Monthly Archives: April 2012

To the Cloud and Beyond….

As some of you may know, Virginia Commonwealth University (my employer) has been undergoing a request for proposal process for a new cloud collaboration system.  After several months of vendor interviews, demos, and contract negotiations, the purchasing committee has chosen Google Apps for Education.

VCU has been running Lotus Notes/Domino since 1996.  Sixteen years.  That’s a long time in the IT world.  In the course of that time I’ve been the lead architect, engineer, administrator and sometimes developer.   Our first Lotus Notes installation was Notes 4.0.  In the last sixteen years, we’ve implemented various products including Lotus Notes, Sametime, Domino Everyplace, LearningSpace, Quickr, Domino.Doc, and Lotus Notes Traveler, and at one time we had more than 60 Domino servers.

So why switch systems now?  In 2009 we moved our 32,000 students from iNotes to Google Apps for Education.  And since 2009 I’ve been the lead on the Google Apps project as well.  The move was seamless and allowed us to provide more disk space for student email storage, spend less time supporting email-related issues for students, and improved service and end-user satisfaction.  Students are also able to maintain their VCU accounts after graduation – a feature we had not been able to provide on-premises due to resource constraints.  We also created a Google domain for alumni that has been very successful.

It was therefore logical for the university to begin looking at cloud collaboration for faculty and staff.  Faculty usage of email is quite different from that of students.  In fact, faculty use email as if it were instant messaging.  It is not uncommon in our environment for one user to have more than 100,000 emails in their Notes database.  Faculty also use email as file storage – allowing them to retain documents and commentary about their ongoing research projects.  So email is not only transactional in nature, it is historical in its relevance as well.  Considering the resources that are required to maintain the ever-growing storage pool, as well as to provide increased availability, moving to a cloud solution made more and more sense.

Has Lotus Notes/Domino been successful at VCU?  In my opinion, yes (of course I might be somewhat biased).  But in the course of sixteen years, we standardized on one email system, we transitioned users from desktops to web to mobile - our users loved Lotus Notes Traveler!  We built work-flow apps that are still in use today after their initial design in 1998.

Will Lotus Notes/Domino still have a place at VCU?  Yes.  We will of course maintain our current email system during the transition and migration to Google.  We will continue to have a smaller Domino implementation as we transition apps to XPages and beyond.

How do I feel as a “Domino Administrator” being told to prepare to move to another system?  I’m dragging my heels a tiny bit.  After all, this has been part of my work environment for sixteen years.   But I also realize that this is a huge opportunity for growth and learning.  I’ll still have a few Domino servers around to upgrade, and I will be the lead on XPages development work.  And as any administrator who has been through a migration project knows, there are always a few problems just around the corner to resolve.  So while the servers may be going away, the challenges won’t be!

I’m also fortunate to work with a great group of individuals, and the university is embracing the change on all levels.  As we move forward I hope to blog about our experiences during the transition to the cloud and my role as an XPages developer.