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Tutorial on Configuring and Migrating Redirected Folders

In recent migrations I’ve seen that there is some confusion in how to work with redirected folders. Let’s first go over a few reasons for the existence and usage of redirected folders. The most important reason is that it is absolutely critical in an RDS farm if you want any sort of user data persistence between servers, not to mention it will help cut down on the amount of local disk space used by each server. Your users will be able to be load balanced from server to server without worrying about which is their “home” server or having to configure their account on each server. They can still keep their habit of saving critical data to their Documents folder as well. Another reason is that you’ll get all of your users’ profiles stored in a central location. Which means their Documents and Desktop folders will be stored centrally. Which means you’ll be able to back those up. Now when you have this implemented as just a roaming profile all of that data is copied down to the server and then synched back to the central location. This slows things down for everyone since you have network bandwidth being taken up unnecessarily at logon and also longer logon times for the local user. Here is where folder redirection jumps in to help. With your Desktop and Documents and Pictures and so forth being redirected then everything is pulled off a share rather than being copied down to the server. That frees up a lot of bandwidth and speeds up login times so everyone is a lot happier. You’ll want to nip those PSTs right away though, otherwise you could end up with a lot of performance problems.

Anyhow let’s go on to the implementation. We’ll begin with configuring the redirected folders. Create a share, we’ll name it Folders, and configure the share permissions with Everyone:Full. Generally whenever you create a share you want to configure the share permissions as Everyone:Full unless you have a very good reason not to. Normally all permissions you would want to control through NTFS. This simplifies management and troubleshooting. Now your NTFS permissions you’ll first want to disable including inheritable permissions. The permissions you want on this folder are Full Control for SYSTEM, CREATOR OWNER and Administrators, and for Authenticated Users you’ll need to set advanced permissions. You’ll want Create Folders/Append Data, Read Permissions, Read Attributes and Read Extended Attributes. This will create a folder where the data is secure from prying eyes yet administrators will still be able to access it without breaking redirection.

Next up is creating the group policy for configuring folder redirection. Create a new policy and name it Folder Redirection. The section we’ll be working in is User Configuration/Policies/Windows Settings/Folder Redirection. You’ll want to plan out your folder redirection strategy before you start implementing. What folders are important to you, how are you getting the data there, and perhaps even most importantly how are you going to back this policy out when you’re done. Once you’re done planning then start editing your policy. For this tutorial we’re erring on the side of simplicity.

The first setting gives you two options, Basic and Advanced. Most times you will want to use Basic but it depends upon what you are trying to achieve. With Basic you point the folder to the share that you want, as a UNC of course i.e. \\storageserver\Folders\. Once selected you normally will want the option of Create a folder for each user under the root path. It will even show you what the path will look like at the bottom. With these options everyone affected by the policy will be redirected to the same location. With the Advanced option you get more flexibility in how you configure user’s redirected folders since now you can use group membership to configure share selection for the storage of the redirected folders. The next tab over we have Settings. By default users are granted exclusive rights to the folder. Also by default the contents of the folder will be moved to the new location. This simplifies the job of moving content, but the down side is that it prevents you from pre-staging the move instead of having it happen at logon. But you will have planned this out already, right? The last unchecked option is to apply to 2000/XP/2003 operating systems. You’ll want to check this depending upon where these folders will be used. This will disable some redirection options in Vista/7 though.

Now the final option is Policy Removal which you will have also planned out ahead of time. If you select leave the folder in the new location then when the policy is removed their profile still redirects to \\storageserver\Folders\ and the data still remains there. If you select redirect the folder back to the local user profile then what happens depends upon what you checked for Move the contents to the new location. If you have it checked then the folder redirects to their local profile and the data is copied, not moved, to the local profile. You’ll still need to clean up the old location. If you have the option unchecked then the folder will redirect to their local profile but all the data will still stay on the share. Your users will end up with empty local folders. This is why you’ll want to plan your exit strategy because at some point some or all your users data will end up being stored somewhere else. Since we’re preparing a migration scenario most likely everything will be setup with the defaults so that is what we are going to do here, setup the folders with the defaults. We’ll configure redirection for the Desktop, Documents, Pictures, Music, Videos, Favorites, Downloads. Not all of these will be available depending upon what versions of windows you are working with. Also note that there is an option for Pictures, Music and Videos to follow the Documents folder which is what you’ll want to select unless you have a reason to split them amongst multiple shares. Don’t forget to allow time for the policy to replicate to any other DCs or force replication, and that you may need to run gpupdate on the client to force immediate pick-up of the change.

Now that we have configured our folder redirection go ahead and populate a few profiles with data. If you check the Folders share that you created you’ll see that it is getting populated with account names and the redirected folders. Test logging into a few different servers as well to make sure that the folders are following your accounts. You can also pull up the properties on them to verify the path pointing to the share. If that is all working fine then let’s look at migrating the redirected folders.

We’ve got several options for migrating the folders. The simplest method and definitely the one you’ll want to use when dealing with small amounts of data is to let the policy take care of it for you. Let’s test it out. Create a share somewhere else named NewFolders and configure it with the same share and NTFS permissions as listed earlier. Edit your folder redirection policy and change the path to point to your new server. Also make sure you’ve checked Move the contents to the new location. That’s the part that is doing the work for us. Once you’re done with the changes give it a test. You’ll probably see a longer logon the first time as data is copying across. There’s also a chance the it won’t be picked up until the next logon due to asynchronous policy processing. Note that the data was actually moved, not copied. This is great for when there isn’t much data to move, and you can also do it in phases moving one folder at a time. Something else you could do if you want to migrate accounts in phases is to create policies for redirection and link them to migration OUs that you create lower than where the original redirection policy is linked.

When you’re working with larger amounts of data though you may want to pre-stage the data rather than have it be moved at first logon. This requires a bit of work. Since the folders get locked down by default if you have Grant the user exclusive rights checked, the administrator account does not have access to the folders. If you take ownership of the folders, that will break redirection since the policy checks for ownership of the folder. What you’ll need to do is go into the policy and uncheck the exclusive rights option everywhere. At the same time you’ll also want to uncheck Move the contents to the new location. This is best done as earlier as possible in the migration just to make sure all clients have picked up the updated settings to cut down on the amount of weirdness you may encounter. Now once this is done make sure that mentioned NTFS permissions are configured on the top level folder for the share. Now go in and if the Administrators group doesn’t have ownership of the folder take ownership of it, then check the box to replace owner on subcontainers and objects. Ok out of everything then open up the advanced NTFS permissions. Check the box for Replace all child object permissions with inheritable permissions from this object. Now use whatever method you prefer to copy the data from there to the new redirected folders share. Robocopy is my preference.

You’ve now pre-staged all the data and policies are configured so that permissions do not break anything it is time to update the policies to point to the new shared folder. Same as last time just update the UNC to the new location, once again making sure that Move the contents to the new location is unchecked. You will probably want to take the old share offline just to be safe. This will flush out any systems that are not processing group policy properly.

Now what happens if you go ahead and delete the group policy rather than reconfigure it for anything. Reference back to the section on Policy Removal which is on paragraph 5. Assuming the policy you deleted was left at the defaults for policy removal all clients will be left pointing at the old share until told differently. To fix this is simple, create a policy with the new redirection settings and once it is picked up the user will be pointed to the new location. What if you are just trying to remove folder redirection altogether? Hopefully you set the policy removal to redirect back to the local user profile. But if you have not; create a policy and set each redirected folder’s target location to Redirect to the local user profile location. Once this policy has been applied everywhere at that point it is safe to delete altogether.




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