How to Maneuver Oracle Forms Into an Ideal Position for Next ...

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How to Maneuver Oracle Forms Into an Ideal Position for Next-Generation Challenges



How to Maneuver Oracle Forms Into
an Ideal Position for Next-Generation
Challenges


3 July 2007
Mark Driver
Gartner RAS Core Research Note G00146666

Oracle Forms is one of the oldest toolsets for client/server application development, but it
isn't in a good position for most next-generation AD challenges. Follow these best practices
to manage Oracle Forms applications and migration strategies in future investments.




Overview



Oracle Forms is one of the oldest (if not the oldest) toolsets for client/server application
development (AD) on the market. It's inaccurate to consider Oracle Forms as strictly
legacy technology; however, like many of its early competitors, Oracle Forms is a
venerable technology — that is, it's still widely deployed and commands respect — but
Gartner believes it's ill-positioned for most next-generation AD challenges. Here, we
address best practices for managing Oracle Forms applications and migration strategies
for future investments.
Key Findings

Oracle Forms remains a viable and valuable technology asset to mainstream IT
strategies, but has limited scope in next-generation AD efforts.
Recommendations
AD organizations should:

Approach Oracle Forms within a "containment" strategy.

Modernize to gain advantages in centralized management and deployment.

Integrate with service-oriented architecture (SOA) best practices (specifically
Oracle's middleware and Java development tools).

Migrate to industry-dominant technologies (for example, Java, Microsoft .NET and
open-source software) to align with industry best practices in the future.



Table of Contents




Strategic Planning Assumption(s)




Oracle will continue to support and minimally invest
in Oracle Forms through 2015 (0.8 probability).


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Analysis

1.0 The Past: An Entrenched Technology Base
2.0 The Present: Fitness of Purpose and Proprietary Lock-In
3.0 The Future: Modernization, Integration and Migration

3.1 Modernization

3.1.1 Various Modernization Strategies
3.2 Integration
3.3 Migration
4.0 Complete Wholesale Migration (Forklift Migration)

4.1 Automated Migration Tools

4.1.1 Advantages
4.1.2 Disadvantages
4.2 Outsource/Offshore Migration

4.2.1 Advantages
4.2.2 Disadvantages
4.3 In-House Migration

4.3.1 Advantages
4.3.2 Disadvantages
5.0 Staged Migration Over Time

List of Figures



Figure 1. Oracle Forms Support Schedule



Analysis



1.0 The Past: An Entrenched Technology Base
Because of its tenure in the market, there are thousands of Oracle Forms applications in
production today. Compounding this issue, significant percentages of these deployments are
built on older, outdated and unsupported versions of the toolset. As an even-greater
challenge, many older deployments are accompanied by wholly insufficient documentation —
and to keep them running day-to-day, developers try not to disturb these systems lest they
collapse under their own weight.
Moreover, the combination of Oracle Designer and Oracle Forms created a powerful platform
for model-driven AD when the term "enterprise client/server" remained an oxymoron (for
many years, client/server applications didn't scale well beyond workgroup-size
deployments). Consequently, many Oracle Forms applications are larger and more complex
than typical client/server solutions, for example, deployed on products such as PowerBuilder
or Visual Basic, that were deployed during the same time period.
The combination of older code, lack of documentation, and application size and complexity
all contribute to very high barriers to migration for many Oracle Forms deployments. For
these reasons and others, many Oracle Forms developers have avoided upgrading to newer
versions of the toolset, never mind the larger challenge of migrating from Oracle Forms
altogether.


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2.0 The Present: Fitness of Purpose and Proprietary Lock-In
Today, most AD organizations that encounter Oracle Forms are established customers. Few
(if any) AD organizations are considering Oracle Forms for new investments, but there are
exceptions, such as the acquisition of third-party applications that are built on Oracle Forms
technology (Oracle's business applications are an example).
The challenges of moving beyond Oracle Forms investments can only be delayed, not
avoided entirely. Although Oracle Forms remains a solid fourth-generation language (4GL)
development toolset for two-tier client/server-architected solutions, the industry's state of
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the art has long since moved forward to embrace Web-centric application designs and SOAs.
To be accurate, Oracle Forms can play a role in these efforts, but it's outclassed by more-
modern next-generation toolsets (for example, Java and Microsoft .NET). At best, Oracle
Forms should be considered for a supporting role in next-generation SOA efforts, not as the
focal point of the application design.
It's also clear that Oracle's long-term AD strategy is squarely based on the Java platform.
Nevertheless, Oracle has not announced an end-of-life plan for Oracle Forms; rather, we
believe the company will continue to support and even minimally enhance Oracle Forms for
the foreseeable planning horizon (see Figure 1). However, we don't believe that Oracle's
investments will be sufficient enough to match essential features (such as Web interfaces)
that can be found in other available, best-of-breed development environments. We also note
that Oracle is moving its own business applications away from Oracle Forms. This effort
began as Oracle built its E-Business Suite on Java, and will conclude with the eventual
delivery of Fusion Applications.
Figure 1. Oracle Forms Support Schedule


