Lotus Notes R5 ~ A Breath of Fresh Air

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Product Background

Lotus Notes first began shipping in 1989, seven years after the release of Microsoft's MS-DOS operating system. Release 1.0 was fully integrated into a Local Area Network (LAN) enabling the first collaborative client/server messaging system. In its first year on the marketplace Notes 1.0 sold over 35,000 client seats, and sales would only escalate from that point on. The second revision of Notes was 1.1 and began shipping in 1990. Release 1.1 enabled portability to support multiple O/Ss, something for which Notes is renowned in the messaging industry today.

Release 2.0 began shipping in 1991 with the primary focus narrowing on scalability. That year Notes developers targeted the 10,000 user mark and hit it. One reason is that as time went by the x86 based PC became faster enabling Notes developers to take advantage of the enhanced physical hardware. Release 3.0 shipped to market in 1993 and added support for the Apple client and Windows NT Server.

Three years later, in January of 1996 Notes Release 4.0 shipped to market offering a revamped user interface, which simplified many standard Notes tasks. Two further revisions were released in 1996 and 1997 prior to the current release of Notes 5.0, which shipped in 1999 and has raised more than an eyebrow or two.

Lotus Notes 5.0 competes directly with Microsoft's Exchange e-mail server 5.5 and Novell's GroupWise 5.5. Microsoft will be releasing Exchange Server 2000 in the 2nd quarter of 2000, presently code named "Platinum". Novell's offering comes well short of meeting the needs of collaborative messaging users in today's market when compared to Notes and Exchange, and continues to lose market share to them. The collaborative messaging market is booming as e-mail has evolved into a mission critical application. Lotus Notes has just surpassed the 50,000,000-installed base mark, giving Microsoft's Exchange server a good "run for the money".

Product Strategy and Trajectory

Lotus is marketing the Notes Domino R5 Servers in four separate scalable configurations to accommodate the needs of medium to large user base corporations. In addition Lotus is continuing to support the widest array of operating systems within the messaging arena, to allow for maximum flexibility of installation, configuration, performance and ongoing support. Table 1 (below) illustrates the operating system support for the three leading collaborative messaging vendors.

Operating System
Notes Domino R5
Microsoft Exchange 5.5
Novell GroupWise 5.5
Windows NT (Intel)
Windows NT (Alpha)
AIX 4.3.1
HP-UX 11.0
Solaris/SPARC 2.6
Support Announced for Rev 8
Solaris/Intel 2.6
OS/2 Warp Server 4
OS/400 V4R2
OS/390 V2R6
Linux (Red Hat 6)
Netware 4.x - 5.x

As previously mentioned, the Lotus Notes Domino Server is available in four versions. The following table (Table 2 Below) addresses the differences and pricing for each option.

Server Product
Price (USD)
Domino Mail Server Messaging, Calendaring, Discussion Databases and Document Library Services
Domino Application Server Mail Server plus Lotus QuickPlace, IBM WebSphere Application Server, Enterprise Connection Series, Ability to serve custom applications, TeamRoom, and supports up to 4 CPUs
Domino Enterprise Server Application Server plus, Clustering, Ability to install more than one instance of Domino on one machine and supports SMP greater than 4 CPUs.
Domino Advanced Enterprise Server Specifically for AS/400 system in P40 and P50 processor groups. Includes all functionality of the Enterprise Server Model.

Given the wide array of platform support, in addition to the server based options, Lotus has had the foresight to offer two different versions of the Lotus Notes R5 client. Table 3 (below) lists the pricing and features for both client offerings.

Notes Client
Price (USD)
Notes for Messaging Notes client license and Client Access License (CAL) for Mail, Calendaring, and Discussion Groups
Notes for Collaboration Notes License and CAL for all Domino Server use.

Lotus has certainly provided their clients with a plethora of server and client options to suit almost any organization. In addition to well-rounded platform support, functionality has been improved, especially in web-based collaboration. The Notes web client is by far the best browser based client offered by the big three collaborative messaging vendors. The client includes a navigation bar for instant access to previous accessed data, in addition to offering, forward, back, stop, and refresh abilities. The Internet client has much of the look and feel of a local e-mail client.

The Domino Administrator has been revamped in response to the demands and needs of the systems administrators in the "trenches". One exciting new feature is the ability to drag and drop objects within the directory, while the administration application completes all necessary back end tasks, eliminating much overhead for administrators. The Domino Administrator contains six top-level tabs to aid in organizing and managing the Notes environment. The tabs are logically broken out into logical groupings.

