Random thoughts from an unusual company

Sametime 8.5 - Should You Wait and Other Burning Questions?

Gabriella Davis  23 December 2009 10:33:48
As most of you know by now, Sametime 8.5 and all its new components shipped yesterday.  In summary Sametime 8.5 offers you:
  • Community  Server on a Domino platform (supported for Domino 8.5 but otherwise little changed from ST8.0.2)
  • Meeting Server on WAS 7.0 (replaces existing Domino based scheduled meetings with persistent, always available, meeting 'spaces')
  • Media Server on WAS 7.0 (audio and video services for the Meeting Server)
  • Proxy Server on WAS 7.0 (no download Ajax browser client for IM, customisable / brandable via CSS)
The whole environment is then managed by the Sametime System Console on WAS 7.0.  

I thought a few answers to questions that people were asking me yesterday might be useful so:

1.        Should I  upgrade my current Sametime IM?
You don't have to install Sametime 8.5 for IM if you are only running your limited use entitlement.  The biggest thing it gives you is support for Domino 8.5 as a backend as currently Sametime 8.0.2 isn't supported on the Domino 8.5x codestream (that's not to say it won't work, just that IBM won't support it). In terms of features there's little reason to upgrade.

2.        Should I upgrade to fix bug x or feature y?
There aren't many bug fixes in Sametime 8.5 (Community Server) that aren't in Sametime 8.0.2.  However, according to this support statement by IBM yesterday, 8.0.2 will be the LAST release in the 8.0x codestream (barring fixpacks for 8.0.2). There will be no 8.0.3 as you are now expected to migrate to the 8.5x codestream.  At some point you need to install Sametime 8.5 because you need to upgrade to Domino 8.5x.

3.        Do I have to use Websphere?
If you want to use the new Meeting Server, Media Server or Proxy Server then yes you do.  However, the Sametime 8.5 Community Server ships with the old style 'classic' Domino based Meeting Centre which hasn't been updated for years.  This is for backwards compatibility and to support customers who have scheduled out meetings into the future and can't just cutover.

4.        What are the implications for the Client Installs?
There is a new Sametime 8.5 Connect client as well as an update you can run for Notes to change the embedded Sametime version from 8.0.2 to 8.5.  Both of these are to take advantage of the new Meeting Server and Media Server (there is a plugin for those features that only installs under the 8.5 client).  There is no reason, if you are just using IM, why you can't continue using older clients, which will be compatible with the new Community Server.
5.        How many servers do I need?
For Community Services on Domino you need 1 server connecting to an LDAP source (or -shhh- acting as its own LDAP source).
For the remaining servers it does depend what you want to run and how big your organisation is but you can certainly run all the WAS components (Media Server, Meeting Server, Proxy Server and System Console) on one box.  One big box (fast quad processors and 4GB+ RAM for even a low number of users).

6.        What's the coexistence like with my current install?
There has been a lot of work done to ensure the new Sametime install can co-exist with your existing environment.  The Community Server will integrate with your existing Domino and Sametime servers as well as your existing Domino-based Meeting Servers, acting in a shared community with them, clustering with them and sitting behind an older MUX if necessary.  Similarly, old connect clients will be able to connect to Sametime 8.5 and the buddy list data format hasn't changed from 8.0.2.  The new meeting server however uses an entirely different paradigm to the current Domino based meeting server and sits outside that environment.  If you want users to work with the new Meeting Server and create meetings you will either have to rollout the Sametime 8.5 Connect client, upgrade the embedded Sametime client under Notes (and the mail template) or instruct them to use the browser interface for creating and attending meetings.

7.        So why not just use the browser for attending meetings?
The browser interface for the new meeting server is a radically reduced user experience compared to the new rich client used for meetings by Sametime Connect or Sametime Embedded.  Features like audio, meeting recording  and screen sharing / remote control aren't available at all currently and it's really an option for those attending / watching a meeting rather than those running a meeting.

8.        What's the install like if you've never worked with WAS before?
Well it's going to be a shock for many Domino admins but some preparation work and carefully following the install instructions will make it fairly pain free.  Be patient, it will take the best part of a day to get all the components installed and tested so don't give yourself less time and get frustrated.  Yes, many people will do it quicker depending on their hardware and their willingness to rush and not test everything after each step but give yourself plenty of time.

9.        What's Critical To Bear In Mind Before Installing?
  • You can't easily 'do over' a step without uninstalling completely so if you're installing in a VM take snapshots along the way.  
  • Read the documentation and set up/test your infrastructure before hand, such as your LDAP server, the credentials needed to access it, your DNS/hostname for the new server, the admin account for the Domino server, the DB2 server location (it not local) and connectivity to it etc.  Very little of this can be changed once installed and configured.
  • Make sure you have the disk space to extract files and complete the install - 30GB+ is good.
  • Don't take the default install path of c:\program files\ibm\ .. etc but remove the \program files\ element and install directly under \IBM.  
  • Be careful naming your server.  The DB2 install and the Cell profiles created for WAS will take that server name and create directories to store configuration files in it.  If the name is very long your directory path may reach the maximum length under Windows.  Oh and you're going to have to type it.  A lot.
  • Don't be tempted to go digging into the other WAS menu items in the System Console.  All the configuration options you need for a standard Sametime install are there under the Sametime System Console plugin.  Editing the LDAP settings under WAS security won't update the Sametime files you need.
  • If you upgrade your Domino server to Sametime 8.5 then later install the System Console and Meeting Server etc, you will need to re-upgrade your Domino server to connect it into the System Console you have now installed.  It's not a huge thing to do but the System Console needs to be aware that the Community  Server is out there or none of the other components can use it.

So those are the main questions that came up yesterday.  I'm sure there are many more.  For those of you coming to Lotusphere 2010, I have a presentation in the Best Practices track entitled "How Do I Get There From Here? The Route To Sametime 8.5" (BP116). It's on Tuesday at 10am at Dolphin Southern Hemisphere III and I hope to see you there. We'll go through each component in detail, how they connect together and what you need to do to upgrade.