Lotus Domino -- Aging Gracefully?
January 11, 2007
IBM/Lotus Domino Enterprise Server: Enterprise-level messaging and collaboration server with a host of Web-based features.
The Lotus Domino server and its companion Lotus Notes have been around for more than a decade. Those familiar with them probably know them very well. For these people, upgrading to version 7.0 and 7.0.2 is (or more likely was) an easy decision; there is much to like. For those who are less familiar and still in evaluation mode, the Domino server is the muscle behind the Notes user interface. Together, they form arguably the best known messaging and collaboration system, the prototypical groupware, and, from our tests and experience, the most flexible and best-supported software in this category.
Domino and Notes are complex products and they are part of an increasingly integrated but also complicated shopping mall of IBM and Lotus products. Like other messaging and collaboration products that span the enterprise (Novell GroupWise and Microsoft Exchange Server are two examples), trying to get a full measure of Domino/Notes can be like absorbing a world-view.
Lotus Domino Server (usually accompanied by Notes) comes in several versions: Lotus Domino Messaging Server is the essential e-mail server with capacity for calendars, scheduling and discussion threads. It supports the basic Notes capabilities. Lotus Domino Utility Server is aimed at developing collaborative (non-e-mail) applications. Basically, it is an application server by another name. The Lotus Domino Enterprise Server, which we tested, combines the capabilities of the two other servers. Three 'Express' versions (Messaging, Utility, and Collaboration) are aimed at small business uses. The Notes client has several incarnations, or put another way, runs on a diverse array of platforms that includes Windows, Mac OS, Linux, and UNIX flavors. The capability to run on diverse platforms is a staple of non-Microsoft products, but IBM/Lotus has the resources to make diversity a demonstrable statement.
We performed two installations, one on a Windows box and the other on a Linux server. No problems were encountered, other than those attributable to operator ignorance. Installation and configuration at the server should not be problematic (with appropriate planning). These days, deployment to a field of servers and especially to users is where most complications occur.
The Well-Managed Server
That said, Lotus should be complimented for the improvements to management and deployment in this version. These improvements were a promised design effort. Emphasis this time around was placed on the Domino server rather than the Notes client, and for that numerous administrators will cry Hosanna.
The performance of the Domino server has been significantly improved in overall throughput and in the number of users a single server can handle. Lotus claims a 25 percent reduction in CPU resource usage and support for up to 80 percent more users. We were not in a position to run benchmarks, but the performance boost over the previous version was apparent.
As Notes and Domino is its own world, not grafting third-party products using native tools to do all the monitoring and management is an advantage the tools fit the way Domino/Notes work. With Lotus Domino domain monitoring, we found it not only easy but also effective to administer the operation of multiple servers across multiple domains. This can be used in a number of ways to simplify domain-wide consistency (e.g., in database replication and user validation). With the latest release, this capability has been extended to managing Linux servers via the browser.
Another new feature, Activity Trends, will be especially helpful for new Notes adopters or companies experiencing rapid growth. It's a predictive analysis tool that monitors a variety of key traffic areas in Notes/Domino and helps forecast growth and sizing requirements.
Make It a Policy
Managing and policing e-mail is demanding (SarbOx, anyone?), but the addition of schedules, calendars, discussions, IM and end-user administration makes sophisticated tools even more required for getting the job done. Lotus has worked on this kind of management for a long time, and in this version, there is a combination of updates and policy deployment for the Notes client that does the job without resorting to third-party products. We tested the features with a series of updates, using the mail-in database to verify successful installation (per user). In one case, we forced a failover during the upgrade procedure, which automatically switched the deployment to another server. These are important in-depth features (especially) when managing a large number of users. Overall, we'd rate the administrative capability of Domino/Notes the most comprehensive, in scale and depth, of the messaging/collaboration products.
Secure Is as Secure Does
Perhaps because of its enterprise orientation, Domino/Notes has long had an eye on security. This includes special security APIs, optional encryption, and user validation. The current version has added a variety of whitelists and blacklists to prevent spam, a time-consuming and dubious improvement.
New or Improved Faces
Starting in 1989, the Notes phenomenon was about powerful capabilities, such as discussion threads and user presence information, combined with a GUI interface. Over the years, Lotus has constantly responded to changes in user interface technology, albeit sometimes belatedly. Domino/Notes 7 refines the basic Notes client interface. For example, room scheduling functionality now works like calendar and scheduling, and accidental double booking of resources is prohibited.
Although the classic Notes client is a Windows-only client/server product, Lotus continues to improve the Web alternative Domino Web Access, which runs in a browser on a variety of platforms. It also offers Domino Access for Microsoft Outlook. Although a minor release, Domino 7.0.2 adds RSS Feeds and Blog templates to the Web-based mix; not small things really, but more a taste of what's to come.
Notes on the Development Team
A Door Opening on DB2
Although some will say, "What took them so long?" this version of Domino is the first to get serious about, if not complete fittings for, IBM's signature database management system, DB2. Although the DB2 access tools in Domino Designer are a good indication of how this integration will work, full integration is not slated for prime time until the next release. There is little doubt that developers and applications will benefit from using the reliable and powerful DB2 database manager for Notes data.
For products like Domino and Notes, which have years of development and documentation behind them, the issue is not the existence or breadth of support (which is available in online docs, forums, phone support, publications, FAQs, and user groups) but how well it is organized. Although individual experiences may vary, in general, users get more support mileage from IBM/Lotus than any other company in the industry. Much of this support is free, and the large and very active user/developer community is especially important. IBM claims a highly competitive total cost of ownership (TCO); support is a big part of that.
There was a time when there were doubts about IBM's commitment to Notes and the ability of Lotus to keep up with the Web-inspired changes in technology. That's history. IBM's roadmap for Domino/Notes includes further expansion into non-email capability and pursuit of Web 2.0 features. There are nimble competitors, such as Scalix, that have more freedom to float innovative UI features, but to make a comparison is akin to praising the elephant (the massive messaging and collaboration enterprise) for having a nice trunk, when what's important is the rest of pachyderm that keeps the whole thing moving.
IBM Lotus Domino Server is a premier product in a market where only a premiere products can survive as long as it has. We recommend Domino because of certain features wide platform support, deployment flexibility, strong administrative tools, and software development capability rather than for showing runaway superiority over other products.
Pros: Runs on a wide variety of platforms, including mainframes; Very strong management and deployment features; Very deep support for application development and arguably the industry's best user/developer support system; The history and legacy of Notes may be an advantage, depending on circumstances.
Reviewed by: Nelson King