IBM Connect 2017 In Review from Afar

This is the first time in 15 years that I have not attended the Lotusphere/Connect conference.  Increased costs for vendors, moving the venue to the west coast and a heavy focus on Watson in pre-event marketing were the basis of that decision.

So this review is not first hand, rather it is an opinion of the event based on feedback from my network.  I belong to several groups in the Lotus community, and these groups have quite active chat rooms, which provided some interesting insight.

Let me start with Ed Brill’s recent posting recapping Connect 2017.  In his posting he says that IBM made it “a priority to emphasize our commitment to IBM Domino as an application and mail platform.” He said that they have “announced a number of initiatives to provide clear examples of the value both IBM and our clients place on having a confident direction for the product and its roadmap”.  These included:

  • Extended Support
  • Feature Packs
  • Verse On-Premises
  • Application Analysis
  • API’s
  • Application Refresh (aka Modernization)

Lets look at each of these.  Extended support refers to support for Notes and Domino to at least 2021. Notes 9.01 was released in April of 2013, and as it was categorized in their life cycle policy as “enhanced” meant that it had a commitment of 5 years of support, with additional support available for a cost over the annual support fee.  That would take it to 2018.  IBM announced in September of 2016 that support has been extended to 2021, with additional support, for a fee, to 2024.  There was nothing new announced at Connect in this regard.

It could be argued that this is perhaps less of a commitment than more. Lets take a look at the math.  If in 2013 IBM was committing to support Notes and Domino ver 9.01 for 5 years, that would mean it was supported up to April of 2018.  If, when that end date was near, they extended it another 5 years the product would be supported into 2023.  By extending the support in September of 2016, they committed to support until at least 2021.  They are actually committing to a shorter window of time than if they renewed support closer to the end date of the previous period. Is that how the process typically works?  I tried to find out what was normal in terms of when they renewed support and I could not.  The reason is that it has never really been an issue before. Nobody really paid attention to the date for renewal of support in the past.  This time around was unique and created by the concern in the community about the future of the product.

Ed then addressed the new feature packs, which is a continuous delivery model that he explains is “more modern” than the older method of releasing a new version. Yet there was a lot of talk at Connect 2017 about Connections version 6.  It seems Connections is not using the more modern continuous delivery approach, at least not yet.  I still think that IBM is cutting costs when it comes to Notes and Domino, using the spin of “more modern” Feature Packs so they do not have to go to the expense related to the process required to release a new version.  Java 8 support in the latest feature pack is great, but keep in mind it was promised years ago and only just materialized.

Verse on premises shipped in December of 2016 and was once again highlighted at Connect 2017.  I think the announcement of a new browser based mail offering, coupled with the release of a new Notes client offering (ICAA) that allows customers to access Notes client based applications, suggests that perhaps the future of the Notes client is uncertain. I would not be surprised to see an announcement prior to 2018 that the Notes client will not be available for purchase.  That is just an opinion.  There has been no press released from IBM to support that.

The Rest API’s being available to Notes and Domino is definitely a good thing. Most other platforms have it, and have had it for some time now. This will allow better integration between Notes applications and other systems.  I heard some feedback that there is a feeling XPAGES is not going to see a lot of attention moving forward.  That has a lot of technical folks, especially those who invested a lot of time learning the technology, concerned. It really depends on whose report from Connect 2017 you read.  Some argue XPAGES is alive and well, others do not.

Prior to the event Ed indicated there would be a significant announcement around modernization of Notes and Domino based applications.  The big announcement seemed to be “contact a partner”.  IBM had Sopho do a demo of their application, and how it could surface Domino data.  He mentioned other product offerings, but not all of the ones available.  Sopho was a bit of a surprise, but in retrospect maybe it should not be considering IBM’s focus on social.  Sapho is not modernizing applications as much as scraping data and packaging it in a social media stream.  I personally thought IBM had something significant up their sleeve.  Notes and Domino is often classed as legacy, and could have really used a modernization face lift. I am not sure Sopho is going to help much. Here is an article that shares that opinion.

In addition Ed said for Notes and Domino application analysis customers with active M&S could obtain a free copy of the tool created by Panagenda. I cannot recall in the past where IBM showcased one partner product over another to such a degree. There are several loyal Notes and Domino vendors with similar offerings in terms of analysis tools, and to encourage one over another in my opinion is an unusual move for IBM.

Talking to partners who did attend the conference I hear that the vibe was good. Much more positive than last year. However, San Francisco as a venue received a lot of negative comments.  Over the years the gap between rich and poor has widened, and it was obvious at a glance. Also the venue did not have the same facilities as the Disney complex in Orlando.  It was not possible for the majority of the attendees to stay in the same hotel, as was the case in 2016, so the feeling of community suffered.

In my opinion, the debate about Notes and Domino being a priority for IBM is old news.  Anyone who has been involved in the “Lotus” community over the years knows what is going on.  The LUGS, formerly known as the Lotus User Groups, are now all sponsored by IBM.  They use these as a forum to market new products and technology to the Notes community. There is a lot of focus on new products, and Notes and Domino is definitely not new.

Is Notes going away in the next couple of years?  It would not surprise me in the least to hear the full client has been pulled from sales. Same for Domino Designer.  In my opinion, Domino, the server component, is not likely to disappear anytime soon.





  1. Rupert Clayton April 4, 2017 at 3:37 pm

    Thanks for your recap. I’m not going to delve into the “future of Notes/Domino” issues you raise, but as San Francisco is my home town I would like to chime in on the negative perception of the city that you got from other attendees. I should acknowledge that there’s no guarantee that there will be another standalone IBM Connect conference — we may well see it rolled into World of Watson or another IBM mega-conference in 2018.

