Random thoughts from an unusual company

Head Down Working - Connections, Sametime and Lots of System Design

Gabriella Davis  13 June 2012 13:51:58
I realised recently that my blog has been quiet for a few weeks and so have I.  I was travelling pretty much non stop from mid March to end of May and nearly all of it was for work.  I'm working on some very interesting projects with their own challenges and although I don't like to talk about specific customers or work publicly, I'd like to talk generally about what I'm doing.  In 2010 and 2011 a large part of my work was Sametime related and since early 2011 and all of 2012 my work has been a large mix of Sametime and Connections deployments.  Although I still support lots of Domino customers and do a lot of Domino work, that is primarily healthcheck, performance and security work.  Oh and a lot of Traveler. Everyone wants and loves Traveler.

What's been interesting to me is the surge in interest for Connections in the past 9 months.  I think the entitlements for Profiles, Files and Status (in profiles) is part of it but a larger part has been a gradual tipping over the edge by existing Domino customers who are seeing the value in adding components from Sametime and Connections to their whole. In 2011 IBM pulled together their collaborative toolset into a cohesive solution where each new product you add brings new and complimentary features and enhances the features in the products you've already got.

I've also had a few installs for entirely non IBM sites who are just deploying Sametime or Connections unrelated to Domino which is great.  One of the most exciting things I can show people when demonstrating what Connections or Sametime brings to their existing environment is to demonstrate the use of the plugins available on Greenhouse for Status updates and Files combined with Sametime's integration with Connections profiles and photos.  It's a very small percentage of what Connections does but the combination together creates a platform for a social network where the end users create their own relationships, choose who to link to and who to follow and what's important to them.  I'm also a big fan of Sametime Advanced which I believe offers real time social networking tools to compliment those available in Connections.  

So what have I been working on...

Lots of Presentations on Connections, how to design it and install it and build it.  In Europe, Australia and the US I've been at conferences trying to explain what Connections is to audiences that are interesting but intimidated by the technology.  This has led into the work I'm doing with Paul Mooney on the Connections 101 site http://connections101.net where we are hoping to guide people through the components of Connections and how to install and grow your environment. We published two new modules this week on installing WAS and installing IHS and reworked the navigation of the site to make things easier to find.

Sametime installs. This year I've done 8 Sametime installs for customers from small 2 server installs involving no Audio or Video to large scale multi redundancy, full feature install with Bandwidth Manager and Sametime Advanced. Currently I have 3 installs, one of just Sametime proxy elements for mobile access, one pilot of all components on an internal network including A/V (which is about 10 individual VMs) and one fully redundant solution accessible both internally and externally which is about 30 VMs.  

The biggest challenges when installing Sametime are always firewall routing issues and SSL certificates and every site is different.  My project plans (I use Merlin for OSx) range for 200 - 400 line items with plenty of milestone's, snapshots and places for rollback if necessary.  I've built up a range of tools for doing these installs that help me document everything as I go along.

I've also been doing Connections installs for companies from 500 people and up.  I am enjoying a deployment we are doing aimed at 35k users and eventually integrating Sametime, iNotes, Notes and potentially Quickr. Until Connections 3.0.1 I was reluctant to deploy for customers, the install was simply to complicated and the administrative and management overhead too much to expect from most customers.  I'm not a big fan of the "there you go it's working, it's your problem now" school of consultancy and I don't like to leave customers with a bigger support stack than I left.  Connections 3.0.1 is significantly easier to install, support and maintain. It still has a lot of administrative challenges but mostly during the pilot and customisation stages.  Once it's in production and in active use the support overhead is quite low.

Right now my challenge is nothing to do with the Connections components which are working fine but in migrating data from one database server type to another, a process documented in the Connections wiki and "kind of" supported (the documentation is old but we were told "it should work").  That's a big hump for us right now and we have a PMR open looking at it.  There's a small chance we'll end up at the "you choose your database server and you're stuck with it" answer and that wouldn't be good either for the customer or for Connections itself.

I've also been doing a lot of Domino Healthchecks either focussing on security or on performance of either mail or applications.  One of the pleasures of doing a Healthcheck is being able to deliver the final report. It's usually followed by the customer breathing out a sigh of relief and saying 'oh well that's not as bad as I feared". Most times it's not.  Very occasionally it's worse :-)

So the next few months is mostly Sametime and Connections installs and hopefully when it ships, some Traveler High Availability work.  HA has been in a beta for more than a few weeks and I have customers very keen to get some extra resilience behind their Traveler servers as quickly as possible.  Next week I'm presenting at AdminCamp in Gelsenkirchen on Domino mail databases, servers and performance and at Social Connections in Dublin on building a training plan for your IT team deploying Connections.  

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