Source: Oracle



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Figures



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Contents

Oracle will continue to support and minimally invest in Oracle Forms through 2015 (0.8
probability).


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Contents


3.0 The Future: Modernization, Integration and Migration
For reasons stated above, we believe that even with continued support from Oracle, the
Oracle Forms market share will continue to decline in the coming years. In turn, this will
yield increasingly declining support among third-party vendors, training and consulting
services.
We suggest that future Oracle Forms investments be driven by one basic assumption: All AD
organizations should plan to migrate away from Oracle Forms applications during the next
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10 years. Moreover, all but the most-conservative AD organizations should plan to migrate
during the next five years. In this effort, you should also demand a clearly articulated
migration strategy from any application vendor that leverages Oracle Forms for its own
solutions.
We recommend the following three tactics to maximize the time frame in which to gain the
optimal investment in Oracle Forms.


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Contents


3.1 Modernization
In general, Oracle Forms deployments should be modernized (that is, upgraded) to the
current versions whenever practical. This provides several advantages, the most important
of which is establishing the foundation to leverage the integration features of current and
future toolset versions with Oracle middleware and Java tools (see Section 5.0). Second,
Oracle Forms can provide a compelling, centralized deployment, monitoring and
management hub for Oracle-Forms-based solutions. This centralized control will offset the
costs of upgrading efforts in many return on investment scenarios.
Of course, modernization can also come at considerable expense, especially for older
solutions. However, we should stress that movement from an older code base isn't an issue
of "if," but rather "when."


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3.1.1 Various Modernization Strategies

As a prerequisite, whenever possible, AD organizations should clearly document older
systems before any future development efforts. Even if they intend to migrate away
from Oracle technology altogether, solid system and business process documentation
are critical elements for success.

Modernize if their intention is to extend the life cycle of an Oracle Forms application
for as long as it's practical.

Modernize if their intention is to integrate Oracle Forms functionality with Oracle's
Java AD technology (see Section 5.0).

Modernize to gain centralized deployment, management and monitoring of Oracle
Forms applications. This can extend the life of these applications and also optimize
the total cost of ownership.

Modernize to bring Oracle Forms applications up-to-date with service and support.
Gartner doesn't generally recommend that IT organizations leverage unsupported
technologies. Exceptions are cases in which the strategy may be to aggressively
migrate Oracle Forms applications to another platform (for example, Microsoft .NET)
or another vendor's Java technology (for example, IBM WebSphere). In scenarios
where complete migration is scheduled within 24 months, it may be sufficient to
document the code base and contain an established deployment as-is.
We must stress, however, that unforeseen issues can arise at anytime and may affect the
stability of older, unsupported Oracle Forms deployments (for example, OS patch and so on).
Bottom Line: IT organizations assume considerable risk with unsupported deployments of
Oracle Forms solutions, and this risk grows as the technology ages.


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3.2 Integration
The current version of Oracle Forms (10gR2) provides several integration points that may
provide considerable value for established Oracle Forms code. Oracle Forms and Java
applications are now deployed to a single unified application server (Oracle Containers for
Java EE — OC4J), which provides common administration features and security contexts;

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moreover, it's now more practical to share common business and user interface logic
between Oracle Forms and Java.
These integration strategies can significantly extend the role of Oracle Forms within SOA
efforts. We expect that virtually all new features in future Oracle Forms versions will focus on
integration with Oracle's Java and SOA (for example, Portal) infrastructures.


