Domino Still Dominates Groupware, but Microsoft Looms Large
In the first half of 1998, millions of groupware clients and hundreds of thousands of servers to support them were shipped by IBM, Microsoft, Novell, and other vendors. Oddly, no one knows for sure how many of those groupware programs actually get used within companies. International Data Corp. (IDC) recently made waves when it ventured a guess that showed IBM’s Lotus Domino/Notes groupware still held a considerable lead in terms of installed base, but Microsoft actually added more new users during the first half of the year.
According to IDC, Lotus added 5.3 million new users between January and June of this year. (These are IDC’s estimates of actual groupware users, not client software shipments as part of bundling deals.) Those Lotus shipments, as Figure 1 shows, brought the Domino/Notes base up to nearly 22 million users worldwide. During the same period, Microsoft added 5.7 million Exchange users, the most of any vendor in the groupware market, bringing its user base up to 15 million. And, while nobody ever talks about it, Novell’s GroupWise follows close behind at 12.4 million users. Although most people—including executives at Novell—do not know it, GroupWise was and remains very popular at AS/400 sites by virtue of their adoption of Novell NetWare on their PC servers. One of the key drivers behind IBM’s Lotus market is the AS/400. IBM says that it has shipped more than 5,000 AS/400 Domino server licenses as of September when the Northstar AS/400e machines were announced. These customers probably account for more than one million of the 25 million current Lotus Domino users worldwide, which isn’t bad for only seven months of availability.
IBM certainly believes that every AS/400 customer should buy native Domino to fulfill email and groupware needs. (In fact, with the release of V4R4 early next year, IBM is widely expected to pull the plug on OfficeVision/400 and tell customers to move to Domino.) Yet, the company has said publicly that it expects eventually to sell somewhere
between 30,000 and 35,000 Domino licenses on the AS/400—a figure that represents a middling 20 percent of AS/400 sites worldwide. IBM will also sell plenty of Domino licenses for Microsoft Windows NT at AS/400 sites, although none of them will be on its Integrated PC Servers (IPCSs). IBM has, paradoxically, decided to withdraw Domino support on the IPCS for releases of OS/400 beyond V4R3. For very compelling economic reasons, more AS/400 customers will probably now choose a Domino-NT combo or an Exchange-NT combo on external PC servers over native Domino.
Domino: Work Flow for Dummies
When Lotus talks about collaboration (as all groupware vendors do because that is the idea that they are selling), it really means two things. The first definition refers to documents. Collaboration on Lotus documents means, simply, that Lotus Domino/Notes can be programmed to let many different people work on a single document or on a collection of documents simultaneously or sequentially. Notes is a hybrid of email and word processing.
The second kind of collaboration has to do with work flow, the real power of Notes. Using Domino programming tools, companies can create applications that manage the flow of documents—that’s the flow part of work flow—through a company as users perform work—that’s the work part.
In principle, there’s nothing special about work-flow applications. These are exactly the kinds of applications that smart programmers the world over get paid to create every day. But even the smartest programmers have to use a mix of tools to cobble together such work-flow applications by hand, and they have to be pretty clever to make it all work together and perform acceptably. Lotus Domino offers a strong advantage in that customers can use one set of tools for the whole shebang and, because there is a skills base, can consistently find people to maintain the applications they build. For these reasons, AS/400 customers have begun buying Domino in droves.
Domino is Work Flow for Dummies, which means the world will be able to use it. That’s not an insult. Twenty years ago, when the AS/400 was just a gleam in Frank Soltis’ eye, relational database management systems (RDBMSs) were too complicated, too unpredictable, and too resource-hungry to be useful. Years later, the S/38, IBM’s first true RDBMS machine, proved much better but still took too many programmers and too much processing power to make it useful. That’s why the much simpler and less costly S/36 and its flat-file database sold like hotcakes. The AS/400 is Relational Database Computing for Dummies, and that’s the primary reason why IBM has sold twice as many AS/400s as S/3X equipment over the same number of years.
