security restrictions are used to keep data off local workstations. However, in an environment where several dozen applications are deployed, it is common to have applications that don't behave as you would like. Some store data locally, even in the application directory. Further, because it is still often necessary to allow users access to some local folders, data could be stored here and would fall outside your server backup plan.

NOTE

If implemented, a combination of redirected folders and roaming profiles may actually serve as a method of natural and automatic migration. In fact, it may well be worth considering the implementation of folder redirection and roaming profiles as a precursor to your Windows Vista migration.

Even if you have worked hard and succeeded in ensuring all user data is maintained on network shares instead of the local system, there are often settings and configuration information for the system and for specific applications stored locally on the system. While arguably less important than data, loss of system and application settings can be very frustrating to users and significantly slow their first days with Windows Vista (which has plenty of changes for the user to deal with on its own).

1. Identifying the migration scenario

There are two basic scenarios for migrating data from one system to another:

  • Wipe and load (targeting the same computer)

  • Side-by-side migration (targeting a new computer)

Understanding the wipe and load scenario

In a wipe and load scenario, the user state is migrated from a source computer (computer A) to an intermediate store because the system drive is wiped in the process (so the data cannot be stored on this same drive). After Windows Vista is installed, the user state is migrated back to the source computer (computer A, see Figure 1). This is a common scenario when simply replacing the operating system on the same hardware.

Understanding the side-by-side scenario

In a side-by-side scenario, the user state is migrated from a source computer (computer A) to an intermediate store. After Windows Vista is installed, the user state is migrated to the destination computer (computer B, see Figure 2). This is a common scenario when new systems are being introduced as part of the Vista migration.

Figure 1. Wipe and load scenario diagram

Figure 2. Side-by-side scenario diagram

A side-by-side migration scenario is often used to take advantage of the introduction of new computers to a network during a Windows Vista migration. Computer cascades or rotations may be used to move systems from one user to the other. These new systems include improved capabilities over existing systems and, therefore, are delivered to the organizations' most demanding users. To make use of the replaced systems, the PCs recovered from the first delivery may be re-imaged and delivered to a second community of users whose systems are recovered and cascaded down to other users, and so on.

2. Determining the data and settings to be managed

One often overlooked step in planning a migration is to first identify what to migrate, including personal user settings, applications and application settings, personal data files, and folders. Identifying the applications to be migrated is especially important because there is no point in capturing data about applications that are not going to exist after the migration to Windows Vista. It is important that the information restored to the new system consist of only the information that is required. Restoring unnecessary data or settings for applications that are not present on the target system can introduce instability in newly deployed machines.

Additionally, it can be a waste of time and space to back up all profiles blindly. Consider the type of profiles that may exist on your systems:

  • Domain User Profiles: These are likely to be needed most in a domain environment.

  • Local User Profiles: If users log on to a domain, local profiles may be unnecessary, if users do logon locally it would be important to include them. Some migration software can even support migrating a local profile to a domain profile on the target system.

  • Roaming User Profiles: If roaming profiles are in use, then the profile is downloaded from the server when logging on and copied back up when logging off. In this case the migration of user profiles may be completely unnecessary in your environment.

  • Unused User Profiles: You may encounter profiles that have not been used in a very long time, or belong to users that have left your organization. These can be cleaned up ahead of time, or you can utilize features that limit migration to profiles that have been used within a specified period of time .

In fact, it will likely become clear during the migration-planning phase that some applications are simply not needed following the migration. Obviously, such application files and settings should be excluded from the migration.

Consider the following list as key things you may consider when identifying what it is you want to migrate:

  • Folders: This can be specific folders you determine necessary for migration, including standard user profile folders, such as My Documents, My Video, My Music, My Pictures, Desktop files, Start Menu, Quick launch settings, and Favorites. It may also include All Users folders, such as Shared Documents, Shared Video, Shared Music, Shared Desktop files, Shared Pictures, Shared Start Menu, and Shared Favorites.

  • Files: You can specify individual files, but most commonly file types are specified. File types are determined by their file extensions. Standard file types to back up might include .qdf, .qsd, .qel, .qph, .doc, .dot, .rtf, .mcw, .wps, .scd, .wri, .wpd, .xl*, .csv, .iqy, .dqy, .oqy, .rqy, .wk*, .wq1, .slk, .dif, .ppt*, .pps*, .pot*, .sh3, .ch3, .pre, .ppa, .txt, .pst, .one*, .mpp, .vsd, .vl*, .or6, .accdb, .mdb, .pub.

    NOTE

    Wildcards are used to cover more file types without having to specify similar file extensions. For example, for Excel documents you can use .xl* to cover all the Excel file types (.xlsx, .xlsm, .xlsb, .xltx, .xltm, .xls, .xlt, .xls, .xml, .xml, .xlam, .xla, and .xlw).

  • Access Control Lists: Migrate access control lists (ACLs) for files and folders to maintain file and folder level security. For example, if a file is marked as read-only for Users and Full Control for administrators, these settings will still apply after the file or folder is restored to the destination computer.

  • System Settings: A number of valuable system settings may be migrated, though many such items may be better managed by using Group Policy. Such system settings may include Accessibility settings, custom wallpaper and wallpaper settings, dial-up connections, Internet Explorer settings, Outlook express mail files, regional options, remote access, and screen saver settings.

  • Application Settings: Depending upon the tool being used, a limited set of application settings may also be available for migration. The options and settings stored by these supported applications can be migrated so long as the application is first installed on the destination computer prior to restoral of user data and settings information.