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3.3 Migration
Select a migration target platform carefully: We believe the least-risky (that is, least-costly)
migration path forward from Oracle Forms is Oracle's JDeveloper integrated development
environment (IDE) and Application Development Framework (ADF). Although the transition
from Oracle Forms to Java will be challenging for most Oracle Forms programmers,
JDeveloper represents the lowest barrier to entry, insofar as Oracle's middleware and tools
can be most-directly integrated with established Oracle Forms code.
It's also possible to migrate from Oracle Forms to non-Oracle Java technologies (for
example, IBM, BEA Systems, open source and so on); however, we believe that, for most
Oracle Forms developers, this will represent a significant learning curve that's beyond an
acceptable level of risk and cost. However, developers should at least consider this strategy
when outsourcing their migration efforts (see Section 4.2).
When Oracle's middleware and Java technology aren't selected, we recommend that IT
organizations consider migrating to the Microsoft .NET platform instead. This will provide a
lighter learning curve for programmers as well as a toolset that's more akin to the 4GL
features of Oracle Forms. There are many circumstances in which developers may be
compelled to select Java over .NET (for example, OS compatibility). Alternatively, open-
source dynamic languages, such as PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor (PHP), are emerging as
viable options, too.
Regardless of the migration target platform, IT organizations can choose from several
strategies:


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4.0 Complete Wholesale Migration (Forklift Migration)

4.1 Automated Migration Tools
Developers should not expect Oracle to provide automated tools to directly migrate Oracle
Forms code to Java or .NET. Instead, Oracle will focus its investments on integration and
unified management.
Gartner is aware of several third-party companies that provide automated migration tools
(for example, CipherSoft and NeoSoft) from Oracle Forms to Java. Among Gartner client
feedback, the resulting code is, in many cases, "good enough," but generally less than
optimal compared with manual re-coding efforts. However, "good enough" may be sufficient
for many needs.


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4.1.1 Advantages

Least intrusive to established code base.

Fast automated results.
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4.1.2 Disadvantages

Can be difficult to maintain the generated code after the migration process.

Results are often "good enough," but not optimal. Moreover, results tend to vary
significantly from one application to another. Some migrate easily, while others don't.

Difficult to incorporate new design elements in the migration effort; instead, most
projects focus on as-is migrations.


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4.2 Outsource/Offshore Migration
In many cases, outsourcing a project is a suitable alternative to automated code migration.
The principle difference is that the addition of human touchpoints provides more flexibility
over the final product. This process takes longer, but the final result can be more polished
and fit to specific design goals — particularly when the effort incorporates new application
features and design elements.


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4.2.1 Advantages

No internal skills needed for initial migration effort.

Ability to incorporate more-aggressive design changes above and beyond mechanical
translations.

Ability to bring resources with experience in both platforms, thereby meeting an
aggressive delivery time frame and quality expectations.


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4.2.2 Disadvantages

Can be difficult to maintain the code after the migration process is completed and the
project is turned over.

System must be extremely well-documented.

Some new application scope can be introduced, but limited "hands on" owner
involvement limits many aspects.


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4.3 In-House Migration
Instead of outsourcing a migration effort, many IT organizations choose to leverage internal
resources for the effort.


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4.3.1 Advantages

Developers have much more intimate knowledge of the business processes and
technical nuances of the older system.
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Developers are completely familiar with the final product, thus minimizing any
maintenance risks going forward.


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4.3.2 Disadvantages

Splitting developers between maintaining an old system and new development efforts
can stretch resources thinly.

A lack of technical expertise with new technologies can create severe risks related to
the time frame for delivery and quality of the new system.


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5.0 Staged Migration Over Time
As mentioned above, when Oracle's middleware and toolsets are selected as the target
platform, migration efforts can much more aggressively take advantage of integration points
between Oracle Forms and Java code. Specifically, business and user interface logic can be
composited into a unified experience. Oracle Forms technology can be integrated into Portal
and composite SOA efforts.
A staged (that is, phased) migration effort enables Oracle Forms applications to be migrated
over time. This lengthens the period of time during which Oracle Forms remains an
architectural element, but reduces the overall migration risk during that time period. It's an
excellent strategy when the goal is to maximize current Oracle Forms code investments over
a period of years. However, it isn't appropriate when there are more-urgent requirements to
quickly and entirely de-invest in Oracle Forms technology.


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© 2007 Gartner, Inc. and/or its Affiliates. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction and distribution of
this publication in any form without prior written permission is forbidden. The information
contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Gartner disclaims all
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Gartner does not provide legal advice or services and its research should not be construed or
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information contained herein or for interpretations thereof. The opinions expressed herein are
subject to change without notice.



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