Domino on AS/400 Still Lags NT in Price/Performance
While IBM can certainly brag that the AS/400 offers better scalability on Domino workloads than competing PC servers running NT or UNIX, that scalability comes at a considerable price. According to recent NotesBench benchmark tests completed by IBM and various PC server vendors (see our Web site at http://www.midrange computing.com/mc/98/12 for a compilation of the NotesBench results, or go to http://www.notesbench.org to see the full disclosure reports), the AS/400e line is considerably more expensive for supporting Domino. Just how much more expensive depends on what part of the line and what flavor of AS/400 you are talking about. AS/400e servers are less expensive than plain vanilla systems; bigger machines use more expensive memory cards, which contribute significantly to higher balanced system costs and, therefore, poorer price/performance. But, as the situation looks right now, AS/400e servers cost about five to ten times more per Domino user, and AS/400e systems are even more out of whack.
Before getting into the price and performance analysis, take a look at the NotesBench benchmark tests. Lotus Domino is more than an email application and a Web server. Domino’s main benefit, groupware software, enables users to collaborate on work and allows application programmers to develop sophisticated applications that interact better
with users than normal client/server or green-screen applications, neither of which is typically equipped with groupware features and Internet-style networking. Consequently, the NotesBench consortium not only tests the email performance of various midrange platforms but also looks at the other groupware components of Domino. Vendors have not, thus far, been eager to test their machines on Domino groupware, mainly because groupware eats a phenomenal amount of computing resources.
IBM’s Domino relative-performance numbers are based on information culled during the NotesBench Mail tests and modeling performed in its Rochester labs. IBM has just updated its Domino relative-performance figures. Figure 2 shows the revised Domino performance ratings for low-end RISC-based AS/400s; a more detailed table is available on our Web site. That table also provides the relative price/performance of each RISC AS/400 machine at current street prices.
The Mail test covers standard email serving, with the Domino mail server receiving email from Notes clients and pushing it off to external servers, much like Internet email functions within companies. (It does not test internal email, which presumably would eat twice as much in resources.) The Mail test is becoming the de facto standard Domino performance test, but, oddly enough, it doesn’t really stress a machine like full-tilt groupware users will.
IBM has tested just three AS/400 configurations using the NotesBench Mail tests. It tested a 40S-2112 server with Domino 4.5 running on an Integrated PC Server card, an S40-2261 running V4R2 and Domino 4.6, and a 170-2292 running V4R3 and Domino
4.6. The performance and price/performance of these configurations compared to NT servers is presented in Figure 3. This chart shows that the AS/400, at least as far as the NotesBench tests go, is well behind in price/performance.
Domino software fees are not to blame for making AS/400 implementations expensive. Domino for the AS/400 is among the least expensive software for the box. It costs $1,495 for a single processor server. Licenses for two-way and four-way servers cost $3,495, and licenses for machines with more than four processors can run up to $16,250. The thing to remember is that Domino software costs are minimal compared to the hardware costs necessary for supporting Domino users.
IBM says that each Domino Mail user will require at least 512 KB of AS/400 memory and 30 to 50 MB of disk space; on big AS/400s, which have to run multiple Lotus partitions to support more than 3,000 users, memory requirements can be substantially higher. On the AS/400e S40-2261 test (which the company announced with much fanfare at Lotusphere last year because it showed off the scalability of the AS/400 with 10,400 concurrent Domino email users with subsecond response time), IBM configured the S40 with a whopping 20 GB of memory at a total cost of $1.4 million, or $137 per Domino mail user. The memory used in that NotesBench test cost more than twice as much as the S40 server itself. Cutting the amount of memory on the server in half would not have helped price/performance all that much; cutting it by a factor of four would have.
That the 12-way Apache AS/400e S40 can support 10,400 concurrent Domino Mail users with an average transaction response time of 90 milliseconds is, to say the least, remarkable. Yet, consider the cost of $137 per user for the AS/400 in a market where $10 to $15 per user is the norm for UNIX servers supporting Domino and $5 to $10 is the price for high-end Pentium II servers running Windows NT and Domino. With such a staggering discrepancy in cost, it would be natural enough to question IBM’s logic in running the NotesBench test as it did earlier this year.
IBM tested an S40 with maximum memory to get fast response times. The NotesBench Mail test only requires that transactions finish, on average, in less than five seconds, although typical results hover around the one-second mark. IBM could have pulled out a few memory cards and maybe even a few processors, done some performance tuning and have gotten the same 10,000 or so users up and running with a one- or two- second response time. IBM’s own guidelines say that customers should use 512 KB of server memory per Domino user, but IBM chose to put four times that amount of memory
on the S40 that it tested. Why? IBM’s techies most likely ran out of time to tune the system and just threw memory at the problem until the 12 Domino servers running on the machine stabilized.
