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App-DNA offers fascinating Windows App analysis tools

In a fascinating phone call with Samit Patel of last Monday (12/13/2010) I learned more about that company’s Windows applications analysis technology called AppTitude, specifically in light of ongoing, planned, and upcoming enterprise-class migrations from older Windows desktop versions to Windows 7. Along the way, I also learned that the same technology that App-DNA brings to operations wishing to streamline and manage that migration process will also work for other likely migrations, including virtualization efforts aimed at Hyper-V, VMWare, Citrix XenApp, Xen Desktop, and so forth (in fact, AppTitude won “Best of Show” at Citrix Synergy 2010).

Let me be very clear as to why I describe AppTitude as an analysis tool rather than a migration tool, even though it can be an important or even invaluable part of the migration process. AppTitude does not actually do migration; rather, it analyzes elements from what Patel calls an “enterprise’s definitive software library” (the collection of installable images, programs, and executable files it uses to generate desktop environments for end users) to determine where potential software conflicts or problems might exist, and then to implement automated remediation strategies or techniques to address them.

Most migration tools work by observing runtime behavior of specific instances of desktop environments, but AppTitude constructs a static virtual model for each of the elements it finds in an organization’s software library. This permits the tool to leverage information from packages or items that would normally be handed off to IT professionals for packaging and/or deployment, and to decompose underlying software API calls and object references to find dependencies within the code that may or may not be compatible with a Windows 7 runtime environment. Says Patel: “The real value comes from going beyond MSI tables for portable executables to analyze headers and other data, and to access pre-installation (PE) data to see if it will run or not.” This technique does not require actual installation, so no observation of runtime behavior is needed. In fact, the 60,000 or so data points that AppTitude collects for application library entries suffice to answer these all-important questions:

  • Will it install?
  • Will it run properly (or at all)?

The biggest problem with other tools and approaches that require migration by trial and error, or by runtime observation, is that this approach cannot possibly follow all potential cases or use scenarios. Patel offered a telling example of how an application that might be subject to batch script invocation every other Sunday wouldn’t manifest problems in a runtime environment unless testing happened to occur on that particular day, or run long enough to come up against this schedule (neither of which is terribly likely, he also opines). Only a tool like AppTitude that systematically examines every possible cross-reference, all internal code structures and external references, and scripts or other automated processes that might invoke the application can possibly catch potential gotchas that could emerge.

The approximately 60,000 data points that AppTitude gathers about applications are what represent the so-called “application DNA” that gives this company its name, and its tool so much punch. Though AppTitude doesn’t actually DO migration per se, it can (and has) helped large organizations anticipate and remediate potential issues when conducting the migration process. Patel indicated that use of App-DNA resulted in price reductions of up to two-thirds for competitive bids for extremely large migrations, as opposed to more labor-intensive and time-consuming approaches to performing migration using the runtime approach. Even better, those winning bids also included timelines that were less than one-third as long as the losing bids based on runtime methodology.

App-DNA prices its offerings on a per-application basis, but enterprise licenses based on the total number of endpoints (as is the case with Citrix Xen and other desktop management environments) are also available. With Windows 7 spearheading the need for future migrations, Windows 8 in the offing for 2014, and virtualization or mobile interface migrations also in the mix in many enterprises, AppTitude appears to offer the opportunity to pay for itself many times over for organizations with thousands of desktops and hundreds to thousands of applications to manage (and migrate).

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