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An Admin Looks Back at a Career with Notes/Domino

Scanned from a Xerox Multifunction PrinterAs so much is being written about moving off of the Notes/Domino platform I thought it might be useful to look back at my own experience. Much of what I’m reading lately is from Domino developers. This is, in contrast, the experience of a long-time admin.

For many, many years – since we migrated off of cc:Mail if you must know – I managed an infrastucture that eventually included Notes, Domino, Sametime, Quickr, Traveller and CRM running within Domino (iExtensions). This was for a relatively small management consulting firm operating globally.

At one time I managed Domino servers on premise, at a local cohosting site, at my home and on a national hosting provider. This was all to take advantage of Domino’s amazing replication, clustering and failover. We were protected from environmental and hardware glitches about as well as we could be.

In the end that was the products’ downfall though: we could no longer justify running that much infrastructure for under 50 users. We were also migrating our professional staff to Macintosh and the Mac support for Notes, and especially for Quickr, just wasn’t on a par with that for Windows. And finally we had the usual complaints that everything looked and felt old-fashioned.

In late 2014 the company made the decision to go to the cloud and get out of the business of maintaining servers. We looked hard at IBM’s hosted offerings but they didn’t address some of our lingering issues, and they were significantly more expensive than the alternatives.

We ended up going with what was then called Google Apps for Business, now Google for Work, and Zoho CRM.

What did we learn?

The transition was relatively easy in the end. Our Google partner, Viwo, found a tool to migrate all our Notes mail and archives. We moved the contact data from iExtensions into Zoho by simple export/import and abandoned our CRM history. Personal contacts were already on users’ smart phones and came back into Google Contacts from there.

For Quickr places we moved the folders down to a workstation using the Quickr desktop synchronization and then back up to Google Drive using Google’s sync.

The biggest user concern was “what about when I’m on an airplane, in a taxi, in the client’s office, etc.” How would we live without local mail replicas? We make some use of Gmail Offline/Inbox but, in practice, the lack of a local mail replica became a non-issue very quickly.

What was harder to adjust to was the simpler mail and calendar implementation. While Google has addressed some of this over the past couple of years we still miss the sophistication of the various calendar options, true mail/calendar integration and the ability to resort your mail in multiple ways.

Gooogle is, predictably, committed to search as the way to find things.

We make a lot of use of “My Drive” sync in Google Drive. Most folks find this far easier to work with than Quickr Places – and it has the great advantage of working for our Macintosh users!

We found that the native tools on iOS and Android met our need without looking for an MDM to replace Traveller. We tell the device that the Google system is Exchange, as was true with Traveller in the beginning before Traveller support was explicitly added to the mobile OS.

We had very few Domino applications beyond those associated with CRM, and they were very simple. Even so, two years later I’m still using a custom Notes database I put together to manage inventory because replacing it seems like more work than it’s worth. I imagine it will just continue as a local database once we finally shut off the last Domino server. For now what had been the primary mail server is still running for the odd need to get into archival data.

Our experience with non-standard apps points to the real issue with moving away from Domino, as many, many recent posts by Domino developers address. I don’t mean to minimize those issues in any way by recounting our experience. But it’s shared for what it’s worth.

And the winner is …

For anyone waiting for the other shoe to drop from my previous post: We went with RingCentral Office@Hand from AT&T — a name to make even IBM blush. But in limited time with the product it seems to do what they claim and to be a powerful and flexible solution.

As anyone who has supported users knows “powerful and flexible” is not always what users want. My users, at least, lean towards simple and magical in their tastes. But almost everything can be managed from an administration console and once it’s configured it really is pretty simple.

We have desk phones, soft phones for Mac and Windows, mobile apps and a Chrome plugin for GMail (There’s one for Office 365 as well).

I usually promise more details as they become available but I have some hope that this is it. There may not be much more to say.

 

Phones are complicated

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I’ve been focused recently on telephone solutions.

We’ve been migrating our data systems to hosted, cloud based solutions because it no longer made sense for a small organization to maintain servers, failover servers, backup systems, etc. just to provide standard business functions like storage, messaging, directories, CRM, and so on. So wouldn’t the same make sense for phones?

To maintain our current phone system we’re managing a VMWare server, two server instances in the VMWare (PBX and voice mail), and complicated router and firewall settings. The integration with mobile phones, CRM, personal directories, calendar, etc. is pretty poor. It needs vendor-specific wizards on contract to manage it. And it really no longer serves the needs of a workforce that’s rarely in the office.

As on the data side there are many providers who assure us they can provide a hosted solution to address all these issues. And for the most part they can. But here the devil is most certainly in the details:

  • How do the desk phone, mobile phone and soft phone interact for call handoff, voice mail, directory integration?
  • How does the mobile client interact with the native phone features?
  • What PBX features are lost? What new features are gained?
  • Is conferencing included? Voice, screen share, video?
  • How is the whole thing priced and supported?

I think that just scratches the surface but you get the idea. Then add on the issues of swapping out a system that every key employee touches every day, and that can cause the company to grind to a halt if the switchover fails in any way.

I’ll be busy for a while yet I think.

Photo is from a previous long-ago phone migration that actually went fairly well.
 

