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Oracle offers APEX low-code dev platform as managed service

Oracle has released its APEX low-code development platform as a managed service, touting it as a high-functioning, lower-cost alternative to other low-code tools.

Oracle made available on Thursday its APEX low-code development platform as a managed cloud service called Oracle APEX Application Development.

Known as perhaps a secret weapon for Oracle to attract a new class of developers who are not as sophisticated as professional coders, Oracle APEX users may be business analysts, power users or IT-savvy departmental workers looking to create applications without calling on the IT or programming department.

With its tight connection to the Oracle database, Oracle APEX -- also known internally as Application Express -- enables developers to build data-driven enterprise applications quickly and easily, said Joel Kallman, senior director of software development at Oracle.

The Oracle APEX architecture's tight integration with the database reduces the number of round trips between the application and the database, which results in faster response times for users of the data-driven apps built with APEX. In addition, with its tight integration to the database, APEX enables developers to fully exploit the power of SQL, Kallman said.

The Oracle APEX low-code system runs on Oracle Cloud Infrastructure, Oracle's public cloud platform.

Ultimately, the goal of low-code platforms is twofold: to help developers build applications faster and cheaper, and to democratize application development.

"It enables someone to build full-stack quality applications without being a full-stack developer," Kallman said.

While the new managed service could find a fresh audience, APEX has been a feature of on-premises Oracle databases since 2004.

Holger MuellerHolger Mueller

"APEX has been around for a long time but was like a best-kept secret," said Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research in Cupertino, Calif. However, because the Oracle database was so entrenched in the enterprise, Oracle felt no imperative to promote APEX separately, according to Mueller. "With the APEX developer service, Oracle offers a full-scale, transactional low-code programming language that represents an important distinction to look for more developer mindset and market share."

APEX has been around for a long time, but was like a best-kept secret.
Holger MuellerAnalyst, Constellation Research

Because APEX was such a hit with Oracle database users, the company decided to keep it under the database fold, although the technology attracted more than 500,000 users, Mueller said.

Competing on cost

Oracle is touting the cost of its APEX offering as a competitive advantage in the increasingly crowded low-code application development platform market. Oracle's offering must compete with low-code systems from competitors like Mendix, which starts at $1,917 per month, and OutSystems, which starts at $4,000 a month. All three offer free versions with limited functionality. Oracle has a more attractive option, according to Kallman.

"We provide all the tools, everything one would need in the same browser-based interface to load data, create applications, create REST APIs, monitor performance, everything for effectively $360 a month. There is nothing else that one would need to maintain," he said. "We maintain the database, we provide the infrastructure, we provide the middle tier, we do all the load balancers, absolutely everything. You can get up and running in minutes."

The APEX service will start at $360 per month for one Oracle CPU and one TB of data, and is able to support more than 500 users engaging with multiple applications. It can scale to support larger workloads when needed, Kallman said.

Oracle is able to offer APEX so inexpensively because it has no license cost, just usage -- and no user license, Mueller said. For instance, for a citizen developer to build an app there is no user license. The company's pricing model could also reflect its desire to get more developers building on top of OCI, which lags well behind AWS, Microsoft and Google.

"The APEX developer service will compete with any low-code PaaS out there, with the big differentiation that it is running on Oracle's database," Mueller said. "The platform is giving CxOs and developers peace of mind that their application can scale as much as it needs to scale."

Meanwhile, organizations such as Insum Solutions, an Oracle consultancy in Montreal, say the new APEX service provides a simpler and more affordable way for businesses to benefit from the features of APEX on Oracle Autonomous Database.

"We made the choice to focus our entire business on APEX years ago when we saw how easily and quickly we could help our Oracle clients build feature-rich web-based applications at a fraction of the cost compared to other technologies," said Michelle Skamene, vice president at Insum. "Today, Oracle APEX, particularly with the new managed service, is relevant as a development platform even to businesses that have traditionally not used or even considered Oracle before. "

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