Technological evolution has been a constant process. There have always been existing systems that have evolved by integrating new technologies. This is done primarily to stay up-to-date per the customer's and industry's current requirements. However, some enterprises are stuck with legacy systems and need a faster resolution to fill the redundancies. Figuring out redundancies has always been a time and cost-intensive process. However, a startup, “AppFactor,” has developed a product that can radically decrease time and cost.

AppFactor is an AI-powered product for modernizing legacy applications. The product is built to help businesses tackle the daunting task of updating legacy systems. Often stuck with technical debt and struggling to keep pace with modern demands, the product offers a variety of features for its customers. For instance, discovery and analysis, transformation at scale, intelligent guidance, etc. AppFactor allows businesses to unlock their full potential and thrive in this evolving digital landscape.

In this interview, we are conversing with someone important from the company. Therefore, let’s read ahead. However, before that, let's learn a little about our guest.

Who is Keith Neilson?

Keith Neilson currently serves as the CEO and founder of AppFactor. Drawing his expertise from prior positions at companies like CloudSphere, iQuate, and Optibus. Holding a degree from Shenley Brook End, Keith possesses strong skills encompassing virtualization, cloud computing, storage, pre-sales, and infrastructure. His valuable insights are taking his company forward.
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1) Can you share your journey of finding nine startups and how those creations led to the creation of AppFactor?

My career has spanned various domains and areas of technology, encompassing different products, services, and segments within the IT industry. I've worked from distribution to resellers and have been involved in multiple startups, predominantly focusing on pre-sales engineering.

Fundamentally, my role involves leveraging a technical background to understand and empathize with business and technical challenges. The goal is to translate these challenges into viable solutions. Throughout my career, I've established teams dedicated to delivering these solutions.

“All these diverse experiences have paved the way for me to identify a significant gap in the market. I've spent many years validating and working through this, building a capable team around me. We've learned valuable lessons from our journey, bringing us to a real opportunity.”

Now, we are committed to addressing a problem that we believe is prevalent and needs transformation. We've come together as a team to tackle this challenge and make a meaningful impact.

2) What motivated you to address technical debt issues in legacy enterprise applications through AppFactor?

I've had experiences with different software companies, one of which focused on modernization, from 2015 to 2016. This experience highlighted a significant problem, i.e., there is a lack of tooling and technologies addressing legacy systems. The industry prioritizes new initiatives and projects, often neglecting older systems, applications, and infrastructure.

In my previous roles, I've been part of global initiatives around migration and modernization, working with Microsoft, Amazon, and Google partnerships. While there has been a considerable focus on cloud migration, the challenge is addressing technical debt comprehensively. Many older systems and software applications were left behind during the initial wave of cloud migration.

Establishing a solution in this space, we've observed a wealth of issues such as end-of-life software, various technology timelines, and unaddressed issues creating a high maintenance cost hindering innovation.

AppFactor is a product solution that simplifies and automates steps for engineering teams to tackle challenges across infrastructure, architecture, code, and dependencies. It's about addressing technical debt and providing a pathway for organizations to innovate effectively.

3) Can you delve into the functionalities of AppFactor and tell us how all the services deliver value to your clients?

Fundamentally, the challenge with modernization lies in understanding the applications within an environment,i.e., where they are, their anatomy, components, and dependencies.

The first step traditionally involves analyzing and performing discovery against these applications to identify candidates and the scope of the required work. However, current app discovery processes are manual, disjointed, and heavily consultative, often relying on first-gen cloud migration tools with a server infrastructure bias.

Our platform addresses this challenge with the first component, Discover and Assess. It comprises the AppFactor scanner, a lightweight native binary agent for Linux and Windows Server versions. The scanner quickly collects data for app modernization—dependencies, environment variables, source code, libraries, network configurations, and attributes. It operates in parallel at scale, collecting data in under a second, then removes itself without leaving any remnants.

