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Can you build business critical applications with APEX?

Now and then this question pops up. And today this question was delivered in my mailbox again. A customer is starting a project to replace a current Oracle Forms application. So he asked Oracle and one of the Oracle partners: What should we use, APEX or ADF? A valid question that has been asked - and will be asked - by numerous customers. 
Of course, there is only one correct answer and that is: "It depends…"

But in this case, the Oracle representative and the partner answered (according to the client - so their might be some noise on the line) that you can’t build a business critical application with APEX, but only in ADF. My reaction was: "Sigh, here we go again…"
The mean reason was : Many APEX users means a high load on your database server. Most other solutions will have a high load on the application server, but the database server doesn’t suffer from that.

So what would my reaction be? Herewith some of my thoughts:

1. As this application is positioned as a replacement of Oracle Forms, all current users of the application already have their own session in the database. So if the current database can handle that volume of users, an APEX application - where you share the database resources / sessions - can handle even maybe up to 10 times more users.

2. There are examples out there of APEX applications that have a heavy load and are business critical. The internal Oracle Aria People system (to look up employees) may be a small one, but very heavily used and business critical as well - see Joel's blog for the proof of that. Another client of mine uses APEX as the main part of their logistics process. Up to a 1,000,000 page views a day serving 100’s of users. And certainly very business critical. 

3. In my opinion you can build everything with APEX. That doesn’t mean you should. There are certainly use cases where APEX wouldn’t be the tool of choice. And where ADF or .Net or whatever would be a better choice. But that’s all dependent on the situation. So in this particular case I can’t tell whether APEX would be the tool of choice. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.

So the statement “You can not build business critical applications with APEX” is simply not true. I would really like to see this based on evidence. If you say something like that, you have to prove it: What APEX projects building a business critical application failed because APEX just couldn’t handle it? I know some ADF projects that either failed or ran way out of time. A proof of the latter is Oracle’s own Fusion Applications. Oracle spent over 50,000 man years on building Fusion Apps. If you would remembers the first announcements, you know it was a couple of years late…. I don’t see that as a prove you can’t build something like that with ADF. I wouldn’t suggest you should build Fusion Apps with APEX. Not at all. But Oracle’s Fusion Apps project is often used as the “proof” you should use ADF for business critical applications. My conclusion is: Building Fusion Applications wasn’t the huge success / example project as it is often claimed for. And as a side remark: I really would like to meet the customer that can afford spending 50,000 man years of work. No other company in the world would or could do that! So the project of this customer we’re talking about is maybe1% of the size of Oracle’s one. But probably more in the magnitude of 0.01% = 5 man years. So my conclusion is: What works for Oracle doesn’t necessarily apply to you! It is all dependent of the situation. You can't and shouldn't generalise on this matter. That's like saying that you need the same tools and approach used building the Burj Khalifa in Dubai when you're building your own house.

Another issue, quite easily overseen at first, is the number of available ADF resources is rather limited - outside of Oracle. There are just a few companies that deliver theses scarce ADF resources. However APEX resources are widely available. So do you want to be dependent on just a few companies to deliver what you need? Or do you want to compare and make a well balanced choice? And of course there is a reason there's just not that many ADF developers...that's because there not that many ADF projects. Recently I heard a rumour that there were less than a 100. Worldwide...
And if your currents staff is used to code in PL/SQL and Oracle Forms they can be productive in APEX within a few days, while being proficient in ADF takes way longer.

Oh, and you would like to see some (general) proof that APEX can be used for building big business critical applications? Check out these examples:
- CampusIT from Dublin has created "Student Interaction and Management Solutions" in APEX - used by 100,000's of students, teachers, etc.
- Hoyer is using an APEX system, build by Yellowstar to manage their logistics. The previous version was based on Java btw.. It is huge, with 1,000's of pages and very business critical. You can read more about it on this Oracle's official own Customer and Partner page. So it seems that the statement that you can't use APEX for this kind of projects is not Oracle's official point of view. But more a personal opinion of the Oracle representative this particular company spoke with. And the bespoke partner might had some influence as well - being a 95% ADF shop....

If you have more examples of business critical APEX applications with some public accessible information, please leave a link in the comments and I will add it to this list!

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