With IBM Connections, IBM i Goes Social

Collaboration & Messaging
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Whether you're an SMB with distributed branches or a large enterprise with thousands of users, IBM i is arguably the platform choice for IBM Connections. Among its many top-notch qualities, IBM i is finally social.


IBM i is now a supported platform for IBM Connections!


I'll try to put this article in terms of those not familiar with IBM i but familiar with Connections and vice versa. IBM i is one of the most intriguing operating systems in the world, showcasing its world-class security, stability, scalability, and most importantly, integration. The heritage of IBM i goes back to the AS/400, which ran the OS/400 operating system. IBM i was rebranded in 2008 and now runs on IBM Power Systems and PureSystems hardware.


IBM Connections is the premier enterprise social software available on the market, ranked #1 for four years running by IDC. This web-based ecosystem includes applications such as Files, Profiles, Blogs, Wikis, Activities, and more. If you're an existing IBM Notes/Domino or Lotus Quickr customer, you may have varied degrees of entitlement for Connections. For instance, if you're a Lotus Quickr customer with an up-to-date maintenance contract, then you have entitlements to the full Connections suite. Check your Passport Advantage to see if you can download it. You may be surprised.


I've mentioned in the past that there are definite benefits of using social software, but you can't just "install social." Becoming a social business is an abstract idea. It's a state of internal or external business collaboration, not a widget you can just plug into an organization to be automatically transformed. Organizations that don't use social tools at all may well be very social businesses. Organizations that are not operating very socially may use social tools extensively but perhaps now with many modern data silos in "social" communities instead of traditional file folders. IBM Connections is a powerful tool that allows you to share information in a social context. What IBM i does is allow you to reduce the management, overhead, cost, and complexity of the large application that Connections is so that you can concentrate on getting value out of Connections rather than spending time getting the product running.


The true value of a product like Connections is that it can help you share information in an online social setting. As our workforce is getting younger, they're used to tools like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, among many others. Heck, they're not even tools per se; they're more of a way of life. When given a social application construct like Connections, employees can use it quickly as the concepts are familiar. Tagging files with key words, pinning content for quick finding later, creating blogs, posting status updates...they're all familiar to a modern workforce. Tapping into that familiarity means less time training a user base and an easier time spent driving adoption. In a modern workforce, collaboration is the key to breaking down those old information silos.


Here's a short synopsis of the features inside Connections:


  • Activities: While not a true project-management solution, it's an effective application to help individuals and teams plan and track their work tasks.
  • Blogs: These allow you to broadcast content to other employees. Users can comment on blog entries.
  • Bookmarks: These are shortcuts to websites. You can have your own bookmarks (which you can import from your browser) and also share them with other users and communities or make them public. Imagine you're rolling out a new web-based application and you want a central place to put the link.
  • Communities: If you're a Quickr customer, think of Communities as the equivalent of a Quickr Place. You can consolidate common information (for a project, business unit, etc.) inside a community so all content posted is within that context.
  • Files: This is pretty self-explanatory. You can upload, store, and share files with individual users, groups, and communities. This is much more effective than sending an email with an attachment.
  • Forums: These have been around since the dawn of the Internet. It's an interactive place where people can collaborate and share ideas, ask questions and get answers.
  • Homepage: This application consolidates the main functions of Connections. The user's dashboard, if you will.
  • Profiles: This contains profile information for your employees. If I'm looking for a particular skill set, keyword, business unit (sales, marketing, production), etc., I can find it in Profiles. Also, it can be integrated easily into Sametime as the source for your Sametime business card photos. Users can update photos with Sametime much easier than with alternative methods and workarounds.
  • Wikis: A wiki is a collection of documents where people can easily collaborate on the content. If you have a corporate policy manual, Frequently Asked Questions, or documentation of any other sort, then a Wiki is a great choice to publish it. You'll notice that much of IBM's documentation is now stored in Wiki format.

This is just a quick overview of the features of Connections. For a true experience of the product, go get yourself an account on IBM's Greenhouse, which is a live Connections implementation used by many customers, partners, and IBMers to share information with one another.


While Connections is a great solution, implementing it is not turnkey by any means. You need a plan, and you need business sponsors to help drive content. Part of the plan is platform selection. With that in mind, it only makes sense that you would want to maximize your investment in Connections by installing it on IBM i and Power Systems.


Why does running IBM Connections on IBM i make good sense?


For starters, speed of installation is a big factor. You want to reduce your time to value as much as possible and concentrate on driving adoption.


