Domino – Exchange On Premises Migration Pt2: Wrestling the Outlook Client

In part 1 of my blog about Exchange on premises migration from Domino I talked about the challenges of working with Exchange for someone who is used to working with Domino.  If only that were all of it but now I want to talk about the issues around Outlook and other Exchange client options that require those of us used to working with Domino to change our thinking.

In Domino we are used to a mail file being on the server and regardless of whether we used Notes or a browser to see that client, the data is the same.  Unless we are using a local replica, but the use of that is very clear when we are in the database as it visibly shows “on Local” vs the server name.

We can also easily swap between the local and server replicas and even have both open at the same time.

In Outlook you only have the option to open a mailbox in either online or cached mode.

So let’s talk about cached mode because that’s the root of our migration pains. You must have a mail profile defined in Windows in order to run Outlook. The default setting for an Outlook profile is “cached mode” and that’s not very visible to the users. The screenshot below is what the status bar shows when you are accessing Outlook in cached mode.

connectedtoexchange

In cached mode there is a local OST file that syncs with your online Exchange mailbox.  It’s not something you can access or open outside of Outlook.

datafiles

Outlook will always use cached mode unless you modify the settings of the data file or the account to disable it.

cachedsettings

As you can see from the configuration settings below, a cached OST file is not the same as a local replica and it’s not designed to be.   The purpose of the cached mail is to make Outlook more efficient by not having everything accessed on the server.

cachedoffline

Why does this matter during a migration?  Most migration tools can claim to be able to migrate directly to the server mailboxes but in practice the speed of that migration is often unworkably slow.  If that can be achieved it’s by far the most efficient but Exchange has its own default configuration settings that work against you doing that including throttling of activity and filtering / scanning of messages.   Many / most migration tools do not expect to migrate “all data and attachments” which is what we are often asked to do.  If what we are aiming for is 100% data parity between a Domino mail file and an Exchange mailbox then migrating that 5GB, 10GB, 30GB volume directly to the server isn’t an option.  In addition if a migration partially runs to the server and then fails it’s almost impossible to backfill the missing data with incremental updates.  I have worked with several migration tools testing this and just didn’t have confidence in the data population directly on the server.

In sites where I have done migrations to on premises servers I’ve often found the speed of migration to the server mailbox on the same network makes migration impossible so instead I’ve migrated to a local OST file.  The difference between migrating a 10GB file to a local OST (about an hour) vs directly to Exchange (about 2.5 days) is painfully obvious. Putting more resources onto the migration machine didn’t significantly reduce the time and in fact each tool either crashed (running as a Domino task) or crashed (running as a Windows desktop task) when trying to write directly to Exchange.

An hour or two to migrate a Domino mail file to a local workstation OST isn’t bad though right?  That’s not bad at all, and if you open Outlook you will see all the messages, folders, calendar entries, etc, all displaying.  However that’s because you’re looking at cached mode. You’re literally looking at the data you just migrated.  Create a profile for the same user on another machine and the mail file will be empty because at this point there is no data in Exchange, only in the local OST.  Another thing to be aware of is that there is no equivalent of an All Documents view in Outlook so make sure your migration tool knows how to migrate unfoldered messages and your users know where to find them in their new mailbox.

Now to my next struggle.  Outlook will sync that data to Exchange.  It will take between 1 and 3 days to do so.  I have tried several tools to speed up the syncing and I would advise you not to bother.  The methods they use to populate the Exchange mailbox from a local OST file sidestep much of the standard Outlook sync behaviours meaning information is often missing or, in one case, it sent out calendar invites for every calendar entry it pushed to Exchange.  I tried five of those tools and none worked 100%. The risk of missing data or sending out duplicate calendar entries/emails was too high.  I opted in the end to stick with Outlook syncing.  Unlike Notes replication I can only sync one OST / Outlook mailbox at a time so it’s slow going unless I have multiple client machines. What is nice is that I can do incremental updates quickly once the initial multi-GB mailbox has synced to Exchange.

So my wrestling with the Outlook client boils down to

  • Create mail profiles that use cached mode
  • Migrate to a local OST
  • Use Outlook to sync that to Exchange
  • Pay attention to Outlook limits, like a maximum of 500 folders*
  • Be Patient

*On Domino mailboxes we migrated that pushed up against the folder or item limits we found Outlook would run out of system memory repeatedly when trying to sync.

