Life After The Notes Client

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Lotus Notes recently turned 25. Sadly its best years are now behind it. IBM has chosen to invest in other areas such as Connections, Bluemix, and Verse. The effects of this change in focus by IBM are now obvious. In 2015 the Notes client is delivering an aging portfolio of applications in an outdated UI using programming languages that have not changed for over 10 years. We have now reached a tipping point where more organizations are looking elsewhere than wanting to continue to invest in the Notes platform.

Let’s be clear…. Notes is not dead yet! There are still an estimated 50,000 companies running a total of 10 million applications. Few platforms can boast these numbers. With 50 billion lines of (largely) proprietary code integrated into these applications it is difficult to see the application landscape changing quickly.

The challenge facing many IT departments is that when the request comes from the CEO or CIO to “get rid of Notes” it sounds like a relatively simple request but in reality it is anything but. There is no magic button available to quickly and cost-effectively transform Notes applications to something else.

Traditional approaches to application modernization simply do not scale to the large numbers typically associated with the Notes platform. The cost to replace Notes applications averages $20,000 per application. A company with 1,000 Notes applications is looking at a $20 million project that would take keep a team of 10 developers busy for 10 years.

Red Pill Development was founded on the belief that a new way must be found to solve this problem — Asymmetric Modernization. This approach cuts the cost of migrating a portfolio of 1,000 Notes applications from $20 million to $1.7 million. Such a dramatic change in the cost structure of a platform migration is seen as essential to change the market dynamics. The alternative for many organizations is not spending $20,000 per application but to do nothing at all.

That is not where the migration math ends… If we do not learn from the issues created by the success of Notes we are destined to repeat them every time something outdates our current platform.

Consider a platform migration from Notes to XPages or SharePoint. When completed we will have spent $20,000 (XPages) or $25,000 (SharePoint) per application migrating 5,000 lines of proprietary code from one platform into the proprietary code of the new platform. Proprietary platforms such as Pages and SharePoint are only supported as long as it makes financial sense for their owners to do so. Because it is proprietary code, in ten years time we will probably be spending another $20,000 doing another migration. To avoid this we must change the way our current applications are structured.

Data

Computers and storage have gotten faster and cheaper over the past 25 years and few Notes databases have major performance issues. The Notes storage facility (NSF) is an example of non-SQL databases that are gaining a lot of interest in recent years. If a services (SOAP or REST) API is employed the underlying data store becomes largely irrelevant. Changing the data format adds around $5,000 to the migration costs, delivers little incremental business value and adds significant risk to the project. To do so without good cause is just not good business economics.

Business Logic

Very few of the 10 million Notes applications are designed with an n-tier architecture. It is difficult to isolate the business logic from the UI in Forms and Views. We must also deal with the fact that the logic is written using LotusScript and @Formula, proprietary languages unique to Notes.

There are few short-term fixes for this problem. One approach is to move the existing code to agents, which can then be triggered directly (e..g. XPages) or via REST calls. This works well for backend logic but not when UI is involved.

Another strategy is to keep the existing functionality in the Notes applications and only migrate the logic to another language such as Java as demanded by users of the application. This approach may lead to as much as 80% of the old business logic being left behind but requires that the data be retained in an NSF.

Perhaps the biggest gains can come from separating core capabilities from application specific functionality. The ability to quickly add new core capabilities is vital to keeping a portfolio of applications modern. One of the reasons so many Notes applications have become “old” is the cost of adding new features to each and every application one at a time. Imagine the impact of being able to add social capabilities found in products like Connections such as File Sharing, Discussion Threads, Liking, and Activity Streams to ALL existing Notes applications in an asymmetric style.

Presentation

The presentation layer is by far the most dynamic. In recent years we have seen the emergence of responsive web design and the need to deploy applications to mobile devices. And soon it will be wearables and the Internet of Things. Today Bootstrap, Angular, and Swift are the rage. Who knows what tomorrow will bring. By separating out the Data and Business logic from the Presentation Layer it becomes possible to move from one presentation platform to another without the need to replace the entire application. And as Red Pill has demonstrated with repill Now, it is even possible to build a single generic presentation portal for all your Notes databases.

Building For Tomorrow.

Whether you chose to invest $20,000 per application for the traditional approach or the $1,700 for the asymmetric approach, getting rid of Notes will trigger large projects inside many IT departments. What is the outcome that you want for the new series of applications that replace the Notes client? If I was a consultant I would probably like to see another $20 million project in ten years time! If I were a shareholder I would probably prefer an extra $20 million in dividends being paid out from retained earnings…

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Peter Presnell
Peter Presnell
CEO at Red Pill NOW. Strategist, technologist, blogger, presenter, and IBM Champion 2011/12. For years many companies have invested heavily in the Notes/Domino platform and I see my role as helping to find paths forward for that investment.

5 Comments

  1. sean cull says:

    Peter, I have read the article and looked at the slides. I still don’t understand what the asymmetric approach is.

    I am trying to relate this to my experience where organisations have many custom apps ( as opposed to standard templates such as the team room ).

    Thanks, Sean

    • Peter Presnell says:

      Hi Sean. The purpose of the article and slides was not to explain the Asymmetric approach but rather to explain the all important math that makes it a compelling alternative to the traditional way of modernizing applications. We have posted other articles and presentations that explain the Asymmetric process. I will try and get some links for you.

  2. I do not get the picture either (nice graphics though).
    Nothing wrong with saving some bucks by not having to deploy and maintain a (Notes) client.

    what do you mean with slide 29: applications do not exist. data does. In notes application = data + ui + business logic + (sum of all things forgotten).

    • Peter Presnell says:

      Hi Patrick… What I mean is that before IT came along there was no such thing as applications. We just had a series of integrated business process (some integrated better than others)… Because IT could not automate an entire business process at once it broke the process down into bits and automated each bit calling them applications. The end results is a lot of data silos holding the output from those processes and business logic that holds the rules for processing that data. At the end of the day a person really needs access to the data they wish to work with and the ability to invoke business logic against that data as needed. The presence of applications just makes it confusing for them to decide where they just go to get these things. Technology has now reached the point where we should be able to present a single interface to provide for all their needs that draws from the components we have created (data and business logic). I would argue we don’t need applications any more…

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