Thursday, May 08, 2008

A tale of Oracle proportions...

So, it's a done deal. The number 2 J2EE application server vendor got assimilated by the number 3, leaving us basically with the choice between Websphere and Jboss.

When I first started dwelling through the J2EE world, all that I asked for was something I could install and run. It was hard enough to learn Java and the whole EE thing, if on top of it the software version you got from the vendors wouldn't run without applying 200 fixpaks or hotfixes and changing 4 config files from their defaults (sometimes a documented bug) it would only make it harder.

Back in the days, after spending about 2 days trying to get WebSphere 3.5 (I think) to run on a Windows box, I decided that it had to be different. This couldn't be the same software that was generating all the hype?! How could everyone be so hyped up about J2EE when nobody could install the freakin' software? So, I ran away from WebSphere and went to BEA and downloaded a trial version (about 1/3 of the size of WebSphere, which is already about 1/3 the size of Oracle's App Server).

Took me less than 45 minutes to have it working. It was installed, and running, nothing special to be done, no obscure config files from which to uncomment lines, it just worked.

Much later, in early 2006 I had to go back to install-j2ee-application-server-from-hell-land to try some software we wrote for a customer. I had to repeat the installation about 3 different times (including Portal server), and ended up documenting the whole process in a 33 page document. This is my experience installing Oracle Application Server + Oracle Portal Server

1st, I had to find a way to get my VMWare image to run on 1536 MB of memory. Don't ask me how they got to that number, but with less than that the installer will not run.
Then I had to install an Oracle metadata repository followed by an LDAP repository. The metadata part I can understand, but why in the name of Larry would I want to use Oracle Identity Directory (OID, their LDAP server)? Why can't it use my own LDAP, which I already have running in a secure box somewhere else? The truth is that you probably can, but not without Profe$$ional $ervice$ and years of experience dealing with Oracle software.

And if the install process wasn't painful enough, the type of stuff you find by trial-and-error is crazy...
For instance, you need to install the Oracle AS Certificate Authority, so that you can use OID with SSL. You think you don't need SSL for your LDAP until you try to run an upgrade and realize it only supported OID with SSL. Without SSL, no upgrade. (This might have changed, as I mentioned this was about 2 years ago).

Throughout the install process (over 2 hours) you get asked all sorts of questions that really only someone with extensive Oracle skills will know the answer to. Who the hell is ias_admin? Who's SYS? Who's SYSTEM? Why are there 2 of them? Who's SYSMAN? Why are there 15 different admin accounts? and the list goes on.

Finished installing Portal, needed to upgrade to First challenge of the day: where is the upgrade? After finding it (and storing it in a sacred location in our network), I took a snapshot of my VM Image, and continued. Here's some of the lines on my documentation, from which you can clearly sense my frustration with the whole process.

It looks like you can't run the upgrade immediately after you finished installation. Don't ask me why, it's just the way it is. Leave the server running and go home, try tomorrow.

You will be prompted for the SYS and ORCLADMIN passwords. Hope you remember them.

Since the fun couldn't be finished yet, what we needed to test were some JSR-168 compliant portlets. Of course, JSR-168 compatibility doesn't come out of the box for Oracle Portal, so we needed to install WSRP (Web Services for Remote Portlets) before being able to try anything.

Again, some of my installation notes show the level of frustration for not finding any of the info I really needed. For those of you thinking "RTFM", well, I RTFM at least 15 times. I'm one of those that very often writes TFM, so I know perfectly well what hidden gems you'll find in those babies. TFM is meant to be read, and I did. And it still didn't help me much...

Anyway, I had to repeat this process last year, and the notes I had taken a year earlier pretty much saved my @ss, and we were able to get a fully working Oracle Portal Server running in just under 2 days.

I feel so sorry for BEA customers...

Thursday, May 01, 2008


Just finished training a group of editors on what will soon be their Content Management System. We're taking a very slowly paced approach, where the goal is to get them exposed to the CMS very often and in small doses, to avoid information overload.

So, today's exercises were:
  1. Create an author profile component
  2. Create an Image and link it to the author profile
  3. Create an author BIO component
Link all 3 together, get it all in a page. See results.

And the results were... odd. Some people managed to do all this and then click the big red cross on the top right side of the window, then click OK to the warning message stating that they would lose all their changes by clicking OK.

Others couldn't understand the error message that states "The item you're trying to link to is not an image. Only gif, jpeg or png files are allowed."

And so on. Well, just another day at work. As a consultant I always bring change to companies, and being as unstable as I am, this is something I love. Change is the only constant in my life, and I really struggle to understand people that don't embrace change. So, when I see people's eyes wonder off because now they will have to update the author profiles centrally instead of in every page (!) of their site, I know they reached their limits...

Anyways, tomorrow we have training for the HTML designers, that's going to be a lot of fun.