To distribute these scanners efficiently, we have the orchestrator. This tool lets customers define the discovery scope, where to run the scanner, and how often to run scans. It can start from a single IP address and disseminate organically or begin with a LAN segment or cloud environment across multiple accounts. The orchestrator is also designed for sensitive environments, facilitating government or highly secure customer proxy connections.

Our SaaS platform acts as the hub for collecting and processing metadata. Deployed in the customer's cloud environment, it ensures high security by not handling credentials or storing data outside the customer's environment. This setup aligns with enterprise needs, and we've already started engaging with customers.

Moving through the product, we report and illustrate the anatomy of applications and provide the ability to modernize and deploy. The platform's architectural makeup addresses technical debt by automatically detecting end-of-life vulnerabilities in the application dependency stack and identifying modernization opportunities. It's a comprehensive solution that works for our customers automatically.

4) What makes AppFactor stand out from all the other platforms offering similar services?

The critical point is that this isn't a service; it's a product. It's a product designed to accelerate identifying, modernizing, and deploying existing applications from their current environments to newer, container-native architectures.

What sets AppFactor apart is its ability to handle what we call 'inter-applications,' complex multi-host applications distributed across multiple physical and virtual hosts. While there are command-line tools for single app instances, AppFactor goes further, understanding the entire application stack across the current infrastructure and translating those relationships into a cloud-native form. It intelligently identifies application tiers or patterns, building them into individual container images and generating all networking and deployment specifications during deployment.

We're not handling application code changes or analysis, though we capture it as part of the process. This capability will come in the future. Right now, AppFactor significantly accelerates the journey to container-native architectures from physical or virtual-based infrastructure within minutes.

It makes a massive impact by improving modernization velocity easing the efforts of engineers who might face challenges like missing documentation, lack of time, skill sets, or budget. AppFactor is making a huge difference today, allowing engineers to move at scale across entire portfolios, whether in the cloud or on-prem and accelerating the adoption of Kubernetes or transitioning applications to various cloud services like Fargate or ECS.

5) What will be the unique features of your upcoming service “Modernization”?

We have rolled out some capabilities; some customers use them as early adopters. We formally launched in November. Fundamentally, this module enables us to extract all the data collected from Discovery, the initial module mentioned earlier, and rebuild these app dependencies into a cloud form.

It also handles complex scenarios, such as applications with hardcoded paths, IP addresses, or domain names. Various challenges we encounter in how applications have been previously written are addressed by this module, making it a re-architecture studio. It focuses on transforming applications based on the target architecture for the move.

In essence, smart automation accelerates the journey to more optimum cloud architectures. This is what we released in November for Linux and Windows Server applications.

6) How do you see the market for app transformation evolving in the next few years?

Well, this is a really interesting point. We're at the cusp of seeing modernization come to the forefront. The last 12 years of cloud migration have primarily been about lift and shift, rehosting virtual infrastructure into the cloud for perceived quick wins. However, this approach hasn't adequately addressed technical debt in many cases. It has shifted it without optimizing for more mature cloud services and abstractions.

We are witnessing a second wave of cloud migration where rehosted workloads must progress further, moving towards containerization, serverless, web assembly, and other modern technologies. Simultaneously, complex applications are left behind initially due to the need for modernization.

There's a significant increase in demand for us, and this trend is expected to continue.

“More customers are moving out of data centers, capitalizing on core technologies, and refining their existing setups. Modernization is an ongoing, ever-increasing cycle, and legacy is a continuum of applications and supporting infrastructure that continuously ages and faces change.”

There's a genuine need for a product that optimizes the process, monitors, manages, and delivers the outcomes customers seek. The product we're building supports this journey. It acknowledges that what is considered legacy today will be optimized into more contemporary technologies, which, in turn, will become legacy tomorrow. Thus, it aims to create a cohesive platform that supports developers' efforts, streamlining and simplifying the process while providing guardrails for better control over technical debt in the future. Part of the product's vision is to cut and deal with that technical debt. That's the direction our product and company are moving towards.