  • People and Groups - Central Administration point for User and Group Management

  • Files - Central Administration point for all database and indexing management

  • Servers - Central point of administration for all servers in a Notes environment

  • Messaging- Central Administration for mail routing, mailbox limits and tracking

  • Replication - Central point of administration for all replication settings and troubleshooting

  • Configuration - Central point of administration for server documents, web configuration and stats

Security management within the administrator application has added functionality as well, such as Password Recovery and Security Certificates Administration. Lotus has taken advantage of X.509 certificates to maximize secure and reliable transmissions.

In addition to an enhanced client and an improved administration application, the core functionality on the back end has improved. The dreaded Semaphore Timeouts have become a thing of the past, while the implementation of Transaction Logging has improved server transaction performance by over 17%. View Rebuild times have also decreased. The following View Rebuild table is based on a dual Pentium Xeon 500 with 512MB of RAM with Transaction Logging Enabled. You will notice a significant improvement over previous versions of Lotus Notes.

View Rebuild
Database Size
View Rebuild 1 GB 4 Minutes
View Rebuild 2 GB 9 Minutes
View Rebuild 4 GB 17 Minutes
View Rebuild 8 GB 40 Minutes
View Rebuild 32 GB 3.25 Hours

The code contained within R5 makes better use of physical memory and I/O operations through compression, single buffer manager, and background I/O threads with read-ahead, among others. The implementation of Transaction Logging has not only enhanced performance, but commits all transactions to disk, and not just to memory, allowing rapid restores and the ability to use DbFixup only on changed databases as opposed to having to run DbFixup against all databases. R5 also offers unlimited database storage, however Lotus has only tested to 64GB. Microsoft's Exchange has offered unlimited storage and transaction logging since Rev 5, which has been available for close to three years.

Lotus has jumped into the clustering field utilizing Internet Cluster Manager and integration with Operating System clusters such as Microsoft's Cluster Server (MSCS). Lotus has raised the bar with this latest release of Notes R5. The product was more than a breath of fresh air for Notes Administrators, who certainly expressed their joy at the Lotusphere Conference in January, which took place in Orlando, Florida. The number of vendors offering support for R5 was staggering, simply put. Notes has improved, will continue to improve and is most certainly not going away.

Product Strengths

Lotus is an IBM company who has been left alone to pursue what they do best, messaging and groupware. Notes has improved to the bleeding edge of messaging while maintaining reliability and improving performance. The vast improvements in the administration program have eased the burden on administrators. The improvements contained within the web-based client are fantastic; they are clearly several bars ahead of GroupWise and Exchange.

The addition of Transaction Logging has been long overdue, but its here now, and gee-wiz, it really speeds standard operations up. The broad platform support is simply amazing when compared to Exchange and GroupWise (or any application for that matter). The flexibility in configuration and distribution is unparalleled in the collaborative messaging arena.

Lotus is also on the cutting edge of Wireless communications with alliances with Nokia and numerous 3rd part vendors. Lotus continues to select the best of breed for alliances in the anti virus and anti spam market, by selecting Trend Micro Systems.

Product Challenges

The Solaris version of Notes needs to be improved, the product is indeed functional but does not perform nearly as well as an AS/400 or Intel based platform. In addition, the Linux version only offers web-based administration, which is a nice secondary administration option, but will not replace a complete administration package.

Notes is still has the highest TCO of the big three collaborative messaging systems, although it contains more functionality than Exchange or GroupWise. Estimated TCO per seat of R5 is approximately $160 per year as opposed to Exchange's TCO of approximately $65 per seat.

Vendor Recommendations

  • Stabilize Solaris Release

  • Add Administration console to Linux Release

  • Lower TCO through an initial lower cost coupled with pre-packaged computer based training

  • Make the AS/400 more appealing to Administrators through special introductory pricing

  • Attack the ASP market vigorously and quickly

  • Continue building the Lotus Wireless Messaging foundation through alliances and development.

User Recommendations

Lotus Notes R5 offers tremendous flexibility, performance, stability, and reliability. The advanced APIs contained within allow for the creation of an unlimited number of customized applications to suit any organization. As cc:Mail support is coming to an end, thousands of users will be looking towards an upgrade path. Granted, Lotus Notes R5 is more expensive than GroupWise and Exchange, but it has far more functionality.

The question is quite simply, " What do you need from a messaging system?" If the answer is just mail and calendaring, take a look at Microsoft Exchange. However, if the answer is advanced web performance and flexible databases with customized applications look to Lotus Notes R5.


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