FutureState AppRx 2013

By Rory Monaghan


So what is the purpose of AppRx?, I’ll be honest, I took a look at this tool almost three years ago when I worked for a former employer. At the time, I believed AppRx was a tool to assist with the rationalization of your application portfolio, for a one time shot in an effort to migrate to a new Operating System. I’m glad to report that I was wrong. First off, AppRx or is a SaaS (Software As A Service) tool, there’s a nice Silverlight web portal which acts as the entry point and management console for the tool, meaning no expensive back-end configuration costs for you. First Brownie Points!!

AppRx in a nutshell is a tool which can help you rationalize your application portfolio, normalize the list and bring the number down in a logical fashion all within the tool using it’s ‘Cleanse’ feature. Which is all well and good, as it means you can use the tool for Migration but there’s more than that to this tool. This tool is designed for use on an ongoing basis as a living tool in your environment. It helps you to continually manage and monitor the health of your application portfolio. By continually monitoring your application portfolio list and highlighting when an application is say near End of Life from the Vendor, is past End of Life, If your current version is say three major versions behind (you can set the threshold for this). You can also choose to purchase the ability to analyze applications contents for compatibility using AppDNA or ChangeBase in a SaaS model. I will give a brief example of one of these, I have much more info regarding AppDNA HERE and info on ChangeBase HERE Unfortunately, As I was just demoing this tool, I did not have access to all features. I could not use the Cleanse feature to help with rationalizing but there’s a helpful video on that part of the tool which can be found here:

This is a long post with a lot of information. Apologies and you’re welcome 🙂 But for even more check out this Whitepaper released by FutureState: https://futurestateit.com/whitepaper/

A quick Synopsis of how the tool works for you guys would be that you can take an export report from a Distribution tool (SCCM, LanDesk, Altiris, Enteo, DSM etc) or maybe  an Application Catalog (Application Manager, Conflict Solver, Software Manager etc. ). You can then Open and Merge\Import this CSV file into AppRx. You then run your currency check (Check how current the versions of the apps you are using are), the tool will process the list and check against FutureStates internal database and see if the information for that app has already been gathered, if so the information is brought back right away, if the info cannot be found in the FutureState database, the tool will perform a web crawl to try and get the information from a reputable site, if this still fails, the application will remain Pending while a member of the FutureState team does some investigating in attempt to update the record for the app! I think that’s pretty incredible. Also obviously there’s the features to help cleanse the list as seen in the video and the optional feature for doing App Compat analysis of the contents of the app for compatibility with a Operating System and\or virtual application platforms. There’s even more, so please read on!