Depending upon the tool used, more or less such settings may be available to you. Microsoft's User State Migration Tool (USMT) handles all those items specified above. A third-party application or use of the optional Windows Easy Transfer Companion (beta) may provide alternate migration options.

3. Determining where to store data during the migration process

Data may be stored locally or remotely during the migration process. Locally stored migration data can mean a faster migration process overall. To store such data locally, you will need a separate partition or attached storage (such as a USB device).

No matter if you are going to store locally or on a network location, the major consideration to be made is just how much space will be required. Generally speaking, it is best to base calculations on the volume of e-mail, personal documents, and system settings for each user. The best way to estimate these is to survey several average desktops to estimate the size the data store that you will need.

One big differentiator when determining how much space will be needed is your organizations' e-mail storage location. If e-mail is stored centrally, such as by an Exchange Email server, data sets will naturally be smaller as compared to when e-mail is stored locally (as in offline storage files). When it comes to locally stored mail, automatically generated OST files will be regenerated when connecting to Exchange; it is Personal Storage files (PST) which require special attention as they cannot be recovered from Exchange. Mobile users typically have larger data sets than workstation users. When performing tests to estimate these sizes, we recommend that you separate the results of mobile and workstation users and average them separately. With local or remote e-mail also a major factor, these tips can be helpful in determining the size needed to store migration data (refer to Table 1 for typical requirements based on the type of user).

Table 1. User Storage Requirements to Support Migration
Type of UserEstimated Storage
Desktop user with centralized e-mail storage50mb – 75mb plus size of collected files
Desktop user with local email storage150mb – 200mb plus size of collected files
Laptop user150mb – 300mb plus size of collected files

Considering user documents

As a rule, it is estimated that a typical user's documents will fit into 50MB of disk space. Naturally this depends upon the types of files with which the user works. The 50MB estimate assumes typical office work such as word processing documents and spreadsheets. Types of documents used in your organization can also have a significant impact on the size needed per user. A user that works with high-resolution images, audio, or video for example can quickly eat up a substantial amount of drive space.

Considering user system settings

For registry settings, 5MB is considered sufficient for a typical user. Naturally, the more applications on a system the more space may be required, but for the user-specific portion of the registry, it is rare that this would exceed 5MB.

Considering e-mail

As discussed, keeping mail locally on a computer as opposed to centrally stored on a mail server can take up a very large amount of disk space. Some users will deal with a larger volume of e-mail than others, but when it comes to estimating space, e-mail could be the biggest variable to consider. Regardless, it is a good idea to have users that keep some mail local though they have a central mail server synchronize any offline folders with their mail server prior to migration.

Estimating space requirements with the User State Migration Tool (USMT)

With so many variables, the estimates in Table 1 may or may not be applicable in your environment. The best way to know for sure how much space will be required is to investigate a subset of systems and get actual numbers for your organization.

The /p option of the Scanstate tool generates a space-estimate file called Usmtsize.txt that is saved to the specified storage path. Running this command does not actually collect the user state but simply reports on the space requirements of what would have been collected.

NOTE

Consider this a bit of a bug, but except when migrating from x86-based computers running Windows XP, this estimate is often twice as large as the actual disk space needed on the destination computer. Consider this when calculating your size requirements.

You can choose to have the migration store compressed when using USMT to collect data; however, the estimates generated by the /p option are applicable for both compressed and uncompressed stores because the compressed store will always be smaller.

The following example turns off compression and creates a space-estimate file at \\server\share\store\usmtsize.txt:

scanstate /i:miguser.xml /i:migapp.xml \\server\share\store /nocompress /p

As shown in Figure 3, the usmtsize.txt file produces a list of byte values broken down by cluster size. The first column of numbers is the cluster size, and the second column is what the store size will be for that cluster size. The first line is the cluster used for the drive where usmtsize.txt was created. The estimate to focus on is the line with the cluster size matching the storage drive (the cluster size of your file server or local storage destination). These estimates do use some assumed values that may not always provide a high degree of accuracy in the estimation process.

Figure 3. Reviewing the output of usmtsize.txt

So how big are the clusters on your target storage drive? You can use Defrag.exe to determine cluster size by using the -a option to assess the need to defragment (without performing the actual defragmentation operation) and the -v option to produce a verbose output. Specify the target drive, and the report will provide the cluster size in the Analysis Report section at the top of the output, as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4. Determining cluster size with Defrag.exe

If you want to adjust the cluster size, the convert.exe tool may be used to convert the cluster size. In Windows 2000, convert.exe can be used to convert the partition to a 512-byte cluster size. In Windows XP, convert.exe will determine the best cluster size and will then (typically) convert the partition to a 4096-byte cluster size.

Given the relatively high complexity in determining space requirements for migration, it can be best to simply perform an actual collection of user data for migration on a sampling of systems and use the resulting file sizes in your calculations.

NOTE

No matter what estimation you determine to be the best for your environment, it is naturally a good idea to ensure that you have more than enough space available. The recommendation is to allow a minimum buffer of an additional 20 percent more than your estimate.

4. Choosing migration tools

Microsoft provides two free tools to handle the migration of user files and settings:

  • Windows Easy Transfer: Intended to be end-user tool

  • User State Migration Tools (USMT): Provides a more automated and comprehensive method to migrate user data and settings

For most, choosing between these tools is a very simple decision: If you are migrating more than a handful of computers, USMT is going to be your choice when weighing these two tools.

However, it is important to keep in mind that there are more than just these two choices. Although the fact that they are free is a definite selling point for the Microsoft tools, other players in this market have established themselves over the years as reliable alternatives with their own enhancements and features that may mean a great deal to you.

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