Third-party tools help Notes, Exchange play nice

Migrating from IBM's Lotus Notes/Domino to Microsoft Exchange can be a real drag on your company's budget and your time. A peaceful coexistence of the two platforms may be the best choice, and there are several companies that say they can keep Notes and Exchange from being the IT equivalent of having two Siamese fighting fish in the same tank.

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For an enterprise to have more than one mail messaging system, it must support and pay for more than one infrastructure. If one of those systems is IBM's Lotus Notes/Domino, and you are interested in converting to Microsoft Exchange, any benefit resulting from such a conversion may not be worth the cost of the migration and the work that awaits you.

Notes/Domino has a reputation as a richer development environment, and it builds its applications on a replicable database. Exchange has a reputation as a strong messaging system. "The platforms are apples and oranges," said Dana Gardner, an analyst at the Yankee Group, a Boston-based consulting firm. "You can't take the scripting and logic you use for Domino and use it for Exchange."

It could cost millions of dollars to move a critical application off of Domino, so it makes sense that some customers would rather look for ways to let both platforms coexist when financial -- and sometimes political -- reasons make a consolidation impractical or undesirable.

"There is a tremendous investment in resources, human resources and time in getting these platforms in place and supported," said Clark Wise, director of technical services at the University of Illinois' office for capital programs.

The university runs PRZM, a Web project management tool built on Notes/Domino. The program is part of the university administration, which also uses Exchange for messaging.

Because PRZM is such a unique and valuable application, IT managers will continue to develop custom software that allows the application to coexist with other enterprise platforms. Wise said that he wasn't really aware of off-the-shelf options for coexistance, but there are a few that he could have checked out.

One comes from HunterStone Inc., a Columbia, S.C.-based consulting firm and Microsoft partner. This summer, the company will release a server-based version of its software that lets customers pass Notes mail-enabled DocLinks to Microsoft Exchange and Outlook clients, and lets Outlook clients initiate the Notes applications without requiring customers to be Notes mail users.

The software, called CoExist 2.0, works by intercepting a Notes/Domino message sent with a DocLink at the Domino router. The software finds the DocLink and appends a file attachment that then links to the same document as the DocLink. The message is translated, and then sent over SMTP to an Outlook client PC, which the Outlook client PC can then open and launch the file attachment.

To view the document, the end user needs a locally installed Notes client, though the customer does not have to be using Notes mail, said Jayme Bowers, a solution architect at Pro Exchange, an Atlanta-based software developer.

One Microsoft partner, Casahl Technology Inc., makes a coexistence and migration tool called ecKnowlege. The Casahl software lets customers map Notes applications -- without programming -- to a variety of Microsoft technologies.

Casahl's ecKnowledge can map the Notes application so the data is stored in SQL Server, and the application logic is translated into a Microsoft Visual Studio .NET application, said Harry Wong, CEO at San Ramon, Calif.-based Casahl. Using a wizard, customers can point to a Notes application. The software discovers the forms, fields and views. Customers can then map the application to Microsoft SQL Server, move the data into VS.NET, and generate code.

There are a variety of companies that also make migration tools, with varying levels of depth. They include Aelita Software Corp., NetIQ Corp. and Quest Software Inc., among others.

Microsoft has its own Notes Connector, which creates a "pipe" between an Exchange Server and a Domino Server; the Notes Connector ships with the core Exchange product.

Customers can route all mail through Notes Connector but, in doing so, they risk having all mail funnel through what could be a single point of failure if one server fails or if the Connector becomes overloaded, Pro Exchange's Bowers said.

Customers may choose to synchronize the mail servers via the Connector and route mail using SMTP as the message transport, but then they lose the ability to transfer the Notes DocLinks to the Exchange users through the Exchange server.

Though today's tight economy makes it essential for many companies to keep both systems in place, eventually many of those enterprises will want to consolidate. The fact that many customers find migration overwhelming is hardly lost on Microsoft.

Jim Bernardo, Exchange product manager at Microsoft, said there are cases in which Microsoft recommends that customers keep their Notes applications in place until they "have the time or luxury to rethink the business process."

But he said there are also customers who think that the migration will be a bigger nut to crack than it actually is. "They think they have 5,000 applications, but then they realize they only have 700 that they care about," Bernardo said.

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