Leaning Towards Application Express

I’ve been thinking recently about the intersection between Oracle’s Application Express technology and my own field of data warehousing. Not so much from the technical side, although I do see ApEx and a potential for knocking up a pretty reasonable and low cost executive dashboard against a data warehouse, but more strategically.

I’m reminded of reading stories about EDS, who got into deep waters when they won an enormous contract to manage the US Navy’s IT infrastructure, and who found after signing on the dotted line that the number of applications to be supported had been underestimated by an order of magnitude in the pre-contract work. I seem to recall 3,000 being the estimate and 30,000 being the actuality. Of course the vast majority of that are the little skunk-works applications that seem to sprout up like blades of grass in the cracks of the sidewalk as soon as the heavy tread of configuration management is falling elsewhere.

There must be thousands of companies like that though — little spreadsheets being used to hoard planning numbers, cost allocations, all the things that the enterprise applications couldn’t integrate in time. Integrating data from such desktop-based applications and spreadsheets into a data warehouse is an enormous effort on the ETL side, very prone to error and requiring much manual coordination. This seems to be an ideal breeding environment for ApEx applications. Once the data is tucked up snugly in the Oracle database then we can read it at our leisure, and the data volumes are almost always trivial. A few hundred or thousand rows, maybe. Oracle have released a beta of the Application Express Application Migration Workshop which seems promising. I don’t have anything to hand to test it with, though the way that it “absorbs” spreadsheets is very neat.

Well ApEx is something that I have a look at now and then, poke around the demonstration applications and maybe try some of the walk-throughs, but it has never clicked for me. It must be too intuitive or something, and I’m trying to out-think it. I’m glad to see from John Scott’s blog that he and Scott Spendolini have a book coming out on the topic. From the publisher’s description it looks like it goes into the conceptual stuff that I and at least one other have been struggling with so I’ll put that on my shopping list “toot sweet”. Maybe this will become one of the essential applications for future Oracle data warehousing environments.


6 thoughts on “Leaning Towards Application Express

  1. David,

    I use App Express for exactly what you are describing.

    I spent the summer of 2006 researching various development tools for small to mid sized (mostly) internal business applications. I looked at a *lot* of java frameworks, some ORM tools, .Net stuff, etc.

    I talked to a lot of seasoned developers, newbies, management folks, etc. When all was said and done, I selected Oracle Application Express. Not only does it handle data well and provide a useful developement framework, it looks good right out of the box!


  2. Well, part of the problem was me (Microsoft refugee). Not at all familiar with Oracle tools.

    Another problem was my organization. We have many java developers, but they are all working on huge enterprise level software projects. They are fantastic guys and gals for Überhuge stuff, but not so good for SMB app development. They all universally hate front-end development (that didn’t help much).

    And yes, part of the problem is Oracle. They could take the SMB market by storm with App Express if they marketed it harder.


  3. It does seem to be picking up pace, maybe more in the technical Oracle community than in the business or the non-Oracle world, but i still meet a lot of people who have never heard of it. A big marketing ush would run the risk of cannibalising JDeveloper revenue i guess.

  4. Hmm I wonder how much dough Oracle makes off of jdev? I never thought of that before, it is a free download right now. Does ADF still cost something to license and deploy?

    While I’m certainly no licensing expert, I would imagine that Oracle could use App Express to “bait” people into using Oracle XE, then when they are ready to $$scale up$$, they buy Oracle Standard.

    Oracle developers will still have times where they will want to use ADF, as well as building Web Services. While there is some overlap with ADF, I probably would not choose App Express to build web services! :-)


  5. I have used APEX on a couple of small applications. Mostly I like it, but a good book would be nice. I’ve read the Oracle HTML DB Handbook. It spends too many pages showing the obvious and too few pages with the architecture and concepts. Still, it’s better than nothing. My big gripe about APEX is the use of HTML tables for layout. Come on guys, use CSS.

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