Users irked by Domino moves

Customers say they are tired of conflicting messages from IBM Corp. and Lotus Software Group on the future of Domino and instead want a reliable road map for how the server and its underlying infrastructure will evolve.

The issue flared anew last week when Lotus confirmed it would eliminate its Domino-centric data store, including Notes Storage Facility (NSF), and replace it with IBM’s DB2 database in a future version of the software.

The replacement is part of IBM’s strategy to use a common infrastructure consisting of its WebSphere application server, the DB2 database and Tivoli management system to support Web-based distributed applications that can incorporate Domino’s collaboration features. The collaboration features will be developed into components that can be inserted into other applications.

IBM wants a data store that can handle high-volume transactions and large-scale Web-based applications, which aren’t Domino’s strong points.

Customers say they are hearing two stories.

“The midlevel managers at Lotus are saying that NSF is powerful, but now IBM is saying they are going to gut it,” says Nathan Freeman, co-founder of Notes Open Source Software Organization (NotesOSS), which is developing an open-source replacement for Java technology called Garnet that was recently yanked from Domino. Freeman was reacting to public comments by Steve Mills, senior vice president and group executive for IBM’s Software Group, who said IBM would “throw away” the aging Domino data store.

“Do these guys know what each other is doing?” Freeman asks. “Are they using their own collaboration software to collaborate?”

Ed Brill, senior manager for messaging and collaboration at Lotus, says the messages may appear mixed but are not.

“NSF, the data store, we are saying that is all in Domino 6,” he says. “But we’ve been talking about the orderly evolution from Domino’s monolithic integration to this component-based, federated architecture for Web services.”

Lotus general manager Al Zollar told Network World in January: “in the past, we built our own plumbing. We handcrafted it. We hand-mastered it. In the future, we are going to get our plumbing from … WebSphere, DB2 and the Tivoli [Systems] capabilities that we have inside of IBM.”

Some say it won’t be easy.

“What IBM is trying to do with DB2 is like heart and liver transplants,” says Harry Wong, CEO of Casahl, a Lotus business partner that created Notes SQL, an Open Database Connectivity driver for Notes that Lotus licensed in 1994. “Notes is a highly unconventional data store, and it will take a lot of work to put it on a relational database. That’s why a lot of people are nervous when the future is not explained.”

Zollar said XML would be key for evolving the data store to DB2, which IBM has said will be upgraded to support XML.

Brill says the data store change is the long-term goal and that Lotus will begin to detail the road map of how to get there at upcoming conferences, including developerWorks Live in May, Lotusphere Europe in June and Lotusphere in January 2003.

Many users are skittish now because of conflicting messages Lotus and IBM have been sending about product strategy. The DB2 announcement comes after Lotus announced it would eliminate Garnet, a Java Server Pages (JSP) engine, from Domino. Much like the angst spawned by the Garnet decision, the DB2 issue created interest on discussion lists that criticized and analyzed the move. Users say the key questions are about backward compatibility and preserving Domino’s rich replication features.

Brill says answers are being worked out but that Lotus will protect customer investments.

“Transparency is the key issue,” says Scott Wenzel, a Notes administrator for a federal agency and the creator of several unofficial Lotus Web sites. “For years, Lotus has been working toward making the data structure replaceable, and I think IBM is really finally taking the steps to deliver on it.”

Wenzel acknowledges that the Notes data store is an aging technology that has lost its steam. “But they have to make the change transparent to current applications or they will force people to upgrade and dump old stuff and there is no way that will happen.”

Others say the plumbing under Domino really isn’t a concern.

“As long as you keep the true collaboration of Notes, it is not important what it runs on,” says Jonathan Spira, chairman of Basex, a consulting firm.

Some have questions about replication. “DB2 has replication, but does it include client-side and is it as sophisticated as Notes,” asks Freeman of NotesOSS. “If they have a new replication engine they should tell us. ”

Lotus isn’t alone in making infrastructure changes as vendors scurry to incorporate Web services technology, a collection of standards interfaces based on XML, into their platforms. Microsoft is replacing Exchange Server’s native data store with the next version of SQL Server technology, code-named Yukon.

As a first step toward DB2, Lotus is including virtual database features in Domino 6 through Lotus Enterprise Integrator Next [LEInext], which allows DB2 to mimic Domino’s NSF. But some are finding the technology still needs work.

“We are testing LEInext, but right now Notes security does not work with it,” says Doug Hayden, IT project manager for furniture maker Herman Miller in Zeeland, Mich. “I can create virtual views, but how will Notes react when 2,000 or so records are returned. The views are kept in Notes and can it handle that?”

While the details of the DB2 conversion are not known, observers say the bigger picture is clearer.

“There is a mandate to take out the aging Domino infrastructure and replace it with IBM infrastructure,” says Matt Cain, an analyst with Meta Group. Cain says there is no doubt that customers pursuing a long-term strategy with Domino will end up broadly deploying WebSphere, DB2 and Tivoli in some fashion.

But he says it’s obvious “IBM hasn’t made all the decisions” about how to consolidate infrastructure.

Lotus’ Brill says that certainly is the case, but “we have a lot of smart engineers working on it.”