Screen Shot 2013-10-08 at 5.42.36 PM
 As I explained above, this is a Software As A Service solution, FutureState AppRx has a nice web portal as a central management console. This of course saves you from needing to setup your own server(s), database back-end etc. You will require a login to access the portal.
The first screen you will see is the Dashboard. I’m going to ignore this for now as I will include a Step Through further down this post. Let’s get down to importing!
I navigated to the sidebar on the Application menu.
Firstly, you may notice throughout the summary screen of the Dashboard, Applications, Currency and Analysis Menu, you also have the options to import, as well as an option to create application groups, which I strongly advise. If you plan on running through application in batches. Maybe name each group as a batch date or number. Or if you are doing it by Department name by the Department. These application groups can also be dynamic groups which will automatically update based on criteria such as application type, category or info you supply in your CSV file, which we’re about to discuss!
You should also see an option to import a .csv file. This is great because pretty much every Software Distribution tool e.g. SCCM, Enteo, LanDesk can export data into an Excel CSV format. Why is that good? It’s good because all you need to run the currency check for your applications is to import the list of applications from such a tool\repository. You require a column for Name, one for Manufacturer and one for Version. These are the only required columns. You can include more if you’d like to to help with your dynamic grouping e.g. number of users, Architecture and so on, but it’s not mandatory.
Next click on the Open and Merge button under Applications and point to your CSV file. That’s how I did it.
The application list imported will now appear in the window.
Next click on the Administration menu option. Browse to Licensing and choose to run the Currency license. Now, of course there’s more options available when you’ve got the licenses. You can choose to Cleanse, which can basically clean your SCCM or other Distribution tools reports and normalize the list to get rid of any duplication or junk. I did not have a license for this but for more information regarding this feature, I advise you take a look at the video I linked at the beginning of this post. Here I clicked the One Time Currency option which I was licensed to use.
I highlighted the apps I wanted to apply the license to and clicked Execute Changes
It warns you that you’re about to use a license. I’ll show you further on, how you can tell which licenses you’ve got. I click Yes.
The application should now have a status update. This may take some time particularly if the applications are not found the FutureState AppRx Database. I believe for the first time run you can expect a possible 5 day turn around, which allows the team to attempt to gather the info for the apps which could not automatically find the info.
Step Through
To the side we see the initial screen that appears is the Dashboard. You can see the main menu is on the sidebar with a variety of menu options, which I’ll try my best to give a brief description of as we go along. You can see there’s two pie charts on the bottom one showing Risk and one showing Compliance, well this is representative of what I mentioned earlier in this post regarding the ongoing nature of this tool, how it can help you keep tabs on your application portfolio and general health of your environment. I won’t go into it too much here, I will touch on this a little more further down when covering the options for setting the compliance level etc. Also there’s a pie chart in the upper right corner covering the Migration status. You can delve into each of these ‘panels’. Each one is expandable. I won’t go into each in great detail but here’s a couple of examples, just because I love the visual of these overviews and think they deserve to be highlighted.
You can see when you expand the Migration Status you get a really nice overview.
Here’s an example of the Compliance panel. Again I’ll be covering some settings in the tool futrher down which will make this info more relevant but as you can probably even garner from this overview and from what I stated in my introduction, the tool can highlight when an application is out of compliance for End of Life from the Vendor.
The Dashboard statistics is the real overview overview 🙂 It’s an overview of the status of each application which you have imported into the tool.  On that note, How can you import applications?  Don’t worry, I’m getting to it, I’ll explain.
Next menu down is Applications. There’s two tabs. Summary and Applications. The Summary view is what we see in this screenshot, the top representing the states of the applications in the tool. Below being pie charts that provide a breakdown of the type and categories of the applications imported.
The Applications tab brings up a list of the applications imported into the tool and their current status. Pending meaning they are being processed. This typically means that the application was not found in FutureStates Database or did not show up in a web crawl, so a member of the FutureState team is working in the background to gather information for this application. That’s right, it doesn’t end with the tool just saying Sorry, this info is not found, members of the FutureState team will attempt to track down the information and update the records. Essentially creating a huge re-usable data source for all AppRx users.
The next menu option down is Currency. Currency is in relation to how current the applications are. After importing the application(s) you run the currency which will attempt to gather information regarding the application and how current the app is. It will show how many versions behind the app is or if the app is the latest version.
Screen Shot 2013-10-13 at 6.43.17 PM
The Currency Tab is where this information is shown. For an example you can see Adobe Reader  shows that version 9.3 which was imported, shows the version was only supported until June 2013, we can also see that this version is showing as compatible with an array of different windows operating system versions, the latest version at the time of this is post was version 11.0.03, which shows compatibility with newer operating systems such as Windows 8. You may notice some of the stars are grey and others are gold. Typically this means the application is Vendor certified. Gold stars mean it’s Microsoft certified for that operating system. I believe this information is pulled from vendors own websites. You can also see a summary of the Major and Branch versions, basically showing that the version imported is 2 major versions behind and 4 minor version branches behind.
Analysis is the Application Compatibility Check with AppDNA or ChangeBase. This is simple to do, I don’t want go into a full how to for this one. All you need to do is either Upload an individual MSI or supply a Setup.exe/Zip to the site. When you upload an .exe or zip file these get converted to MSI on virtual machines running in FutureStates systems, and once the conversions have taken place the MSI is loaded back into the your customer account automatically, the VM is then automatically shutdown and deleted. If you upload an MSI the tool can analyze that right away and will report on the compatibility with whatever platforms were selected by you in the Administration settings. Which I will get into further down. A quick overview of the kind of info produced as part of the App Compat Analysis can be seen here.
