Lotus on IBM i: A Chat with Some Users
February 21, 2011 Dan Burger
In the highly amplified world of information technology, the chatter about what’s next almost always drowns out the talk about what the majority of companies are capable of doing to help their businesses today. Innovation makes the news, but in the real world innovation isn’t the extreme sport that it’s often portrayed. Real innovation is results oriented. If you want to know the reality of IT departments running Lotus software on the IBM i platform, talk with some average companies.
There’s a great deal of innovation going on if you are willing to put innovation in perspective with where a given company has been and where it is going. Being evolutionary has always been more popular than being revolutionary. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, there are many good reasons for it. Keep in mind that in some instances, the pace of evolution is quite brisk. Other times, it’s excruciatingly slow.
Whatever your preconceived notions are about companies that run Lotus Domino on the IBM i platform, let these four examples either reinforce your thinking or open your eyes to what life is like in this environment.
Gabriele Spaszewski — Dachser GmbH & Co. KG
Dachser is one of Europe’s leading logistics companies. For years it has run its business on IBM AS/400s, iSeries, System i, and now Power Systems with IBM i. And for as long as there has been Lotus Notes and Domino, Dachser has depended on that combination of servers and software to handle workflow and a substantial load of business communications with deep integration to its home-grown transport management software. It’s had opportunities to migrate from these systems, but has chosen not to.
There’s a strong connection between the IBM i platform and Lotus software users, but it’s a difficult one to assign any numbers. I know for a fact it’s hard to find an IBMer who will quantify this connection. That’s just the way it goes in the IBM i server business these days. But coming out of the annual Lotusphere conference in Orlando, Florida, three weeks ago, with its emphasis on Lotus as the leading edge of social business, I looked for some customers who would tell me what they were up to.
Dachser has a centralized Lotus environment on IBM i. It also has an experienced, well-educated staff to make it work well and the willingness to innovate.
The main mail server, a Power6-based Power 570, hosts 11,300 registered users in 240 branches and includes mail files in 11 languages. That equates to approximately 400,000 emails routed per day with an average mail delivery time of less than 1 second.
Those 11,000-plus users are in the processing of moving from Lotus Notes 7.0.1 on Citrix Presentation Server 4 to Notes 8.5.1 on XenApp 5. And soon after, there’s a plan to upgrade the servers to 8.5.2. The Notes database houses more than 200 document libraries and more than 100 in-house developed Lotus Notes applications that range from a simple dictionary to a complex CRM system that is accessed by close to 1,000 employees each day.
Three additional IBM i servers are set up for specific duties: one for Lotus Sametime integrated chat, one for a third-party content management system, and one for a portion of the CRM system.
Apart from the in-house developed apps, third-party products are used for group calendaring, fax software, and data transfer and synchronization between Lotus Domino and supported external systems.
The only pieces that don’t run on IBM i are the servers accessed by BlackBerry mobile users, which IBM did not design to run on IBM i.
“We are lucky that we have a lot of iSeries know-how in our company,” says Gabriele Spaszewski, team leader of Lotus Notes administration at Dachser in an email from Lotusphere. “They really know their job and they help us tailoring the OS so that it fits our needs. This is absolutely necessary if you plan to run Domino on iSeries, because unfortunately there aren’t a lot of people around knowing how to handle Domino on iSeries–you have a hard time finding some experts.”
Bob Laing — Independent Contractor
As an independent contractor in western New York, Bob Laing works with more than a dozen IBM i shops that run Domino and a few that run Domino on Windows. His view is a microcosm of the Domino on IBM i landscape. His clients are primarily manufacturers, but with a couple of insurance companies also in the mix. Most have an IBM i history that includes the iSeries, the AS/400, and the System/36 and System/38 eras.
The IT shops Laing supports vary in size from 10 users up to 500 users. He is the IT staff at small shops, while the larger companies have IT staffs in the range of 15 to 20 people, where his Domino expertise and IBM software/hardware skills (hardware installations, OS upgrades, PTF installations, and performance tuning) supplements the full-time personnel.
Most of his customers are current on OS and software upgrades, but are operating at a fairly basic feature/function level with little custom tweaking and performance tuning. They’ve been running this way for years, preferring the stability and the manageability that Domino on IBM i offers to the hoopla of social business and cloud computing, which are little more than curiosities at this point.
“I just went through a project where three Windows servers were consolidated to an existing iSeries,” Laing says. “The only required tuning involved the overnight backups. Domino runs great on iSeries and the box manages the memory it uses, the disk space it uses, and it can be tweaked–but I have never seen that done locally. I’ve often seen shops consolidating from multiple iSeries to one iSeries because you no longer need multiple machines to get the needed level of performance.”
“Leveraging the social aspects of the Lotus software line is not a high priority. Most shops are doing traditional email and traditional client-based applications. I’d say less than 25 percent of the shops are just now getting into Web-enabling their 10-to-15-year-old Notes applications.”
In his slice of the customer base, he sees a handful using HA solutions and Domino clustering and several are looking into making use of mobile applications. The obstacle, on more than one occasion, has been mobile apps required to run on Windows servers. These are shops that are leery of bringing in more Windows servers. The preferred workaround, for now, is using mail forwarding to get information to smartphones.
There is a parallel to traditional email and traditional client-based applications. It is traditional skills.