One good way to test whether the Exchange data matches the Domino data is to use Outlook Web Access as that is accessing data directly on the Exchange server.  Except that’s not as identical to the server data as we are used to seeing with Verse or iNotes.  In fact OWA too decides to show you through a browser what it thinks you most need to see versus everything that’s there.  Often folders will claim to be empty and that there is no data when in fact that data is there but hasn’t been refreshed by Exchange (think Updall).  There are few things more scary in OWA than an empty folder and a link suggesting you refresh from the server.  It just doesn’t instill confidence in the user experience.

Finally we have Outlook mobile or even using the native iOS mail application.  That wasn’t a separate configuration and unless you configure Exchange otherwise the default is that mobile access will be granted to everyone.   In one instance a couple of weeks ago, mobile access suddenly stopped working for all users who hadn’t already set up their devices.  When they tried to log in they got invalid name or password.  I eventually tracked that down to a Windows update that had changed permissions in Active Directory that Exchange needed set.  You can see reference to the issue here, and slightly differently here, although note it seems to have been an issue since Exchange 2010 and still with Exchange 2016.  I was surprised it was broken by a Windows update but it was.

I know (and have used) many workarounds for the issues I run into but that’s not for here.  Coming from a Domino and Notes background I believe we’ve been conditioned to think in a certain way about mailfile structure, server performance, local data, and the user experience, and expecting to duplicate that exactly is always going to be troublesome.

#DominoForever

 

 

 

 

 

 

Domino – Exchange On Premises Migration Pt2: Wrestling the Outlook Client

In part 1 of my blog about Exchange on premises migration from Domino I talked about the challenges of working with Exchange for someone who is used to working with Domino.  If only that were all of it but now I want to talk about the issues around Outlook and other Exchange client options that require those of us used to working with Domino to change our thinking.

In Domino we are used to a mail file being on the server and regardless of whether we used Notes or a browser to see that client, the data is the same.  Unless we are using a local replica, but the use of that is very clear when we are in the database as it visibly shows “on Local” vs the server name.

We can also easily swap between the local and server replicas and even have both open at the same time.

In Outlook you only have the option to open a mailbox in either online or cached mode.

So let’s talk about cached mode because that’s the root of our migration pains. You must have a mail profile defined in Windows in order to run Outlook. The default setting for an Outlook profile is “cached mode” and that’s not very visible to the users. The screenshot below is what the status bar shows when you are accessing Outlook in cached mode.

connectedtoexchange

In cached mode there is a local OST file that syncs with your online Exchange mailbox.  It’s not something you can access or open outside of Outlook.

datafiles

Outlook will always use cached mode unless you modify the settings of the data file or the account to disable it.

cachedsettings

As you can see from the configuration settings below, a cached OST file is not the same as a local replica and it’s not designed to be.   The purpose of the cached mail is to make Outlook more efficient by not having everything accessed on the server.

cachedoffline

Why does this matter during a migration?  Most migration tools can claim to be able to migrate directly to the server mailboxes but in practice the speed of that migration is often unworkably slow.  If that can be achieved it’s by far the most efficient but Exchange has its own default configuration settings that work against you doing that including throttling of activity and filtering / scanning of messages.   Many / most migration tools do not expect to migrate “all data and attachments” which is what we are often asked to do.  If what we are aiming for is 100% data parity between a Domino mail file and an Exchange mailbox then migrating that 5GB, 10GB, 30GB volume directly to the server isn’t an option.  In addition if a migration partially runs to the server and then fails it’s almost impossible to backfill the missing data with incremental updates.  I have worked with several migration tools testing this and just didn’t have confidence in the data population directly on the server.

In sites where I have done migrations to on premises servers I’ve often found the speed of migration to the server mailbox on the same network makes migration impossible so instead I’ve migrated to a local OST file.  The difference between migrating a 10GB file to a local OST (about an hour) vs directly to Exchange (about 2.5 days) is painfully obvious. Putting more resources onto the migration machine didn’t significantly reduce the time and in fact each tool either crashed (running as a Domino task) or crashed (running as a Windows desktop task) when trying to write directly to Exchange.