    You picked up on negative comments around “the gap between rich and poor” (which I assume means San Francisco’s visible homeless population), a lack of facilities at the Moscone Center, and the need to spread attendees across multiple hotels.

    Unsurprisingly, many visitors to San Francisco notice how many homeless people on the streets. The causes are many, but they include:

    * The lack of a functioning social welfare system in the US (healthcare, mental health services, addiction treatment, job training and housing assistance)
    * Displacement of existing Bay Area residents caused by the super-high cost of housing
    * The draw of “travelers” to San Francisco’s mystique and it’s mild climate
    * The proximity of the Moscone Center and Union Square to the SOMA and Tenderloin neighborhoods where most single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels are located
    * And the unwillingness of our local politicians to expend political capital to make a permanent difference (through local solutions to the welfare issues mentioned above).

    Oh, and the 2008 recession didn’t help much either.

    Visitors’ reactions to our “homeless problem” tend to vary quite a bit, with a lot of European visitors astounded that there aren’t more effective services for these people, whereas many Americans from elsewhere in the country are surprised that the city doesn’t “clear these bums off the street.”

    San Francisco doesn’t have the power alone to change most of the factors causing homelessness, as things like healthcare are largely decided at the state and federal level. But we sure could use the assistance of conference delegates to push for real solutions to these problems. Sadly, our mayor, Ed Lee, has generally taken the approach of “sweeping” homeless people out of visitor areas (as he did with Superbowl 50.) I would be saddened if the Lotus community said: “Let’s go back to having our conference in an entirely artificial environment carved out of a Florida swamp so that we can avoid having to interact with the complex reality of a real city.” Of course, if IBM Connect gets subsumed into one of the megaconferences, then this may be a moot point as we’ll just move to having our conference in an entirely artificial environment carved out of a Nevada desert.

    As to the facilities at Moscone West, attendees may be interested to know that there’s a major expansion program under way for the Moscone Center, which should give it the ability to hold larger conferences (not really an issue for IBM Connect), but also more flexibility. I’d be interested to know what facilities people felt were lacking.

    The accommodation issue could likely be resolved with better planning. At LotusSphere, attendees were often spread out among five or six hotels. Sure, many people have fond memories of wandering down to the bar in the Dolphin to catch up with friends, but the reality for many attendees was sitting taking the shuttle at least twice a day between the conference and one of several sprawling vacation resort hotels.

    IBM Connect in SF could likely concentrate most attendees in a half-dozen hotels, although rates are certainly not going to get as low as the Disney Port Orleans. And anyone who has attended one of IBM’s Las Vegas conferences knows that attendees are spread all over. In general, the only way to get the whole conference and all the attendees in the same hotel is to make it really small, which is probably not what we should be aiming for.

  2. Gary April 4, 2017 at 4:50 pm

    Thanks for the feedback. Sigh. I was geared up for a feisty conversation about the future of Notes and Domino.

  3. Rupert Clayton April 4, 2017 at 9:45 pm

    I’m a little tired of those future-of-Notes-and-Domino conversations, but let’s give it a try. 🙂

    I’m not a developer, but I do feel that Domino has a long-term future. It has enough advantageous features (noSQL database, data and design in a single file, distributed architecture with field-level replication, rapid prototyping) that there are many real-world scenarios where a centralized SQL architecture just can’t compete.

    That said, the real Notes heyday in the late 1990s and early 2000s was a time before cloud services and the API economy, which is likely why so many companies were willing to have a developer code their business processes into a series of Domino databases (aka applications). It’s not that Domino can’t function within the new cloud paradigm, but there are readily available apps for most corporate requirements. Therefore the need for custom code has been dramatically reduced, and that’s a good thing for most companies.

    As we move to a primarily cloud-based environment (at least for business productivity), it’s Verse vs O365 vs Google, and installed client software has little relevance. The Notes client is a fantastic thing, but I have trouble seeing enough demand for it to justify any significant engineering spend.

    Quite possibly, we’ll see the Notes client development focus shift primarily to security fixes. That may become a challenge over time. IBM has not always been quick to move to the most current security practice (e.g. TLS 1.2 added in April 2015, six months after the disclosure of the Poodle vulnerability and nearly seven years after RFC 5246 was released). I’m concerned that some future vulnerability will put IBM in the position of committing to lots of development time vs. announcing end-of-support for the Notes client.

    Outside of the Notes/Domino space, I felt that the IBM/Cisco initiative (plug and play with IBM Connections Cloud, Verse, Spark and WebEx) shows a lot of promise on the technical side and its nice to see the two companies working together more productively than in the past. That said, I feel that the threat from Microsoft and Google in the collaboration space is less about technical competence and more about familiarity and marketing. If Cisco and IBM were to choose a joint brand name for cloud collaboration and both go to market with this, they would achieve more market awareness than they currently have (especially on IBM’s side).

    Watson Work Services and Watson Workspace are both intriguing. The more IBM can bring cognitive computing to bear on everyday tasks (and the quicker this reaches production), the better chance they’ll have to build a new base of customers actively choosing their collaboration solutions. There’s still an unresolved tension here: How much is IBM willing to support other vendors’ group messaging products? The basic functionality of Slack, Cisco Spark, O365 Groups and Watson Workspace is very much the same. Watson Workspace adds automatic summaries called “Moments” that are created via a Watson API. But will this be enough to differentiate it?

    In the meantime, IBM is also supporting Verse and Connections Cloud integration with Cisco Spark. This is not a bad move, both because Spark has additional real-time collab functionality, and because Cisco-focused customers may not want to switch. But then the IBM CIO’s office is a launch customer for Slack Enterprise Grid. This doesn’t seem well thought out.

    Hope that was feisty enough for you!

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