You can see just like with AppDNA and ChangeBase products themselves you get a very fine level of detail on exactly what issues are present in particular applications and what the solution is or at least next step should be. These reports can cover various Operating Systems and Application Virtualization tools.
Some of the Platforms can be seen in the above screenshot. You can also see the various levels of reporting available. Basically the same reports which you get with AppDNA, only with AppRx since it’s SaaS you don’t have to go setting up a back-end! Also, you do not need to worry about capturing your non-MSI applications. And on top of all that you pay for however many applications you need to put through the tool, as you need it. Result!!
Moving swiftly on, there’s also a reports menu option on the Sidebar with even more levels of reporting for the different features of AppRx. They report on the Risk, Rationalization, Compliance, Interoperability of the apps, Compatibility (differing levels, are they Microsoft certified, migration status, by compatibility for one particular platform e.g. Win7 x64 etc.) and a basic applications reports based on recently released, by Vendor, Version etc. Pretty much any report I could think of that I would want based on what the tool can do, appears in this list. The reports are also very nicely laid out, like the entire tool, it’s very visually appealing. These reports can also be exported into many different formats e.g. PDF, CSV, Excel, RTF, Tiff and MHTML.
One of the more basic reports is seen above. Reporting by Application.
Administration has quite a bit to cover…I know this is already very long, so I’ll try to be as succinct as possible. Applications is the first option here, it’s straight forward. Depending on the data you imported you can sort\filter using this data if that is a preference.
Compatibility allows you to select which platforms you run your ‘Analysis’ against. This is the AppDNA or Change Application Compatibility Analysis which generates the detailed report on what issues are present and what the potential fix is.
As alluded to earlier in my post. This tool had many different features and modules. The reason why, I believe is because some features may lend themselves better to a migration effort or clean-up effort, whilst others lend themselves more to the ongoing health of an organizations application portfolio. Thus different licenses, meaning cheaper price depending on what modules you pay for. I have no idea of how much the tool costs, I like to say that’s above my pay grade right now 🙂 But I do know AppDNA and ChangeBase licenses will likely add more cost than using the tool without them. BUT, the beauty is, you have the choice. Maybe you rationalize your apps and then figure out that you only need a deep dive on 100 of your apps. Well, pay to put 100 apps through the Analysis. My Profile is not worth getting into, it just covers personal info like E-mail, Company, Name etc. This is the part of the tool which shows you how many licenses you have.
Finally. Risk and Compliance is the real meat and potato’s for those using this tool for an ongoing health tool. This is where you set your  thresholds for things like End of Life support nearing the deadline, How many major or minor versions behind my apps are. You can also weight the ratings so for example: at what point does the severity level go up? Instantly when I saw this, I thought this is a pretty cool Application portfolio version of something like Solarwinds. Only instead of warning me that a Server’s kicking the bucket, it’s warning me my apps are about to fall out of compliance of the criteria I set. So it’s time for me to reach out to the Application Owner and plan an upgrade path and budget as such.
One important extra point is that the tool can also provide security benefits by keeping up to date and reporting on any applications potential vulnerabilities as can be seen in the screenshot above. The tool flags the potential issue with an explanation of what it is, as well as providing a link to the official vendors site for further explanation as well as showing the new version or service pack to upgrade to in order to resolve this vulnerability. This is a huge coup for the product.
AppRx is not just a rationalization and App Compat tool to be used for a Migration but rather a tool which should live in your environment and help you to keep a good baseline and handle on your application portfolio. AppRx allows you to set a compliance level around the versions of the software in your environment, allowing you to stay pro-active rather than re-active and assure you can keep your entire portfolio up to date in a timely manner and ultimately a cost saving manner. You can feel more confident when going to perform future OS Migrations that the software in your environment is up to par and relevant, as you can use the information to continually rationalize the list of applications and prevent yourself from support tools or products which are no longer required popping up and slowing you down when the pressure might be on to get moving to a new OS. This tool can also help you keep your applications at a secure release level when vulnerabilities are reported. It’s a very powerful tool!
The tool also has an AppDNA and ChangeBase ‘Service’, with these you also have a much more comprehensive method to deep dive into the contents of your applications and identify potential compatibility issues with specific components of an application whether they be issues with the applications for Windows 7, Windows 8, App-V, Server etc. as illustrated above in this post. If you use the tool to full effect now, you can be confident that your applications will be ready for a new OS and likely won’t need to pay for the AppDNA or Changebase service, but it’s useful as an option incase you have internally developed applications and need pointers on how to proceed with these, which gives extra brownie points to the fact it’s SaaS, since you only need to pay for these ‘licenses’ when needed and don’t have to ramp up an infrastructure in order to process these. Now one of my initial concerns with the fact this product runs on the Vendors back-end was security and confidentiality, what if I had sensitive data? I asked FutureState about this and received this response:

“AppRx was designed to deliver services securely to clients in every vertical, including finance, healthcare and government. To that end, data transfer from the client to AppRx is encrypted using 256-bit SSL from Verisign. The infrastructure itself is compliant with SAS70 Type II, PCI DSS Level 1, ISO 27001, and FISMA. In order to maintain customer security within the AppRx system, all data is stored with GUIDs, with any identifying customer information removed. Finally, AppRx does not require any actual customer data to perform application compatibility analysis, so there is no need for sensitive information to be stored within the system.”

I’m no legal Eagle but it sounds good to me, so I guess that would alleviate my concerns. Which is good because I would love to have this product in my IT Toolbelt. If you’d like a demo of the tool, FutureState can hook you up with that just fill in their online form: https://futurestateit.com/demo/ You can also sign up for a free trial on this link: https://futurestateit.com/free-trial/

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