Currently at work I’m busy helping design and implement a highly available 10g Oracle Application Server infrastructure on some blade servers. This is a piece of software that can cost more than a brand new Alfa Romeo which performs a similar role to an Apache Web Server with Tomcat at the backend (all open source software). Basically it’s an advanced web server that is supposed to stay up even if a bomb takes out one of your data centres (it does others things but I’m trying to keep this simple). But this isn’t like paying more for a Sony TV just because it’s a Sony. You are giving up the Alfa so that you get same day support and bulletproof stability. You are also assured that Oracle isn’t going to get bored and hand over the code to some newbie hacker.
I’ve used the Oracle support a few times and I’ve found them to be quick and helpful even if sometimes I feel like I’m in a Bollywood movie (a lot of the support people are indian). I get same day support and they’ve even remoted in to see what I see. I’ve found their website support pages horrifically designed because they look and feel like a programmer did it. It’s confusing and I can’t always be assured that I’m looking at the most recent documentation. Their forums are ugly and don’t give a good indication as to whether someone has replied to a post or not. OMG, they don’t even have gradients! 😉
In contrast, I’ve found open source software like mythtv or gentoo to have excellent website support and forums. I’ve found step by step howtos for each environment and lots of instances of people having the same problem as me. I don’t always get same day service if I post a problem but that’s accepted as I’m not paying for it.
I’m not sure if the difference is because maybe Oracle has a smaller Application Server user base or what but I’m finding it a little frustrating. I read through their documentation and they tell you how to do things but they don’t exactly explain why. For example, they say you can use one web server with three j2ee app servers behind it or you can just have a web server for each j2ee app server but they don’t say what the benefits of each configuration is. I just want to know if I pick this way, what repercussions does it have later. Perhaps I’m just annoyed because there aren’t any cool Oracle App Server blogs for an administrator. But mostly I’m probably pissed just because I have to RTFM. 🙁