An hour or two to migrate a Domino mail file to a local workstation OST isn’t bad though right?  That’s not bad at all, and if you open Outlook you will see all the messages, folders, calendar entries, etc, all displaying.  However that’s because you’re looking at cached mode. You’re literally looking at the data you just migrated.  Create a profile for the same user on another machine and the mail file will be empty because at this point there is no data in Exchange, only in the local OST.  Another thing to be aware of is that there is no equivalent of an All Documents view in Outlook so make sure your migration tool knows how to migrate unfoldered messages and your users know where to find them in their new mailbox.

Now to my next struggle.  Outlook will sync that data to Exchange.  It will take between 1 and 3 days to do so.  I have tried several tools to speed up the syncing and I would advise you not to bother.  The methods they use to populate the Exchange mailbox from a local OST file sidestep much of the standard Outlook sync behaviours meaning information is often missing or, in one case, it sent out calendar invites for every calendar entry it pushed to Exchange.  I tried five of those tools and none worked 100%. The risk of missing data or sending out duplicate calendar entries/emails was too high.  I opted in the end to stick with Outlook syncing.  Unlike Notes replication I can only sync one OST / Outlook mailbox at a time so it’s slow going unless I have multiple client machines. What is nice is that I can do incremental updates quickly once the initial multi-GB mailbox has synced to Exchange.

So my wrestling with the Outlook client boils down to

  • Create mail profiles that use cached mode
  • Migrate to a local OST
  • Use Outlook to sync that to Exchange
  • Pay attention to Outlook limits, like a maximum of 500 folders*
  • Be Patient

*On Domino mailboxes we migrated that pushed up against the folder or item limits we found Outlook would run out of system memory repeatedly when trying to sync.

One good way to test whether the Exchange data matches the Domino data is to use Outlook Web Access as that is accessing data directly on the Exchange server.  Except that’s not as identical to the server data as we are used to seeing with Verse or iNotes.  In fact OWA too decides to show you through a browser what it thinks you most need to see versus everything that’s there.  Often folders will claim to be empty and that there is no data when in fact that data is there but hasn’t been refreshed by Exchange (think Updall).  There are few things more scary in OWA than an empty folder and a link suggesting you refresh from the server.  It just doesn’t instill confidence in the user experience.

Finally we have Outlook mobile or even using the native iOS mail application.  That wasn’t a separate configuration and unless you configure Exchange otherwise the default is that mobile access will be granted to everyone.   In one instance a couple of weeks ago, mobile access suddenly stopped working for all users who hadn’t already set up their devices.  When they tried to log in they got invalid name or password.  I eventually tracked that down to a Windows update that had changed permissions in Active Directory that Exchange needed set.  You can see reference to the issue here, and slightly differently here, although note it seems to have been an issue since Exchange 2010 and still with Exchange 2016.  I was surprised it was broken by a Windows update but it was.

I know (and have used) many workarounds for the issues I run into but that’s not for here.  Coming from a Domino and Notes background I believe we’ve been conditioned to think in a certain way about mailfile structure, server performance, local data, and the user experience, and expecting to duplicate that exactly is always going to be troublesome.

#DominoForever

 

 

 

 

 

 

Updates from HCL & IBM In London

Today Tim and I attended the Domino 11 Jam in London with Andrew Manby as the ringmaster, it’s been a year since the original Domino 10 London Jam and it was great to see things continuing with Domino 11.  What was made clear in today’s discussion was that whereas Domino 10 was primarily about the back end and TCO features, Domino 11 is all about the client experience.  There were two new HCL UX designers present today to listen to what was said and provide their input.

First up Richard Jefts (VP & General Manager @ HCL) laid out for us what the HCL deal with IBM entails.   There are new products that are now owned by HCL including Portal, Connections and BigFix (love BigFix and want to dig into that more). The $1.8bn purchase included not just the products but taking on board all the related staff  (basically everyone except services)

fullsizeoutput_3596

As HCL say on their Collaboration site

“A customer centric approach is the foundational element of the HCL Products business philosophy and a key component of the HCL Products and Platforms strategy to drive overall success of the product portfolios.”

That means working with customers and partners.  As Richard Jefts said today “This is an opportunity for us to revisit what we want the products and solutions to be” – Think Differently.  This isn’t just marketing speak – in the past few months we’ve seen a lot of effort by HCL to reach out , from presentations to the factory tours where many of us got to meet the development teams directly (and those continue this year) and direct sponsorship and involvement at user group events.  They are walking the walk.

fullsizeoutput_3597

Finally I wanted to share what they are calling the future of Low Code to No Code – these platforms are developer driven and regardless of your level of expertise as a developer, there will be a way in for you with Domino 11 and its successors.

fullsizeoutput_3594

Unfortunately I had to jump out of the jam far too early because I had a support emergency so I missed a lot of the big thinking fun but I wanted to share these screenshots with you as I think they explain a lot about where HCL stand and how they see the future.