Year End, And Looking Forward

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

2015 has been a year of transition and preparation, or so it feels.
At the “day job” we completed a migration from IBM Notes/Domino/ Traveler/Sametime/Quickr and iExtensions CRM to Google Apps for Work and Zoho CRM in the second half of 2014. So 2015 involved learning how to manage and support the new ecosystem. And to struggle with the questions of what we needed to keep on premises, and how to get off the stuff we are done with.
At that job and in my outside practice I was dealing with transition in how technology is used every day. Cloud services and advances in operating systems have pretty much killed the need for small office/home office technical support. The mobile world is moving more and more towards Apple iOS with some Android in the mix. The push for robust, device agnostic MDM has moved to the enterprise level, with most smaller organizations left to rely on what management the mail provider and device manufacturer offer. I’ve taken on a lot more marketing oriented tasks as social media has come to the fore in corporate communications.
But what is the future role for folks who came up as system administrators? Helping organizations select, implement, learn and benefit from technologies is perhaps more important than it has ever been. But with the disconnect from physical systems the role can seem somewhat adrift. What does a system administrator do after the systems are gone?
On the personal side, we undertook upgrades to the house that had been neglected for many years: roof, siding, windows, floors, interior paint, driveway paving. And then we had to upholster/refinish furniture to match. We didn’t do the work ourselves but we (mostly my wife) did the design, hiring and supervision. The results were spectacular but it did sap our attention for much of the summer and fall.
Also on the non-tech side, after several years of politely stepping aside in favor of others there were no more others and I stepped up to be president of Temple Sholom in New Milford, CT.
So I’m looking forward to a 2016 full of new opportunities and new learning. I wish you all the best and happiest of New Years.
David

Windows 10 — First impressions

I’ve started testing/playing with Windows 10. So far I have installed Windows 10 as an upgrade on two machines, both Windows 7 desktops, one 32 bit, one 64 bit. No real problems with either one. I also tried several times to upgrade my wife’s Lenovo Yoga from Windows 8.1. The upgrade just wouldn’t run. The Windows 10 icon on that machine is now reporting that the upgrade isn’t available yet. I don’t know if that’s a Windows 8.1 issue, a Lenovo issue, or what. If the upgrade suddenly becomes available then I guess we’ll know.

I’ve been pretty happy with the upgrades from Windows 7. The desktops and start menus were carried over pretty cleanly. Haven’t found any apps that just won’t work.

On the 64 bit machine the video driver (NVIDIA) got lost. But Windows still recognized the card and I was able to update the driver from Device Manager with a few clicks. I was amused to see that it did require a restart to apply the driver! After rebooting I had access to all the resolutions the card was capable of and had an NVIDIA Settings icon in the tools at the right side of the taskbar.

On the 64 bit machine I wanted to test a few things in use in our production environment. I used a clean install of Windows 7, but before I upgraded to Windows 10 I installed a printer driver (Xerox), Chrome, Google Apps and Drive and the Novell Client. Our Novell servers are being phased out but we still have the client on all our Windows machines so I wanted to see if I needed to uninstall.

Everything still worked after the upgrade, even the Novell login process, although I haven’t succeeded in logging into Windows and eDirectory together on the initial login.

After I had Windows 10 installed I also tried a legacy MS Office installer (Office 2007) and Open Office and both installed and ran as they would under Windows 7.

So far I’m encouraged, but still not ready to rush the production machines to Windows 10. Still waiting for the dust to settle.

If you’re tired of waiting for Microsoft to get around to your machine for upgrade, here’s the bypass. Visit http://www.microsoft.com/EN-US/windows/windows-10-upgrade. Then in the Reserve section you’ll see a link for “If you’d like to create a USB drive or DVD to download once and upgrade multiple PCs”. You can indeed create install media as it says, but you can also use the downloaded file to launch an upgrade immediately.

Start is back

start

I just did the first test of upgrading a Windows 7 Pro machine to Windows 10. This was a modest, utility machine (Dell Optiplex 580) without a lot of software installed. But the upgrade went smoothly, if slowly, and in limited playing I’ve not found any problems.

And — the Start menu is there. It’s got a few Metro-style tiles but if you click on “All Apps” it’s recognizably the same Start menu we’ve had since Windows 95.

More to follow I’m sure.

Too Many New Ways To Work?

Is anybody else drowning in options for collaboration and organization?

Whether it’s a new way to organize your email, store your documents in the cloud, organize your photos and videos, or collaborate and be social there are multiple competing solutions. Most of them don’t interact, or have only minimal compatibility.

Is this helpful? How can we balance a “let 1,000 flowers bloom” approach* with getting to a point where these systems are generally useful without creating silos based on who uses which product?

Many years ago software publishers found it in their interest to develop and, to a greater or lesser degree, comply with, standards for things like SMTP email and rendering of HTML. This was later extended, not quite as successfully, to calendar standards, so that I can now accept an invitation from pretty much any source and send back some sort of acknowledgement. File encoding reached the point where we can share files between Windows, Mac and Linux/Unix fairly transparently.

But I can’t use my public or enterprise microblogging platform to share posts to all my contacts on their preferred platform. I can send a link to download a file from my cloud platform to anyone. But if I want to grant editing rights, or collaboratively edit, or make content easy to find, then we generally need to have credentials on the same system, and there will usually be some software downloading and installing involved. I don’t have a single place to share photos and videos; some will see them if I post on Facebook, others on Instagram, others on Google. The best most publishers have managed is to let you post content to multiple places at once.

My best theory as to why the earlier focus on standards and interoperability has not been applied to newer needs is that we’re now talking about service providers rather than software publishers. They have a much stronger incentive to lock users into their systems. But they’re fighting against Metcalfe’s Law**. Ever more segmentation of the user universe decreases the value of these systems for everyone. The end result will be lowest common denominator communications. Today that’s SMS and email. And the whole incentive for all the new whizbang social and collaboration platforms is that old-school store-and-forward technologies are not good ways to collaborate.

Any hopeful signs out there? I don’t see them.

David

*Mao actually said “Let a hundred flowers blossom,” and those who did generally got executed if Mao didn’t like the result, but I use the common misquotation and I’m not stressing the execution aspect. http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/226950.html

**Metcalfe’s law states that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system (n2). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metcalfe%27s_law