IBM i Shops Contemplate Collaboration
January 12, 2015 Dan Burger
If you know Domino, you’ve known the benefits of collaboration software long before they crowded under the umbrella of social networking. Peer inside a Domino shop and you’re likely to find an organization that understands the value of workflow and peer-to-peer teamwork. Efficiency? Yes. But for most, it is efficiency based on older collaboration technology. There are indicators that a transformation is taking shape. Keep an eye on this in 2015. And, yes, there are IBM i shops involved.
Very few Domino shops have adopted IBM‘s flagship collaboration software suite of products known as Connections. It has been less than a year since it was supported on the IBM i platform and organizations that run Domino on Windows and Linux servers have not rushed to implement it even though they have had access to it longer. Interest is growing. At least that is what Kim Greene hears from the companies she works with as a consultant specializing in Domino.
How will this transition to modern collaboration software play out?
“In putting together a project, there needs to be a skills transfer to understand the architecture and environment. What I’m seeing is that work gets outsourced. The company learns to do the day-to-day stuff, but implementations, upgrades, adding new modules, features, and capabilities are outsourced,” Greene says.
Greene gets that kind of work. Her company, Kim Greene Consulting, provides the skills and the project management. Her clients are mostly IBM i shops, but also includes companies running Domino on Windows and Linux platforms.
More often than not, companies are going to ease into a Connections implementation by starting with a Sametime deployment. Sametime provides instant messaging and online meeting capabilities that includes the sharing of documents, applications, and screens that facilitate project management.
Connections expands on the collaborative options by introducing Web spaces, blogs, wikis, forums, and shared libraries (file syncs) as workflow options. The software connects with Notes email, contacts, and calendar software; integrates with IBM’s various BI and content management systems; and is supported on a variety of mobile devices.
Greene says most of the IBM i shops she works with already own powerful boxes and that server capacity is not an issue when adding Sametime and Connections, even though both products run on WebSphere servers.
WebSphere skills are not easily found in Domino shops. They are not widely found in the IBM i community either.
“The WebSphere knowledge gap is often the most significant hurdle faced by traditional Domino shops in their deployment of Sametime or Connections, and it’s also the biggest single addition to the overall workload,” says Wes Morgan, a consulting network engineer at IBM. Morgan notes that although the Sametime Community Server runs atop Domino, every other Sametime component (except the Video MCU) runs atop WebSphere. So, even a Community-only Sametime deployment will require one WebSphere-based server–the Sametime System Console.
Connections is completely based on WebSphere.
Part of the reason for the scarcity of WebSphere skills has to do with an animosity that developed when IBM pushed WebSphere into the Domino community and it was widely rejected due to products that were poorly architected and known for poor performance. There remains some suspicion of WebSphere based on those early experiences that didn’t live up to quality standards that IBM midrange shops expect.
The architecting of Connections and Sametime was done much better than the original WebSphere products, Greene believes. But she also believes IBM i shops, in general, have a more precautionary attitude and take more time to make decisions before adopting new products and technologies. In other words, these WebSphere-based collaboration products will have to prove themselves before IBM i shops will warm up to them.
The proof is always in the actual implementation. This is where all the gears have to mesh or things quickly grind to a halt. Test environments are always a good idea, but many deployments are attempted without a safety net. I wouldn’t recommend that and neither would Greene or Morgan.
Greene does point out that putting Connections servers and Sametime servers in Windows and Linux environments is more difficult than putting them in IBM i environments, even when the Windows or Linux environments are virtualized, she says. There’s a significant advantage for IBM i shops because they are not dealing with the issue of server sprawl.
Morgan noted, “If you’re running in a virtual environment, resist the urge to ‘add CPUs,’ because you’ll be adding overhead to your virtual host that can cause performance problems later on. The new technology of Sametime 9 doesn’t support an upgrade-in-place model, so you’ll be building new servers from scratch.”
Ease of deployment should be a high priority.
“On IBM i, all the subsystems can sit on the same physical server and on the same LPAR; it’s highly scalable; and the built-in DB2 database avoids the acquisition of a new database license,” Greene adds.
“One of my customers is an IBM i shop that started running Domino on Windows before Domino was ready for IBM i. It is stable and runs very well. But when they started looking at adding Sametime, they also started looking at putting it on IBM i. It was put on i because of the built-in capabilities and no extra licensing for DB2 and there was no need for a new Windows box or a new VM for each of the individual components of Sametime. It was all put on one LPAR on the i and they have high availability by clustering two LPAR environments. There is a significantly reduced footprint,” Greene says.
Despite its key role in the deployment, network infrastructure is often overlooked.
Network performance is almost entirely dependent upon which features are being implemented. Morgan explained that while Sametime Community and Meetings create a fairly small additional load on the enterprise network, Sametime Proxy Server can add a great deal of HTTP traffic and Sametime audio/video services will definitely exercise network bandwidth.
“It’s really important to engage your networking team during the design phase of your deployment, so that you can avoid network bottlenecks. If you have a substantial number of users traversing an HTTP proxy or reverse proxy to reach Sametime/Connections services, such as extranet or mobile users, you’ll definitely want to do some capacity planning for those proxy devices,” Morgan advises.
Keeping current with software upgrades smooths the deployment path as well. This is not an issue for the companies Greene works with.
“Ninety-eight percent of my customers are running the most recent version of Domino or just one release back, most have their IBM i operating systems at 6.1 or 7.1, and they keep their servers up to date. Domino spans multiple IBM i OS levels,” she says.
“I hear from colleagues on the Windows side that they deal with more customers who are not as up to date on Domino releases. Part of this discrepancy might be due to the ease of doing updates on IBM i. It is possible to have as many as 99 Domino servers on one IBM i LPAR or one physical system. When you update servers, you can put the code on once and all servers running that same release level will be updated. There is no need to patch a bunch of individual servers. There is also multiple-version capability that has no limit on the number of Domino releases that can be upgraded,” she explains.
Her average customer runs 4 to 6 Domino servers on an LPAR.
While Greene sees a rising interest in collaboration software, she expresses doubt about the impact of cloud computing as an option.
“I would say 90 percent of my customers have no interest in the cloud. They don’t trust what may happen to their data. They are interested in some cloud capabilities, but they want their environments on prem. I hear this from talking with other consultants as well. I don’t believe I have a unique customer set that is not interested in the cloud, and this includes customers that are running Domino on Windows and Linux. They all want to control their own data.”
Another indicator of an interest in collaboration software is the increase in sessions at the COMMON Annual Meeting and Exposition. Greene has been a presenter at COMMON for years and noted the number of sessions at the upcoming conference (April 26-29 in Anaheim, California) is larger than it has been for many years.
“People are asking for sessions specific to collaboration. COMMON sees the market going in that direction.”
In addition to being a session instructor at COMMON, Greene will be an instructor at the IBM ConnectED2015 conference (formerly Lotusphere) later this month. Morgan is also an instructor at the same event.