The Once and Future Domino, Part 2

Collaboration & Messaging
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In September of 2003, when IBM Lotus released Version 6.5 of Notes/Domino, customers started to see the outlines of how the company was going to work within the larger IBM Lotus Workplace brand. The Domino infrastructure, which was extended to run on Linux on the zSeries under Version 6.5, was now on every IBM eServer platform. Its scalability to handle collaborative workflow applications was unique. The Domino server is one of the key elements used to transition large customers into the entire Lotus Workplace suite of products.

The IBM Lotus Workplace Brand

The IBM Lotus Workplace infrastructure is aimed to help IBM deliver its on demand architecture, an architecture in which cross-platform products can be scaled to meet the needs of the various sizes of companies, regardless of the company's server platform.

The Domino server, in combination with the Notes client application and/or the Lotus Workplace Messaging suite, now provides the larger IBM Lotus Workplace with the ability to rapidly deliver collaborative solutions in an on demand manner. It's one of the most powerful arrays of collaborative suites composed of granulated services ever to be placed into the hands of customers. Domino V6.5 is one crucial element used to energize this array.

Notes/Domino V6.5 vs. Lotus Workplace

While Domino V6.0 was focused primarily toward extending the Domino server to every eServer hardware platform, the focus of V6.5 has been to integrate and interface across the array of Lotus and WebSphere software products to increase the productivity of the end user. But Notes/Domino V6.5 is not the only element used to deliver the Workplace. There are also crucial pieces delivered through J2EE WebSphere elements.

Consequently, the IBM Lotus Workplace branding of various products and services is not an easy path to trace. You can't identify what your company has purchased simply by saying, "We bought the IBM Lotus Workplace." The architecture consists of too many differing parts.

For instance, a month before the release of Notes/Domino V6.5, Lotus starting shipping something it called the Lotus Workplace. That particular product was composed of several products that seemed to be in direct competition with the services provided by Notes/Domino, including a new messaging platform based on J2EE.

This has created some confusion in the minds of some customers. Is Lotus Workplace a new product in competition with Lotus Notes/Domino? If so, why does Lotus Workplace have some pieces of Domino bundled within it? How are these products related?

Granulating the IBM Workplace Brand

As explained to me by Kevin Cavanaugh, Vice President of Development for IBM Lotus Domino, IBM envisions the IBM Lotus Workplace as a software marketing "brand" composed of granulated services that extended through the entire IBM Software Group's products. This includes products based upon WebSphere J2EE and products based upon previous technologies.

Lotus was tasked with providing a number of pieces to the IBM Workplace brand and also with sub-branding products according to their conformance with J2EE.

As it turns out, Lotus' slice of that IBM Workplace pie includes three groups of sub-branded Lotus products:

Application Development Solutions

  • Lotus Domino Designer (to develop Notes databases)
  • Lotus Workplace Products API Toolkit (to integrate the Notes database with the Lotus Workplace J2EE products if required)
  • Lotus Enterprise Integrator (to integrate with Enterprise-level applications if required)
  • Lotus Enterprise Script Builder (for zSeries mainframe scripting if required)
  • Lotus Connectors (for third-party applications to access the Domino data store if required)
  • Domino Global Workbench (to provide multilingual Domino applications if required)
  • Lotus Workflow (to provide rapid deployment of individual workflow databases if required)
  • Domino Toolkit for WebSphere Studio (to connect the Domino database to the WebSphere Studio development client if required)
  • Domino Application Portlet (to allow users to access HTML-enabled Domino applications via WebSphere Portal if required)

Lotus Document and Web Content Management Solutions

  • Lotus Domino Document Manager (formerly Lotus Domino.Doc, to allow shared documents with security and version control)
  • Lotus Workplace Documents (document management on the J2EE Workplace platform)
  • IBM Workplace Web Content Management (to provide end-to-end Web content management for Internet, intranet, extranet, and portal sites; can be run from either the Lotus Workplace J2EE platform or the Domino platform as required)

Lotus Interactive, On Demand Collaboration Services

  • Lotus Workplace Team Collaboration (the Lotus Workplace J2EE implementation of the older Domino TeamRoom product, enabling interactive collaboration through Web browsers)

These Lotus products and services work together to form two pathways that often lead in parallel directions toward the on demand architecture of the IBM Workplace brand. It's a sort of bifurcated architecture that, at first blush, can be confusing. So, for the sake of simplicity, let's examine how Lotus is developing this overall architecture.

Different Strokes

If the on demand requirement is for standalone, small-to-medium sized organizations, with limited Web interfacing, the architecture of the Lotus Domino Web application server is still the best solution for building and delivering your application. Domino and Notes are both high-function, rapid deployment solutions with a long reach in scalability and power. Your company doesn't have to worry about the platform disappearing, and your skill set in programming using LotusScript is well-preserved.

If, on the other extreme, the on demand requirement is for medium-to-large organizations that will rely upon Web interfacing and browser-based interfaces, the J2EE WebSphere Application Server (WAS) is the engine that Lotus is using, and the basic services--messaging and collaboration--are provided through the Lotus Workplace J2EE application product group. In this scenario, delivering open standards applications (based upon J2EE) is a significant goal for the organization. It will allow the WebSphere application designers in the organization to build integrated applications that mimic the functionality of Notes/Domino databases without the proprietary language of LotusScript.