7) What emerging technologies will significantly impact the enterprise app space as per you?

Yeah, well, I think there are several things to consider. There's an evolution around runtime technologies. We're seeing Web Assembly (WASM) pick up and take shape. Although there's still a way to go, there's a huge interest and value in that technology, and we'll have to monitor how it evolves. Additionally, seeing what happens with Kubernetes in the long term will be interesting. I believe more abstraction is ultimately needed.

Perhaps new technologies are emerging, perhaps ones we haven't even had the foresight to consider yet. AI is playing a tremendous part in both development and operations, supporting the lifecycle of applications. While there's currently a buzz around AI, we haven't seen its full potential in these areas yet. As usual, the rapid pace of new technologies is part of the challenge because it's hard to keep up.

For us, the emergence of newer technologies that change the paradigm of how cloud technologies are used, how we package our applications, how we run them, and how we architect them is noteworthy. Web Assembly is a significant player that we anticipate seeing more of.

8) How do the 3D visualization engine and VR capabilities in AppFactor help better understand and manage a complex application?

Yes, part of the challenge on the Discovery side involves architects, engineers, and anyone responsible for an application facing difficulties in establishing its anatomy. This becomes more complex as the application undergoes various patch changes and evolves with shifts in the surrounding environment, such as moving to the cloud. Integrations with other systems further complicate the picture, and as applications evolve, technical debt emerges and compounds, creating intricate relationships between dependencies resembling a ball of spaghetti.

One significant question posed to us is how to simplify and optimize the visualization of these dependencies. To address this, we've developed functionality to disrupt this space, creating an intuitive way to understand and quantify the makeup of complex infrastructures and applications using a 3D engine.

This serves a dual purpose: first, visualizing and identifying app dependencies at a granular level in an immersive and enjoyable manner; second, using the 3D engine to illustrate and visualize architecturally what we aim to move toward. This allows us to preview how the application will look through each iteration of modernization efforts, such as changing the database, decomposing a specific component, or moving to a Kubernetes cluster. It's a way to model how we evolve and optimize an application's architecture.

This feature has incredible potential, and we've begun building it into the product. The reception has been fantastic, with many customers, prospective customers, and partners expressing a keen interest in using it. Although we're in the early stages, the feature holds significant promise and excitement as we develop it further.

9) Can you share any success stories or significant impact that AppFactor has had with commercial clients like Civica?

Fundamentally, what we've observed is a significant boost in modernization velocity. Initially, we deployed the Discovery module, which has tremendous value. It has enabled the automation of many processes and steps involved in understanding and performing Discovery for various use cases like Cloud migration. The product has delivered immense value by automating steps to learn and quantify what makes up an application and its infrastructure. We've witnessed substantial gains in speed and acceleration, not only in the discovery phase but also in the actual modernization process.

For example, taking a .NET application and deploying it as a containerized solution, eliminating the need for an operating system, and addressing end-of-life vulnerabilities has significantly moved the needle.

AppFactor has delivered the desired outcomes for Civica and the customer rapidly and with minimal effort at a considerably lower cost than traditional methods. We're seeing not only the delivery of required outcomes but also an acceleration that allows more applications to be addressed, improving the overall throughput of the entire initiative.

The product has provided tremendous value in speed, cost, and outcomes. At this point, we're experiencing new partnership engagements, and new customers are coming on board. Our product's exposure and success have started creating global opportunities, which is genuinely exciting. We are currently at a stage where we are gearing up for growth to support these opportunities. It's an exciting time for us as we build and expand.

10) How do you position AppFactor against competitors like Google’s Migrate for Anthos or even AWS app to container in the app modernization market?

Indeed, there are some similarities to other products, and we've been working on this for a long time. In the past, we've built another cloud migration product, so we are well-acquainted with the functionalities of these tools. We have partnered with Amazon and are also discussing potential partnerships with Google. While these tools are helpful, they still present challenges and involve manual processes.

