Lining Up for Domino 6

Enterprises praise new features, but cost, ongoing compatibility problems may delay upgrading.

Domino 6, the first major upgrade of IBMs Lotus Software divisions flagship corporate messaging platform in three years, was worth the wait, say many enterprise Lotus users.

"In the past, weve had issues and wanted a more stable environment," said Matt Henry, technical architect at Kemet Corp., in Greenville, S.C. "This time around, the scalability, usability and performance improvements to Domino 6 are quite significant."

In the long term, say experts, that kind of positive reaction may slow the flow of converts from Domino to Microsoft Corp.s Exchange. How quickly IT managers will upgrade to Domino 6, however, remains to be seen. Faced with a heightened need to cost-justify all infrastructure investments, many IT managers say they will bide their time. Some will also wait until lingering compatibility problems between Domino 6 and other Lotus products such as the Sametime instant messaging platform are resolved.

Although Domino 6 will not suit every organization, Marten Nelson, an analyst at Ferris Research Inc., in Nice, France, recommends that IT managers analyze their current costs and project what areas they can save on with Release 6s features.

Domino 6 will bring compelling new features to the playing field, particularly for organizations still using Version 4.x. New features, including enhanced automatic compression, streaming replication and server consolidation, coupled with increased availability through improved fault recovery, have the potential to generate dramatic cost and management savings, experts say.

But enterprises—particularly those with large existing investments in Lotus infrastructure—should keep integration and development costs in mind when considering upgrading to Domino 6. Companies that have built applications on top of Domino may find application integration with newer Lotus offerings, including Sametime, to be difficult. Because the APIs for Domino 6 and Sametime, as in previous releases, remain different, IT managers report spending extra development time and money to ensure interoperability. Domino 6, however, is not a requirement to run applications such as Sametime or Lotus LearningSpace. In fact, most applications, including those released by Lotus itself, do not yet work with Domino 6.

Enterprises most likely to be willing to swallow those integration and potential cost drawbacks are those needing features in Domino 6 to support specific projects. At Sericol International Ltd., based in Broadstairs, England, Jacqueline Cox, European IT director, said she found herself pushing for a Domino 6 upgrade even though her policy is never to deploy the first version of a major software release. The reason for her urgency: The capabilities of the product are the perfect match for her companys CRM (customer relationship management) strategy.

"Obviously, its a pretty early time to be upgrading, and it would not be something Id normally do because I like to be cautious," said Cox, in London. "However, we have an exciting project and just felt that there were fabulous advantages in Domino 6 that we had to take advantage of."

Sericol, the worlds largest manufacturer and supplier of screen printing inks and pre-press products, is standardizing on a single global CRM system: iExtensions for Notes from iEnterprises Inc., of Murray Hill, N.J. Sericol needed a platform that supports multiple languages and allows speedy transmission of data over a corporate LAN.

The addition to Domino 6 of automatic compression and streaming replication—in which Notes documents are replicated in a single server request—is the main reason Sericol is rolling out the new versions of Notes and Domino to support more than 800 employees in 14 operating companies worldwide. The CRM project is so important to Sericol that Cox had no problems selling her managers on Domino 6, she said.

"The justification for this upgrade was that we really needed it for this specific CRM project," Cox said. "Our technology purchases are always driven by business need and never by technology for technologys sake."

But even some organizations without projects that require features such as compression and streaming replication may find clear returns on investment with a Domino upgrade.

At Kemet, a supplier of capacitors to the electronics industry, for example, Henry said new unified management capabilities and policy-based management features in Domino 6 have significantly reduced the amount of messaging system administration time required when compared with Domino 5.

Kemet participated in Lotus early-release program and began upgrading its 49 Domino 5 servers to Domino 6 in October 2001. The company began upgrading its 3,500 Notes 4.5 clients to Notes 6 at the same time. Henry said the biggest benefit of Domino 6 hes seen so far has been its new fault tolerance capabilities. Such capabilities enable his servers to reboot themselves, freeing system administrators to concentrate on other tasks.

Henry has also seen benefits from the spam control center capability built into Domino 6. He estimated a 12 to 21 percent reduction in incoming e-mail finding its way to Kemets servers since the deployment of Domino 6.

Kemet, which uses Sametimes e-meetings function to hold technical sales training courses online, is also rolling out Sametime 2.5. But Henry is running Sametime on Domino 5 because Domino 6 does not yet support the IM application. Lotus said Sametime will be able to run on Domino 6 early next year.

On top of that, Henry said another source of frustration has been a lack of documentation from Lotus on the Sametime API. Henry said he had to resort to using reverse engineering to find out how the Sametime API functioned because there was an inadequate amount of documentation available from the vendor. The lack of documentation was a problem because Domino 5 and Sametime lack common cross-product schemata and data models. While the differences have been carried over into Domino 6, Lotus officials said the company plans to make the APIs more unified in future releases.

"We would like to see total integration, and weve been pushing Lotus since we became customers in 1995," Henry said. "Integration has gotten worse because IBM continues to bring products in. Some stuff is promising, but its just baby steps so far. Weve made tremendous progress looking at what other people have done to integrate, but its been a tedious process."

Issues such as integration problems and a lack of documentation are often found in the first release of any software product, experts say. Consequently, as they do with every major software release, many IT managers say they will wait until such issues are resolved before putting Domino 6 into production.

Unicco Service Co., an integrated facilities services company, uses the Notes development environment to build applications such as work order management, annual benefits enrollments and safety documents required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Unicco uses the Notes and Domino environment mainly as a document repository and relies less on the platform for messaging. As a result, the company is not champing at the bit for new features such as automatic compression and replication. Unicco will not upgrade to Domino 6 until sometime in the first quarter of next year, said Jeff Peterson, vice president of IT at the Newton, Mass., company.

"We like, but are not in a big hurry for, the messaging capabilities released this time around," said Peterson. "We really arent early adopters because we like to take advantage of what others have experienced. Unless theres a hot feature that works for a new application, the nature of our business is to make sure all the bugs have been worked out."

Senior Writer Anne Chen can be reached at