Not all of the Notes/Domino underlying functionality is currently represented in the Lotus Workplace J2EE applications: They are essentially a subset of the most commonly used elements, like email, collaboration, content management, and workflow, recast in J2EE. However, by using these elements and combining them with other WebSphere products and services, the medium-to-large organization can present a completely integrated solution that follows the open standards of J2EE, delivered through the WAS.

In between, connecting these two differing Web application server architectures (the WAS and the Domino Web application server and database), Lotus is providing a slew of connectors, APIs, and toolkits that are designed to integrate the various parts as required.

How They Play Out

For instance, a company may have a perfectly suitable custom-designed Domino database, used for collaboration within the organization. As the usefulness of this application becomes apparent, it can be delivered via the Web through the Domino Web application server. As it becomes an integral part of the Web requirements, it can be further connected to WebSphere through WebSphere Studio or through the Workplace API Toolkit. Likewise, large organizations on zSeries mainframes can reach down through the enterprise infrastructure and pull information and applications out of departmental workgroup Domino databases, integrating those Domino services to deliver them seamlessly through WebSphere.

Meanwhile, IBM's larger focus remains on developing open standards through the use of J2EE, and the Lotus Workplace suite of products fits that set of requirements.

The Growing Brand of Lotus Workplace

IBM sees Lotus Workplace not only as a set of applications and services, but as a broadening brand, in and of itself. Consequently, Lotus will sustain the continued development of the Domino architecture as a proprietary Web application server, database, and rapid deployment platform. At the same time, however, it will emphasize Lotus Workplace to deliver Domino-like functionality. In this game of market branding, Domino ceases to be a sub-brand in the future. But its functionality persists as an individual product.

Questions?

To the software purist who is looking at the underlying technology, all this mixing of different Web application server technology is a bit confusing. Is the Lotus Workplace brand built with J2EE, or is it built with C and C++ like the old Domino brand? The answer is that sometimes both are used. It depends on which Web application server you want to use.

To the customer who is looking for a simple solution, trying to determine what to choose is also confusing. Should the customer use Notes/Domino or Lotus Workplace? The answer is that it depends on your company's overall requirements.

To a developer, however, the only question is, "Which tools must I learn to use?"

From the Inside Out

If you are a Lotus Notes/Domino application specialist building Domino databases for Notes clients or for Web deployment, how you should develop your new applications is simple: Use the Domino Designer. Continue to use LotusScript as the language within the database where required. (Version 6.5 had new classes that continue to make the job easier.) Expand to the use of JavaScript and J2EE as needed, but recognize that there's no built-in advantage, either short-term or long-term, to changing your programming methods. Be organic in the acquisition of your new skills. If you need to connect to other databases, Domino will support you with Connectors and APIs in a highly productive manner. For instance, in V6.5 you can safely and smoothly implement instant messaging into your user's database: It's all very productively integrated. When Notes/Domino Version 7 is released next year, you will find more improvements and enhancements, including the use of Web services. For you, the Domino platform is still stable and scalable and has a significant life cycle ahead.

From the Outside In

If, by comparison, you are a WebSphere J2EE developer who is approaching Notes/Domino functionality for the first time, you have more decisions to make.

There is a prevalence to the belief that building with J2EE is the most satisfactory manner by which to bring the functionality of the collaborative services like Domino into a WebSphere J2EE environment. This belief may consequently prejudice you and keep you from examining what Domino and Notes databases can deliver quickly to your users. Before you make your decision, look at the functionality of Domino deeply.

You don't have to use the Domino Web application server if your organization chooses to use Domino. You can serve Notes databases through WebSphere relatively easily. Meanwhile, implementing Domino can allow your organization to rapidly and cost-effectively develop substantial workflow and collaborative applications from pre-built templates with a substantial time savings.

Lotus has provided the tools necessary to integrate these databases with the WebSphere WAS, and future technologies will be integrated with the platform as well. IBM Lotus is also building a Domino plug-in that will better integrate Domino development into the Eclipse IDE.

So think twice before you tell your managers that Domino is dead or that you can just as easily build everything you need in J2EE. Eventually, you probably can. But "eventually" is the active word you need to quantify.

If, however, the prerequisite is a collaborative or messaging suite based upon completely open-standard code, Lotus Workplace products will meet the basic needs, enabling you to integrate their services with the larger J2EE applications that you are developing.

In Perspective

The history of Notes/Domino is a story of functionality moving through various layers of technology. As computing has evolved, so too has the platform called Lotus Notes/Domino. Each new evolutionary step has added new functions and opened new doors into user productivity. That evolution of Notes/Domino as a product suite will continue with the shipment of Version 7.0 next year.

However, it would be a mistake for developers to believe that Notes/Domino functionality can be achieved only through the use of the Domino technology itself; the new Lotus Workplace products are using the knowledge gained from the long history of Notes/Domino to bridge into the newer technology of J2EE.

Likewise, it would be a mistake to believe that future Domino-like applications should be created only using J2EE. Domino is still the most respected and most vibrant rapid deployment platform of collaborative services available. It scales across the spectrum of servers, and its security and ease of development are still unparalleled. Used appropriately to meet the overall goals of the organization, the Lotus Notes/Domino combination will continue to represent a tried-and-true platform for the foreseeable future.

Thomas M. Stockwell is Editor in Chief of MC Press Online, LP.

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