Dear Sun Microsystems Software Group

Your software install pisses me off.

It is like walking on eggshells. You are provided with a million and one prompts to allegedly “customize” the Java Enterprise System install, but the truth is, if you stray in the smallest way from the defaults provided to you, you do so at your own, enormous risk. You need a bloody university degree in the components, what they do, and how they work together, in order to make sure that when you specify something to be non-default, you do it in EVERY relevant place, because as the JES install configures all of the zillions of components, you have to supply the SAME data over and over again, so that each component gets properly configured.

It is like navigating a minefield. There is strong, strong incentive to staying on the beaten path.

Here is an example: There is a base DN. The convention these days is to use domain components for your base DN that correspond to your internet domain, ie dc=company,dc=com. Okey Dokey no problem, turns out that is the default proposed by the JES install anyways. My preferred location for my corporate users is in “ou=People,dc=company,dc=com”. Great. Fine.

Except now, I try to configure delegated administration. And it asks, no demands an Organization DN. And what does it want as an organization DN?,dc=company,dc=com .


I’m not an ISP. I will never ever have more than one organization within my internet domain. I don’t want or need this extra data in my LDAP tree. Why am I being forced to enter this? And god forbid, what happens if I set my Organization DN to be equivalent to my Base DN? Do I want to find out? Will I have to start my install all over again because everything breaks?

So why, you may ask, if I am so pissed off with this install, why do I continue? Truth is, the software itself is great. I last went through an install in October of 2002 – the directory, mail server, and web server have run since then with no maintenance (other than my mail spool running out of disk space), and no downtime. The stuff is bomb-proof.

I know this because I have used it for a long, long time. But what new system admin, in their right mind, would go through this same hell, if they had no prior knowledge of the quality of the resulting system? In October of 2002, it took quite a few tries to properly install the Directory Server, Messaging Server, and Web Server. Now, I’m trying to install those 3 components, plus 3 more: Access Manager, Portal, and Calendar Server. We’re talking a lot of prompts, a lot of interdependencies, and a lot of opportunities to screw up.

It was tough in 2002, but the saving grace was that each component installed into a single directory. As soon as I realized that I had botched something, I tarred the directories up & moved them, or deleted them, and tried again. Unfortunately, it isn’t so simple anymore. Since some dim bulb at Sun Microsystems managed to deprecate self-contained installs, I now have to work with package installs. Package installs are a subject for another rant, another time, but suffice it to say that I am not a fan. They work beautifully for OS bits. Middleware, not so much.

So please Sun, smarten up. I love your software, but for crying out loud, you are murdering your own chances at success. Help us poor sys-admins to showcase your product. Please.

8 thoughts on “Dear Sun Microsystems Software Group

  1. Thanks for the feedback. We hear you loud and clear even-though most of what you mention regds install have root causes that spread far beyond install. To mention a few:
    1. No stable interfaces (as in POSIX(3C), J2EE, libc, sysv…) for middleware
    2. The Products themselves are infinitely configurable using non-standard interfaces making it difficult to do the “right” thing
    3. Antiquated Packaging mechanisms

    Without going into detail or make forward looking statements, here is what we think will happen to integrated installs in short order:
    1. Good defaults
    2. Remembering data
    3. Clean characterization of users and use-cases (read – making it easy for most users and having the the rest make choices in the myraid cases that you mention (read your-rope-to-hang))


  2. Hi Prabhat!

    That was a thoughtful answer, thank you so much for taking the time to explain to me some of the issues at hand. I’m really happy to hear that you feel my pain :-)

    I’m very exited about the last thing you mentioned – clean characterization of users and use-cases. I think that you could go a long, long way if you could allow administrators to start with more than a single initial profile. If you could have the installer answer a few initial questions, such as whether there is more than one organization involved, and whether delegation is needed, and then confirm with the user what the resulting DIT and install roots could be expected to look like at the *beginning* of the install, I think that a lot of frustration could be avoided.

    I love that you would take the time to comment, it gives me confidence that Sun is actively working towards simpler & more intuitive management of their middleware suite.



  3. My Hero

    I TOTALLY agree with everything you said here.

    I was Netscape Product Specialist for Portugal and, I feel the same way that you do about JES.

    I just would leave with another point “Who came up with the idea of the prodreg utility?” I think this is the worst thing that came out from Sun since the original Java Web Server (where reloading the configuration was done by rebooting the machine)

  4. Excellent point.

    It seems to have no purpose other than to piss off administrators. It certainly doesn’t seem to improve the odds of successfully uninstalling middleware. Once I run a JES uninstall, I pretty well consider the box to be less reliable – I have zero confidence that everything was actually removed.


  5. I completely agree with the points you are making. This problem is
    going to be felt by many software professionals within the Industry.

    We completely understand your position. It seems this is not just the case for JES, throughout the industry, software deployments have become increasingly painful due to the growing number of inter-product dependencies, complexity of solutions, and the level of expertise required.

    Yes Sun software is really Enterprise Class out passing the competition, however it is true that we do need to improve Architect, Sys Admin, developer experience when installing and deploying Sun Software.

    Consequently, we have started a new program internally called
    EZOffering that provides a flexible way to deploy on-demand solutions.
    The idea is that on one DVD, you have Solaris 10 and the all JES
    stack. When the DVD is booted onto a machine, the OS and all the JES
    components are installed onto the disk. Then we automatically self deploy an “offering” (you can call this a last-mile configuration) that configures all the necessary components together. The interesting thing about this
    is that:
    o You have several Pre-Selected configurations pre-qualified
    o Based on Sun engineering best practices
    o It is highly predictable, deploying in minutes what could take you days
    o It is customizable as you wish with your value add and third party applications

    Other companies are already beginning to do similar activities, however we do believe that we are ahead of any other alternatives.

    I encourage you to contact your Sun Sales representative and ask him to participate in our EZOffering: Sun Java Web Infrastructure Suite Early Access Program starting at the end of this Month (or at worst send me an e-mail).

    Hope to see you participating and getting, helping Sun to move to the next level for Making Complex Software Simple.


  6. I would love to participate in such a plan, it sounds like my dream come true, to be honest.

    The local sales reps and SE’s here are fantastic, so I’m sure I’ll be able to work with them to get access to the program.

    I’m so excited now, I can’t wait to give it a whirl!

    Thanks so much,


  7. Hehehehehe. I felt just the same when I’ve used the so-called Orion installer for the first few times. But after some years of practice, I sometimes happen to succeed installing the stuff as I want. Sometimes (read: not too often). The installer needs to be fixed. It had to be fixed long ago.

    You really made my day by this post. Thank you.

  8. Should we be sad or amused that 2 years later things haven’t improved one bit?

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