“I see a skills vacuum for people who possess both legacy skills and modern skills,” Laing says. “There are a lot of RPG programmers with skills that should be updated, but for various reasons they aren’t going to learn modern techniques. The same can be said for a lot of Domino developers. They have been doing the same thing for 10 years, and as technology evolves, they don’t evolve as well.”
Regardless, Laing says, “In my neck of the woods there is a healthy install of Domino on iSeries. I don’t anticipate it changing by more shops migrating to the iSeries or migrating away from the iSeries.”
Rick Davis — Frisbie Memorial Hospital
In March 2001, a single Domino R5 server was deployed at this Rochester, New Hampshire, hospital. There were 51 registered users. By the time Rick Davis joined the IT staff in 2008, the user list had expanded to approximately 500, with about 350 of those using the Notes client and 150 using the browser-based iNotes. The number of users continued to grow, and today there are 258 iNotes users and 383 using the Notes client. The server is running Domino 8.5.1 and there’s an upgrade to 8.5.1 in progress for the clients. There are plans to roll out Lotus Traveler (for mobile apps) in the near future and the use of Sametime (instant messaging, voice over IP, and audio-video conferencing) is in the “under consideration” phase.
Davis is a one-man IT staff. He handles administration duties and some development chores. On some platforms it would be ridiculous to think it could be a one-person job. Davis does get some assistance.
He says contracting with a Domino hosting service has been a great help to the hospital, which was searching for a way to securely deliver information to providers “outside the network.” The hosting service was the key to secure information replication.
At the same time, the hospital has increased the number of Notes applications that electronically track and document many processes that were previously paper-based. Those applications include coverage calendars, variance reporting, HIPAA violation tracking, key and badge requests, surveys, change requests, network management and many more. Davis points out that the managers now have accurate data for planning and evaluation purposes.
A high availability system is also under way. It includes a second iSeries box and a second Domino server clustered with the existing production server. Fail over testing has been scheduled so upgrades of the OS, processors, and memory in the current production server can be accomplished while maintaining business continuity.
The only problem area that Davis revealed was an ongoing issue with the client upgrade process.
“Over the years there has been no defined install process. Or perhaps there was, but it changed every six weeks,” he says. “We’re finding components in folders and places we never anticipated. This has required a bit more ‘hands-on’ than we would have liked.”
Davis says the bond that connects Domino and the IBM i is very strong, but he stops short of saying the two will remain forever linked.
“Both Domino and most of the non-Domino medical applications run on the iSeries,” Davis says. “As we continue to grow and stress the capacity of the iSeries, the option to move Domino to another platform will always be under consideration. But for the foreseeable future, Domino will remain on the iSeries and the iSeries will remain the production server platform.”
Eric A. Jewett — McCullough-Hyde Memorial Hospital
In most cases where IBM i is the operating system of choice for Domino, core business applications are running on that platform. It began that way at McCullough-Hyde Memorial Hospital in Oxford, Ohio, but the facility is in the process of migrating its main hospital system to Linux. In the short term, that will have no impact on a decision to move Domino off the IBM i platform.
Because the hospital makes use of a multi-partitioned box, it has realized many advantages–specifically, separate partitions for email, WebSphere Portal, and a test environment for both WebSphere and Domino.
“We went from two Windows servers to a multiple LPAR for Domino,” Jewett says. “And at that same time, we moved to Domino 6.5.”
That was a bit of a rough road–the Domino upgrades of that era were notoriously ugly–and it required some help from a business partner to smooth the transition. But as Jewett says, “Once we got through that, we never looked back. We now have Sametime and Quikr running on the iSeries, and another application server as well. The only Intel Domino server in this mix is for BlackBerry (only runs on Windows). Given the choice, we probably would be running that on iSeries, too.”
In the LPAR environment, Jewett can run multiple releases of Domino, which is handy for testing new applications. The test environments include pretty much everything that’s in the production environment. And it allows regression testing while making Domino upgrades.
“Currently we have two different Domino releases,” Jewett says. But there have been times–because of add-in packages and questions of compatibility–we’ve had three releases running at one time.”
The hospital is up to date with Domino 8.5.2 for everything that’s capable of running on it.
The majority of users–the line of business staffers–have access to browser-based applications. Jewett says, “A lot of newer and more sophisticated apps have been built for browsers, but the supervisory staff still relies primarily on applications running on the Notes client especially when accessing older departmental databases. Some composites application development is also in the mix.
Jewett describes his job as being mostly focused on the admin side of things. His affinity for the platform is clear.
“The fact that Domino on the i has been tremendously stable has been a great benefit. Once it is up and running, it stays running and we have very few issues,” he says. Although he claims his development skills are a bit stale, he wants to tackle the modernization of some of the client-based apps.
“It’s not been a high priority to this point because of limited time,” is the familiar refrain Jewett evokes. “The top of the priority list is generally taking care of things that are broken as is the case when dealing with older applications. There are things that we’d like to move over to the browser and take advantage of new features. The time to work on those projects isn’t there right now.”
The lease on the hospital’s current iSeries will soon expire. Jewett says there’s no consideration given to leaving the platform.
“We will be scaling down our hardware buy because there’s a terabyte of disk space or more that is tied up in the hospital system, which is no longer needed on the i. But the platform has been very stable and the licensing model is not conducive to switching to individual Linux or Windows servers. Besides, managing that workload [on the Linux or Windows side] would not be something that I could add to my duties.”