On the S40 test, the 12-way system was only running at 57 percent of CPU capacity and 10 percent of disk arm utilization (RAID 5 data protection was turned on). IBM had another 7 percent or so of CPU capacity that it could have used with additional tuning before hitting the 65-percent threshold that IBM advises customers to stay below. Again, with proper tuning, IBM’s techies should have been able to squeeze another several thousand Domino mail users out of the system. (Indeed, IBM’s relative Domino ratings, which IBM published in September and which we profile in detail on our Web site along with the relative price/performance of RISC AS/400 machines, suggest that the same S40- 2261 can support 12,500 mail users if they use the latest OS/400 and Domino releases.) The S40’s disk subsystems were nowhere near their 50 percent utilization threshold, and only a faster processor with more memory—for instance, a Northstar PowerPC chip—could have driven them any harder.
IBM has subsequently chopped AS/400 memory prices in half and cut disk prices by a third, so an S40-2261 at today’s prices with only 6 GB of main memory—all that should be required to support 12,500 users—would cost only $601,487, or $48 per Domino Mail user. With discounts on hardware, costs would drop to about $39 per user—almost a quarter of what IBM’s initial benchmark tests show.
The situation looks considerably better at the low end of the AS/400 line with the Model 170 Apache and Northstar Invader servers. Here, memory is even less expensive, as is processing capacity, and IBM’s latest NotesBench tests show these costs to have substantial impact on Domino email price/performance. The Model 170 that IBM tested supported 1,350 Domino Mail users; it was configured with a 200-MHz Northstar processor, no L2 cache memory, 1 GB of main memory (this again appears to be overkill to boost response times), and 18 GB of disk capacity. The processor and disks were at 73- and 30-percent capacity, respectively, which falls more in line with accepted levels. The average response time for email transactions was 0.26 seconds, which again was very fast. This 170 had a list price of $43,511, or $32 per Mail user. With 256 MB of memory removed and a 20 percent discount to the street level, that Model 170 would cost about $24 per Domino Mail user. That puts the AS/400e 170 more in line with UNIX servers in terms of price/performance, even if those UNIX machines provide better scalability. (Remember, the 170 models do not technically have an upgrade path to the SXX series of servers, which are considerably more expensive.) But the 170 can’t touch Pentium II servers running the NT-Domino combo. Compaq is getting ready to publish NotesBench results on Pentium II Xeon uniprocessors that have roughly the same Domino Mail performance as the 170 line that cost $5 to $7 per user.
Customers who wanted a less costly option used to be able to run Domino on the IPCS. But now IBM is telling customers with Domino on the IPCS that they have to go native because V4R3 and the current crop of IPCS cards will be the last batch of products to support Domino on the IPCS. Ironically, Domino on the IPCS was a good, low-cost solution for those customers who didn’t want or couldn’t afford to run native Domino. The new 200-MHz Pentium Pro IPCS can support about 1,450 Domino Mail users. Such a setup costs much less but will require more administration, since not all accesses to AS/400 resources are instantaneous or automatic; some data has to be culled from AS/400 databases in batch mode or using one of a number of query tools Lotus supplies.
At current street prices, it costs from $60 to $200 per Domino Mail user to acquire a bare bones 6XX AS/400 system. (That doesn’t include memory, disks, or software—just the processor.) It costs from $15 to $50 to per Domino Mail user to buy a bare SXX or 170 Invader AS/400e server. But it costs only $1.25 per Domino Mail user to acquire the fastest IPCS card. Fill it up with memory, add Windows NT and all of the Domino software you can stand, and it is still well under $5 per Domino Mail user. That puts the IPCS on par (in price/performance terms) with all but the latest and fastest Pentium II Xeon servers.
Granted, the Xeon servers support a lot more than the 1,450 Domino mail users on the IPCS, but they require a much higher cash outlay, too. But IBM needs to sell AS/400s, which have higher prices and higher margins than the IPCS, so it is no wonder that IBM has killed Domino on the IPCS.
Figure 1: Worldwide installed groupware users, by vendor and product
Figure 2: Low-end AS/400e Domino Mail performance