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Orion Application Server: A Hunter in Pursuit  : Page 4

The Orion Application Server is a hunter in pursuit of market share in the app server space. Steve Franklin discusses the attributes that make this fledgling product an app server to watch.


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The Hunter Has Its Limits
As you can tell, I enjoy working with Orion. However, the following issues limit Orion's appeal for certain applications and users:
  • Administration—The biggest nuisance with Orion is its configuration and administration. Understanding the mechanism and becoming familiar with Orion's environment takes quite a bit of time and effort. Once you conquer this learning curve, it is a fairly efficient approach but more documentation and sample configurations would have helped the learning process.
  • Support—Orion's online support documentation is so lacking that an independent site, orionsupport.com was established. Combine this resource with the reportedly unreliable but fairly active Orion mailing list and you have a reasonable support network. I have not yet run into specific Orion bugs, but a quick perusal through IronFlare's bug tracking mechanism (Bugzilla) shows some significant bugs awaiting action. Then again, I give kudos to Orion for disclosing the full scope of its outstanding and corrected bugs.
  • DocumentationOrion's documentation is sometimes sparse and not always clearly laid out. This makes locating specific answers or problems difficult. Orion doesn't match WebSphere's and WebLogic's mountains of documentation and online support. It suffers from a lack of sample code, tutorials, tech notes, white papers, etc., and at the time this article was written, its Tutorial Section had not been updated since September 3, 2000.
  • Customer Testimonials—The Orion site lists some customers who use Orion on their but the app server needs more enterprise-oriented sites with mission-critical needs for data to use, talk about, and brag about it to lure risk-averse architects.
  • User Interface—I'm not one for complex, large administration GUIs, having suffered through long delays while running other J2EE vendors' massive admin consoles over X11 on DSL. However, the Orion interface is not at all elegant or easy to navigate.

Why are support and documentation such a striking point? Consider the following scenario. You're running into connection pool problems in Orion. You go to groups.google.com (perhaps one of the most useful technical tools on the Web) and search for "Orion connection pool." You receive six resultsnot much help there. In contrast, searching for "WebLogic connection pool" returns 4,140 results (searches run on September 9, 2001). Low discussion traffic places more reliance on the quality and response time of IronFlare's technical support team and the Orion mailing list.

Start Small
Orion is a wonderful J2EE application server. I hope for big things from IronFlare, and I also hope that Oracle's licensing of the IronFlare container technology will provide even more momentum to the evolving Orion app server. However, when choosing new technology, safe solutions, broad user support, and proven, long-term performance are critical selection criteria for the types of projects I generally work on. Consequently, I'd like to see more evidence that Orion can be a safe and strong solution on an enterprise scale (e.g., clustering and scalability features under demanding real-world conditions). In the meantime, I recommend Orion for smaller projects until it can fulfill its considerable potential.



Steve Franklin handles the architecture and project engineering responsibilities at a major software firm dealing with J2EE, client/server, command and control, and other distributed architectures. Steve Franklin's primary "off-hours" hobby can be found at Lookoff.com, a repository for Internet and research resources. He can be reached at steve@lookoff.com.
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