Notes/Domino 7 Brings New Collaboration Technology, Performance Gains
by Dan Burger
Businesses have to grow, and usually with growth comes complexity, whether you are talking about business models, product lines, or customer needs. Complexity has become such a monkey-on-the-back issue that IBM and many of its biggest competitors in the groupware space have been focusing on reducing complexity with collaboration software. The release last week of IBM's Notes and Domino 7 represents the latest collaboration technology that Big Blue can apply to the complexity problem.
At the press conference announcing the availability of Notes/Domino 7, Mike Rhodin, general manager of IBM's Workplace, Portal, and Collaboration products, characterized the current business climate as being in the midst of a huge shift that is driving IBM to "expand capabilities for creating and using new collaborative tools." IBM is in a battle to deliver more features and higher performance than its competitors because, as Rhodin points out, "customers are recognizing that collaboration technology and people's productivity can substantially provide business value and really help the bottom line."
The days when e-mail defined collaboration are long gone. In terms of client-side software, the playing field has expanded to include instant messaging, Web conferencing, workflow management, document management, and Web-based applications that access back-end data. All of this is a mountain of data, and at the top list for many companies is the need for tools that manage the huge (and continually growing) quantities of data. Organizing documents and messages has become critical to relieving the complicated mess of communications and work projects that bog down organizations and stunt growth.
Rhodin, who has been the head honcho at the Lotus division of IBM's Software Group for less than a month, took this major product release as an opportunity to emphasize--is it too early to say over-promise?--the long-term goals of the Notes/Domino strategy, which calls for major product enhancements on a consistent 12- to 18-month schedule. He pledged that Notes/Domino would avoid "changing delivery schedules, ending support for products, and telling customers they have to buy extra software in order to effectively use the software they just bought" in a tone that obviously implied these almost industry-wide curses would not occur on his watch.
Backing up the Notes 7 client-side emphasis on management and organization is the Domino 7 prioritization on the building of collaborative applications. New tools that bring about the integration of Web services and service oriented architecture are expected to go over well with the more progressive Domino developers who will use Domino 7 as a Web services host. This is the de facto approach to application integration throughout the industry and it is what is required to serve Domino portal applications.
Performance issues like scalability and increasingly large server workloads are part of the marketing drumbeat. Notes/Domino has always had a reputation for heavy lifting when it comes to scalability, and Big Blue is now tossing around numbers such as 80 percent more users per server in certain instances. (Benchmarks comparing different hardware platforms running strictly email loads are to be released within days.) For now, the best we can report is that the really large percentage gains will not be realized across all servers. The biggest percentage gains will likely show up on Linux boxes where scalability was not so hot in the days prior to the latest Linux kernel. A similar caveat should be noted with regard to the 25 percent reduction in processing power required by the new Domino server. Lower CPU usage translates back to more users per server. Again, different platforms will yield a range of results with 50 percent being the high end of the scale.
The above-mentioned performance numbers will be used to make the case for server consolidation projects, for deferring server upgrades, and for saving money in total cost of ownership noodling. Keep in mind that comparisons need to be on an apples-to-apples basis. These performance numbers are very laudable, but maintaining meaningful comparisons is always the best advice. According to Rob Ingram, Domino product manager, the greatest scalability improvements were achieved with X86 Linux, Solaris, and i5/OS.
It's also worth noting that one of the advantages of the Notes/Domino technology is that servers and clients do not have to be upgraded at the same time. Notes and Domino support upwards and backwards compatibility, allowing companies to, for instance, upgrade their Domino server to get performance increases on the server side without requiring changes on the Notes client side at the same time.
Autonomic features always appeal to the system administrators, and Domino 7 is capable of running its own health checks on multiple Domino servers. Not only will it monitor multiple domains and identify problems, it also provides probable causes and recommends resource balancing and other possible solutions. There's also a feature that allows administrators to centrally manage software installations and configurations on Notes clients, thereby avoiding time-consuming desktop-to-desktop operations. Also of note is an activity analysis tool designed for planning server growth and hardware sizing requirements. That would be just in case you find other things to do with the performance gains mentioned earlier.
One of the most talked about features in Notes/Domino 7 as it was being developed was the DB2 Universal Database integration. This was brought about as a specific appeal to the Unix and Windows markets, where DB2 UDB is a familiar data store. This feature was introduced to serve as a supplement for applications that require relational capabilities as well as an improvement to ad hoc query and SQL command performance. At this time, DB2 integration is not available for use on iSeries servers. Officials were not ready to forecast a date when iSeries users would have this feature to store data in DB2/400, the integrated database management system on the OS/400 and i5/OS operating systems. IBM is sensitive to any suggestion that it was done to replace the native Domino NSF files and rebuffs that notion by adding that DB2 UDB is purely supplemental and of use primarily to application developers.
Going forward, IBM wants to establish a planned approach. Yes, it's time to bring out the roadmap. The Lotus roadmap is designed to show that IBM plans to stay the course with Notes and Domino while heading toward a convergence with Workplace.
Rhodin says the Notes/Domino users will get a peak at the next major Notes release, code named "Hanover," at Lotusphere 2006. It will offer an increased blending of Workplace technology and Notes technology, and, he promises, will allow Notes/Domino customers to maintain their investments in their Notes/Domino applications moving forward without having to perform any migrations. Mention was made of rumors--mostly fueled by Lotus competitors--that a major migration (of the rip-and-replace variety) would eventually be necessary. Lotus officials say "nothing could be farther from the truth" and the Notes/Domino evolutionary process will be based on increasing integration with Workplace.
On the flip side, Ken Bisconte, vice president of Workplace, Portal, and Collaboration Products, pointed to Microsoft 's collaboration portfolio history, which he noted as being littered with products delivered and then canceled. (Microsoft Exchange Forms Designer was specifically cited, as was Microsoft SharePoint, which has no backward compatibility.) He also raised a red flag over the daunting Active Directory deployment that is causing the Exchange 5.5 customer base to balk at upgrading even though they are operating with six-year-old technology.
Let no stone go unthrown.
All of the pieces in the Notes and Domino 7 product family are now available. The list includes Sametime 7, QuickPlace 7, Domino Designer 7, Domino Web Access, and the Domino Express products.
Domino 7 is currently available for Microsoft's Windows 2000 Server and Windows Server 2003; IBM's i5/OS V5R3, zSeries (z/OS and Linux), AIX 5.2 or 5.3; and Sun Microsystems' Solaris 9. The Linux X86 support includes Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 8 or 9 and, within 30 days, Red Hat's Enterprise Linux 4. Support for Sun Solaris 10 will be available within 30 days.
Lotus Notes 7 is available for Windows 2000 and XP. Support for the Apple's Mac OS X is estimated to be ready in six to eight months. Domino Web Access 7 is available on Microsoft Internet Explorer (Win32), Mozilla 1.7x (Linux) and Firefox 1.0.x (Win32 and Linux).
For additional Notes and Domino 7 products details, click here.