Also on my way out the door I met and briefly chatted to another Business Partner – if you were the guy who talked to me about this blog, please connect on LinkedIn, I didn’t get your card 🙂

 

How to use the new Domino Query Language

By Tim Davis – Director of Development.

Before I talk about building a Domino-based API gateway on Node.js, I thought it would be a good idea to expand a little on how to use the new Domino Query Language (DQL) to run queries on Domino documents.

DQL is the new query language that comes with Domino 10. It is separate from the other query syntaxes in Domino, such as the Full Text Search syntax, or @formula selection criteria. You can use it in other places than Node.js, such as LotusScript and Java, and you can even test your queries from the command line.

What is cool about DQL is that it runs using the new Design Catalog system database, GQFdsgn.nsf. This does a lot of heavy lifting in the background with pre-built design data which makes running the queries more efficient. I am told this will not always be part of the DQL engine, but for now you do need it.

The DQL processing engine also does clever prioritizing of the components of the query to make the process as efficient as possible. You can see how this is done using the ‘explain’ tool (see below).

The syntax is pretty straight-forward. Here are some simple examples to give you an idea:

customer = 'Bob Smith'

age > 21

form = 'Person' and type = 'Client'

You have all the usual operators such as =, >, <, <=, >=, and, or, not. You can wrap elements in parentheses ( ) to control the precedence.

String values are enclosed in single quotes. You can duplicate quotes in your strings to escape them, e.g.:

name = 'James O''Brien'

You can also use lists with the ‘in’ operator, like this:

form = 'Person' and type in ( 'Client', 'Supplier', 'Agency' )

DQL comes with some useful built-in functions that you can use in your queries:

@Created
@ModifiedInThisFile
@DocumentUniqueID

You can search using dates, which are included using the built-in @dt function and are in RFC3339 format. This looks a bit clunky but is pretty clear once you get used to it:

@Created > @dt('2018-01-01T00:00:00+0500')

A cool feature is being able to search in view columns. You use the view name or alias and the programmatic column name, like this:

'PendingOrders'.orderNo = '000101'

These view and column searches are fast because the design analysis of the db has already been done and stored in the design catalog. However if the database isn’t in the catalog then this kind of search will fail.  Adding databases to the catalog is an optional step you would do if you want to perform this kind of query, but being in the catalog helps with the performance of regular searches as well and so is always recommended.

One thing to bear in mind is that currently you can only search on regular summary fields in the documents, which means you can’t search in rich text items yet. I am told this is coming later.

Also, if your query generates an error during the processing then you will get no results returned. You don’t get partial results (unlike some SQL behavior). This is likely not a problem provided you know to expect it.

With all of this you should have everything you need to run pretty much any query you want, with plenty of flexibility and control.

Talking of control, DQL comes with a command line DomQuery tool to test your queries. It has an -e (explain) option that will deconstruct how your query will be processed and details how it will perform. It splits out each element of the search and lists the order they are processed, how long each takes, and how the results get filtered down step by step. You can use this to test out your searches and tune them to make sure they run efficiently and perform well for the users.

However, just in case you do end up running a query that gets out of hand there are limits to protect the server. The limits are:

  • MaxDocsScanned – maximum allowable NSF documents scanned ( 200000 default)
  • MaxEntriesScanned – maximum allowable index entries scanned (200000 default)
  • MaxMsecs – maximum time consumed in milliseconds ( 120000 ) (2 minutes)

You can override these limits system-wide using notes.ini settings if you need to, but you really ought to instead review your query’s behaviour before you consider doing this.

The DQL engine is continuously being enhanced and the new Domino 10.0.1 version adds support for query arguments (also known as substitution variables). You use query arguments when building your queries to help avoid code injection. This works by defining specifically which elements of a query are user input rather than just constructing the query as one string. Without this, a user could maliciously input some DQL syntax into the query and access unexpected documents or data.

I hope all this helps give you an idea of how easy and fast it will be to run DQL queries from a Node.js app. In my next post I plan to bring this together with the domino-db module and build an API gateway.

