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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Are You Ready: Domino #Perfect10

In today’s edition of my #Perfect10 webcast I discuss some steps in finding your Domino servers, reviewing their dependencies and auditing database access.   This is a 15 minute presentation which I’ve tried just as slides with my voice instead of video.

As always please let me know what you think and anything else you would find useful.

Next Up: Are you ready – Traveler, Sametime and Web Mail

 

So What About Domino @ IBM Connect? Review Post #2

Domino was very visible at Connect this year, not only in both of the opening sessions but in about 40% of the sessions overall.   The ones I picked to attend were talking about strategy and futures so that’s what I wanted to talk about here.

Verse on premises which shipped at the end of Dec 2016 is a very nice browser mail client right now which is easy to install on your Domino server (and you should) but it’s missing an updated calendar interface,  so I was pleased to hear the commitment to deliver that and other functionality to bring on premises in line with Verse in the cloud.  If you don’t have Verse installed on premises now on your Domino servers you need to be looking at it as your path forward.

Feature packs continue to be the strategic path with updates coming via FP installers but with template updates slipstreamed in optionally and separately downloadable through Fix Central.  I wouldn’t look for the templates to ship in step with the feature packs so you’re going to have to plan to subscribe to fix central for updates if you aren’t already.

From Barry Rosen’s strategy presentation here are a couple of snapshots showing planned feature pack features including those for FP8 which should ship soon.

Notes Feature Pack highlights screen-shot-2017-02-26-at-20-51-26

Domino Application Development feature pack highlights (FP8 shipping soon)screen-shot-2017-02-26-at-20-51-41

 

For application design the path IBM appear to be on is one we and many other Business Partners have been pursuing for some time with Domino as a back end data store and a web based UI on whatever platform you choose.  To that end the really good news is that we will finally be getting some extensions to the existing REST APIs including ones for

  • Directory
  • Mail Contacts
  • Mail File Search
  • Polling for changes in databases

In addition the application modernisation story at the conference was focused around partner solutions.  Of particular interest is Panagenda’s ApplicationInsights tool coming in a freemium model to all maintenace customers in Q2.  That version I believe will allow you to analyse your most prominent existing applications and instances to see what is being used by who and how. More information about it can be found here.

So lots of Domino sessions, lots of talk of future client and server developments, lots of confirmation of support at least to 2021.  For a nearly 30 year old product that’s not bad going.  With the investment in Verse and the introduction of cognitive features in on premises applications as well as a cognitive plugin for Notes, I’m feeling positive about where we are and the support IBM are offering.

Oh and my watch word for 2017 continues to be “Hybrid”

 

 

Before second guessing IBM try a CTRL-F

A new press release just appeared from IBM announcing extending support for Domino 9, Notes 9, Traveler 9, Sametime 9.0 and Designer 9.0.1 amongst others.

Now do me a favour, before you do anything else,  press CTRL-F and look for the word “END”.  You won’t find it.  This is extending not ending support.

Now could IBM have done better by using the words “at least” – in my opinion yes but since I assume the document was minutely inspected by IBM lawyers, it can’t make any open ended promises.

We live in a world of fast changing technology and many of us work with technologies that are 20+ years old.  Who knows what will happen next year, in 2 years or in 5 years.  That’s a good thing.  We should embrace changing technologies that match how we, our environment and our work evolves. Every change offers an opportunity but today and for the foreseeable future it should be enough that Notes and Domino aren’t dead and they aren’t predicted to die anytime soon.

Not even in 2021.