Connections Futures – IBM Connect Review #3

We interrupt this blog to apologise. Usually I like to sanity check my statements before publishing them but 80%+ of presentations from IBM Connect are missing online. That means my notes are all I have right now.

So let’s talk about IBM Connections and where it’s going.  You’ve probably heard references to Connections 6 as well as Connections Pink maybe Muse or Livegrid so let’s try and clear some of that stuff up.

First Connections 6 will be shipping in Q2 (tbc) and will be an upgrade from Connections 5.5 (possibly 5.x). It will have the same architecture as existing Connections and that means WebSphere, DB2/SQL/Oracle ,TDI etc.  There are some much needed new features in Connections 6 like the ability to customise as well as copy Communities. It will also ship with the first component of Connections Pink in Orient Me which will be an optional service offering an intelligent newspaper like homepage that customises itself for each person and their activities / interests.

To get to Connections Pink you’ll first need to be on Connections 6 so let’s talk about Pink and what it is.

To quote IBM Pink “is a Vision, not a Release”.  It is the future of Connections reconceived from the ground up.  There are several principles behind that Vision

  1. Currently there are multiple code streams for Connections depending on whether you are in the cloud or on premises.  There will be a single code stream
  2. Websphere will be gone
  3. Everything will be delivered as a microservice inside a docker container
  4. DB2/SQL/Oracle will be gone and replaced by MongoDB
  5. You will be able to choose the location of data for each service/component so if you want your Activities data in the cloud but your profiles on premises you can have that
  6. Every service / component will have a published API
  7. You will be able to develop your own extensions and publish them to your own github repository to deploy

There’s a lot more but essentially the ties to the legacy IBM architecture are gone. The keywords (as far as I could tell) are customisable,  flexible and developer focused. If you’re an admin then things should get much easier as you’ll be deploying services that are prebuilt inside docker containers and can automatically pick up updates directly from IBM as you would any other online software update.

So let’s take a brief timeout and discuss docker.  If you’re a developer you probably already know and maybe use docker but as an admin, especially one managing production environments it’s likely you haven’t come across it.  A docker container can be deployed anywhere as inside it are both the software code and application and the operating system needed to run it.  In theory simply starting a docker container will enable you to run the application inside it without ever having installed anything.  As you can imagine that’s a very tempting idea for Connections where we have 14+ individual applications that could then each be run inside their own individual docker containers.  Now that seems simple but as admins we will still have to understand docker behaviour, networking, container to container communications and so on.  It does mean however that add / removing / upating services becomes a simpler task.

One of the important goals of Pink is that there is to be no migration effort  from Connections 6 to Pink.  As they are doing with Orient Me, IBM will gradually introduce Pink elements into the existing Connections architecture and those elements will read data from the legacy components into their new Pink components so that at some time in the future it’s all Pink.  I stole this chart from Maureen Leland’s presentation and there are three important things to note from it.

  1. Yes those are a lot of scary looking technologies
  2. No you do not and will not need to learn or understand any of them. That entire middleware layer will be invisible to you
  3. The takeway from the diagram is that the Connections cloud code (Green) and the Connections blue code (on premises) will seemlessly transition to the Connections Pink code without you touching a thing.  Like magic.

screen-shot-2017-02-28-at-22-04-00

The other feature I want to talk about is the Muse Proxy.  Overlaid on top of Connections it will allow us to customise our Connections UI.  If you want to add a button on screen or  javascript action somewhere one doesn’t exist, you can do that using Muse and without touching the docker containers that have the services in them.  Think of it like a really powerful stylesheet (well I’m an admin so that’s how i’m going to think of it).  Now imagine your docker containers continue to update with the latest code but your configuration settings via your Muse proxy don’t change. We can separate the customisation elements from the service elements.

So I could type pages more on this and I will in future blogs when I want to talk about all of the technologies that you should not need to learn but want to be aware of.  Livegrid for instance is a new development platform for Connections and that gets a blog all of its own. The good news here is that IBM are dismissing the more lumbering dated and complex technologies and trying to replace them with architecture designed as if they were a new startup with all the technologies in the world to choose from and not just ones branded IBM.  It’s a big vision thing and I hope they can pull it off.

To quote Jason Roy Gary the Director of Software Development for IBM Connections

“We don’t want to develop software for you, we want to develop it with you”

– I applaud both the intent and the HUGE effort being put in.  As partners and customers we will do what we can to contribute to that end goal.

So to summarise, you need to get ready for Connections 6 not just for its new features (of which the Community customisations would be worth the upgrade alone) but because you will get the first Pink service (Orient Me) and have everything in place for the Pink updates and services as they arrive.  Connections 6 should be the last whole system upgrade you need to do.(that’s me saying that not IBM) šŸ™‚