Domino 11 Jam Coming To London

The Domino jams continue, now onto Domino 11 and with a date of January 15th in London. No location yet but I’d be very surprised if it’s not IBM South Bank.

I attended a couple of jams last year and I can confirm many of the comments made and items requested ended up in the v10 products and several have already been prioritised into v11.  If you are interested in the future of the collaboration products and especially Domino then you will want to contribute ideas to the jam so email Brendan McGuire (MCGUIREB@uk.ibm.com) and ask to attend.

We all hope to be there investing in the future or products we believe in.  Hope to see you there as well.

If you are interested in locations other than London check out this URL  where there are already locations and some dates announced.

#dominoforever

HCL Launch New Collaboration Site & Client Advocacy Program

Today HCL went live with their own site for their collaboration products at https://www.cwpcollaboration.com. It’s Domino-based and we even have new forums you can sign up for (and the sign up process is easy).

The big news for me is the launch of their Client Advocacy Program which you can read about and sign up to on the site. The Client Advocacy program connects customers directly with a technical point of contact in development, it’s free and open for registration now.  You can read more in their FAQ here, but for those of you who are tl:dr here’s a taster.

Why is HCL Client Advocacy participation beneficial?

A Client Advocate provides the participant:

  • opportunity to discuss successes, challenges, and pain points of the customer’s deployment and product usage
  • a collaborative channel to the Offering Management, Support and Development Teams
  • proactive communications on product news, updates, and related events/workshops
  • more frequent touch points on roadmaps and opportunity to provide input on priorities
  • facilitation of lab services engagements or support team as appropriate

You can request to sign up here

I think we can all agree that even in these early days HCL are showing customer focused intent and following up quickly with real actions to reach out and encourage us to talk to them directly.  I know this is just the beginning, the foot is down hard on the acceleration pedal and I’d recommend you follow HCL_CollabDev on twitter as well as the new Collaboration site.  And feed back.  They want to hear what you think and what you want.  If you feel something is missing or you have an idea, feed back.

Above all don’t paint HCL with the IBM brush, this is a new company with new ideas and their own way of doing things.  Exciting times.

Whooomf – All Change. HCL Buys The Shop…

According to this Press Release as of mid June 2019, HCL take ownership of a bunch of IBM products including Notes, Domino and Connections on premises. Right now and since late 2017 there has been a partnership with IBM on some of the products such as Notes, Domino, Traveler and Sametime* so this will take IBM out of the picture entirely. Here are my first “oh hey it’s 4am” thoughts on why that’s not entirely surprising or unwelcome news ..

HCL are all about leading with on premises, not cloud. The purchase of Connections is for on premises and there are thousands of customers who want to stay on premises. Every other provider is either entirely Cloud already or pushing their on premises customers towards it by starving their products of development and support (waves at Microsoft). *cough*revenue stream*cough*

HCL have shown in 2018 that they can innovate (Domino’s TCO offerings, Notes on the iPad, Node integration etc) , develop quickly and deliver on their promises. That’s been a refreshing change.

They must be pleased with the current partnership products to buy them and more outright.

When HCL started the partnership with IBM they brought on some of the best of the original IBM Collaboration development team and have continued to recruit at high speed. It was a smart move and one I hope they repeat across not just development but support and marketing too.

HCL already showed with “Places” that they have ideas for how collaboration tools could work (see this concept video https://youtu.be/CJNLmBkyvMo) and that’s good news for Connections customers who gain a large team and become part of a bigger collaboration story in a company that “gets it”.

Throughout 2018 HCL have made efforts to reach out repeatedly to customers and Business Partners, asking for our feedback and finding out what we want. From sponsoring user group events (and turning up in droves) around the world to hosting the factory tour in June at their offices in Chelmsford where we had two days of time with the developers and their upcoming technologies. I believe they have proven they understand what this community is about and how much value comes from listening and – yes – collaborating.

Tonight I am more optimistic for the future of these products and especially Connections than I have been in a while. HCL, to my experience, behave more like a software start up than anything else, moving fast, changing direction if necessary and always trying to lead by innovating. I hope many of the incredibly smart people at IBM (yes YOU) who have stood alongside these products for years do land at HCL if that’s what they want, it would be a huge loss if they don’t.

*HCL have confirmed that Sametime is included