They often rely on command-line interfaces or are tailored for single-app instances, lacking the capacity to handle complex workloads with multiple components and dependencies across numerous hosts and systems.

AppFactor is specifically designed to address this complexity and automate these processes. Partners and customers, including Google and Amazon, use these tools alongside other products to piece together the necessary information.

These tools often fall short of providing comprehensive answers, particularly when dealing with the intricacies of multiple hosts and systems. AppFactor utilizes machine learning classifications to understand critical components that make up a complex workload across multiple hosts, solving a complex problem that these tools often struggle with.

11) Are there any other exciting features or developments on the horizon for AppFactor that you could share with us?

We're still early on in our journey, but we receive a wealth of use cases and technical requirements from our existing and prospective customers.

One major area we're focusing on is application support. We're seeing significant demand for supporting more runtimes, different use cases within the application patterns we've detected, and expanding target support regarding technologies we can move to. The breadth and support levels of the product are starting to emerge, and you can expect to see more support as we continue to develop.

Additionally, we have a third module to launch towards the end of the year or early next year as part of our formal release. This module is aimed at accelerating and simplifying the provisioning of newer applications. Developers often face challenges when tasked with provisioning cloud infrastructure and services, as they may not know exactly what they need, causing delays.

This upcoming release is a major step for us. It aligns with the journey of making applications compatible with DevOps and open telemetry and optimizing them architecturally for modern cloud technologies. It's about supporting developers through the entire lifecycle, allowing them to update and redeploy applications rapidly. This is the next phase for AppFactor, and you can expect to see it emerge in the coming months.

12) What entrepreneurial advice would you like to give our younger generation?

“I would suggest a keyword I like to share with my children, who are still very young, and that's 'persistence.' If you can be persistent with everything you do, it will see you through challenges and even failures, which you should expect.”

If you're persistent and believe in yourself, you'll keep going and eventually get to where you want to be. So, for me, the word 'persistence' is something everyone should focus on. I think it's a key attribute to have in your arsenal."

13) What do you think about the content creators in social media?

It's an incredibly powerful tool, social media. I think there's a fine balance to strike, in my opinion, in terms of how much we should leverage it and use it on a day-to-day basis because it can be a bit of a distraction and a useful tool. I think, in small doses, it's pretty helpful. It's certainly a great way to market, share thought leadership, expand on views, and express opinions. But yeah, I think small doses are probably a good thing.

14) What should one think when someone thinks of quitting everything in life?

Well, I think that's an interesting point. There are always highs and lows in life, both personally and professionally. Celebrate your wins; remember that you need challenging times to highlight the good ones. But you know, there's no need to give up. If you're persistent, then you can keep going. There's always a good time around the corner; you just have to focus on those moments and enjoy them. So yeah, that's what I would suggest.

15) Lastly, what are your thoughts on platforms like MobileAppDaily?

Well, you guys have some great interviews. You are trying to keep up with all the latest and greatest technologies and emerging companies. I'd say keep it up. It's probably challenging to stay abreast because, as we touched on, there's so much fast-moving technology and companies. I don't envy you, but you're doing a great job.

Key Takeaways:

  • AppFactor is an AI-powered product that is designed to modernize legacy applications.
  • Keith Neilson is the CEO and founder of the company and brings expertise from previous roles at companies like CloudSphere, iQuate, and Optibus.
  • The motivation behind creating AppFactor stemmed from the lack of tools and technologies that Keith felt in his previous software companies.
  • AppFactor includes functionalities like the Discover and Assess module that lets the application collect data to modernize applications.
  • AppFactor has been designed to handle complex multi-host applications.

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Unveiling the pulse of mobile tech, our expert author at MobileAppDaily is your guide to the latest trends and insights in the app development sphere. With a passion for innovation, they bring you succinct analyses and a keen perspective on the evolving world of mobile technology. Stay tuned for concise updates that decode the future of mobile apps.

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