Wednesday, August 24, 2016

IBM's Cloud takes the Pain out of Updates

I’ll admit that I'm generally not very kind to IBM on this blog. It's not that they're doing a worse job than their competitors, I'm still very impressed with some of the things they're doing. 

It's just that after using Notes/Domino for over 20 years, I hold them, sometimes impossibly, to very high standards…. and, of course, any goofs on their part affect my systems a little too directly.

The Quiet Migration to 24x7

One of our biggest frustrations in recent years has been the understated migration of our systems from a business hours model to a 24x7 one. It's not so much that our business became so critical that it needed to go 24 hour but more that changes in mobility and connectivity mean that people now expect to be able to connect to our systems at any time, anywhere.

Almost imperceptibly, we quietly moved to a "zero tolerance for downtime" model.

IT changed to suit the business needs in this regard but the change itself and the implications have been largely overlooked.

We're not alone. This seems to be a recurring theme across businesses of all sizes.


Moving to the Cloud Solves Infrastructure Problems 

Like many businesses, we moved to the cloud in two phases. The first was moving our production systems offsite into a hosted environment where they continued to run as servers, albeit virtual ones.

This solution made 24 hour operations easier as it meant that there was always a team available onsite to deal with infrastructure. We no longer had to worry about power failures, air conditioning failures or just "being onsite to push the button".

It didn't solve our downtime problems entirely though, there's always patches to be applied.

The second phase of migration was to cloud services and we moved to various vendors including IBM - Of course, we couldn't move everything. We're still waiting for true “Domino as a service”.

Our mail is now a proper 24 hour service thanks to the cloud failover model and now, instead of dreading the patch cycle, I actually look forward to it. 

The What's New option on the help menu is my new best friend.

Each cycle brings with it a bunch of necessary fixes but it also brings exciting new functionality.


Keep on those PMRs

The best part about this? IBM has become much more responsive on PMRs (fixes).

We recently discovered an issue with address books; turned out that if you removed the last member of a group, it didn't get updated on the cloud.

You'd think that an “empty group” wouldn't matter but in our case, since we need them for nesting, they're important.

For example We might send a mail to the “xyz committee” and we might have a subgroup called “xyz committee.chairman”. In this scenario, even though the chairman had been removed, the cloud wouldn't update and they'd still be on the mailing list. To make matters worse, the lack of an “expand groups” function in verse meant that the problem would only be detected in iNotes or when a bounce occurred.

It took a bit of bouncing to and fro in IBM’s PMR system (a few weeks) before the problem was understood - and then a few more conversations before it was recognised as an important issue and added to the “fix list”.

Although this problem was significant, we were expecting to have to wait a while until the next patch cycle. Imagine our surprise when it was fixed in under a week.

Well done IBM, clearly this is a key benefit of cloud services.

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