Once you have IBM Connections install packages downloaded from Passport Advantage, the installation time clock starts and IBM i just leaves every single other platform in the dust. For example, with IBM i you don't have to install IBM DB2 because IBM DB2 for i is already integrated with the operating system.


Also, many IBM i customers already use IBM HTTP Server and WebSphere Application Server, two other key components of an IBM Connections environment. Just by having the integrated DB2 and those two applications already installed cuts the installation time down dramatically. On any other platform, installing DB2, WebSphere Application Server, and IBM HTTP Server, plus loading the applicable fix packs would probably take a person the better part of a working day. On IBM i, it's just there.


IBM Connections uses WebSphere Application Server 8.0. But not to worry if you're using version 7.0 or 8.5 because IBM i allows you to run different versions all within the same partition, allowing customers to run many distinct workloads. You can run Sametime 8.5.2 workloads with WAS 7.0, Connections on WAS 8.0 and IBM Web Content Management on WAS 8.5. This is one of the reasons that the i in IBM i stands for integration.


Consolidation is another major selling point for running Connections on IBM i.


If you're going to install Connections on Windows, for instance, you're talking about numerous virtual machines on x86-64 hardware with far less throughput than you'd have on a single IBM Power Systems server. This means there are fewer physical moving parts and fewer overall points of failure.


You can effectively and safely deploy Connections on a single IBM i partition along with all the supporting components. You need an LDAP server. One solution would be to run Domino on IBM i for that. You need an IBM HTTP Server and WebSphere Application Server, which I've already mentioned you can load on IBM i. You need to load IBM Installation Manager and Tivoli Directory Integrator, both which run on IBM i. In fact, if you're running Sametime, Portal, or Web Content Manager, you should already have both IBM Installation Manager and Tivoli Directory Integrator already set up and going!


Consolidation also makes maintenance a snap. Your patching for WebSphere Application Server, IBM HTTP Server, DB2, Java, and the like is all handled by way of standard PTF application. If you keep your system well-oiled on a regular basis, then maintaining the backbone of Connections is a non-issue. Beware not to go too far with your WAS patching. IBM Connections is only supported on WAS fix pack 5 and most recently 6. If you move ahead to the most recent versions, then be prepared for IBM Connections support to either turn you away or have you roll back to or if you call for support. If you stay at the supported levels, then it gives the Connections support team a playing field they know very well and they should be able to help you quickly.


Considering many shops I speak with have excess processing capability in the form of idle cores on their Power Systems hardware, consolidating more workload on their systems is always a welcome opportunity. The cost of turning on an additional Power7 core is usually cheaper in the long run than investing in more x86-64 hardware to do a less-effective job. That's not just for Connections. I'd argue that point regarding any workload that you want to deploy on IBM i on Power Systems vs. x86-64. In terms of processing power, I'd recommend that if you have a moderately taxed system (running around 30% CPU utilization), have at least two cores active before installing Connections. A single-core system just isn't going to cut it. It will run, but it won't perform. As well, you must ensure is that you're up to par on the memory requirements for IBM Connections. You should have about 32GB of memory set aside for the new WebSphere Application Server workloads as there are a lot of them. Each Connections application (Files, Homepage, Activities, Wikis, Blogs, etc.) can be deployed as its own job within the WAS8 subsystem, and each requires 1-2GB memory. As you add users, you should check your memory usage using IBM i performance tools inside IBM Navigator for i to ensure you're not topping out. If so, you can adjust the JVM heap sizes upward to allocate more memory to those jobs.


Since we're talking nuts and bolts a bit, let's talk about how well IBM i scales in terms of adding increased workloads. While there are no performance reports available for IBM Connections on Power Systems, or specifically for IBM i on Power Systems, we have to refer back to past reports. If you look at Domino on IBM i for instance, take note of the fact that IBM hasn't done any performance benchmarking for Domino since about 2006 on Power5 hardware. Why? I don't think they need to. At the time, Domino on System i (as it was called then) performance benchmarks had blown the doors clear off any competitive system. In 1998, IBM loaded an AS/400 with 10,000 simulated users, which was unheard of at the time. By 2006, they managed to simulate 250,000 Domino mail users on a 16-way System i model 595. Domino workloads on IBM i scaled from little SMB servers with a few thousand users all the way up to enterprise class systems. This is true performance. This is true scalability. Heck, they didn't even test the 32-way configuration! Just this past year, IBM released unmatched performance statistics on IBM Notes Traveler running on Power Systems and IBM i. If history is any evidence, IBM Connections can scale similarly to the heights of other IBM Collaboration Solutions products.


Please feel free to contact me if you'd like more information on planning and implementation of IBM Connections on IBM i. I'm happy to help assist where I can.