LotusLive – SaaS without the service

I know I had promised to refrain from pointless criticism and open bashing on my blog: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all”. But my experience with LotusLive has been so abysmal that I simply cannot keep quiet.

I still want to begin by saying something nice. I think LotusLive is a great offering. The idea behind it is superb. It offers the ability to share and collaborate that is better than other similar offerings from IBM’s competitors. I remember the applause when in January of 2009 Bob Picciano stood on stage at Lotusphere and announced LotusLive. Unfortunately, when IBM was building its Lotus branded Software as a Service, it spent so much time focusing on the software part, that it completely forgot to build the service component.

A client of PSC needed a place to collaborate and share with a new client of their own. They asked our advice on best way to do this quickly and cost efficiently. In 2 weeks they were going out to a kick off meeting with their client and they wanted to have the collaboration platform in place by then. We thought about it and decided to tell them about this new SaaS platform from IBM that did everything they needed to do and would cost them about $1, 000 USD per year. Our client bought into the idea. Little did I know what kind of a mess I got myself into.

Silly me! I never bought a LotusLive license before, but thinking the SaaS model, I thought that a couple of clicks through the LotusLive site and a credit card number would do the trick. Wrong! Out of all the purchases I’ve ever made in my life, buying a LotusLive subscription or a license is the most complicated one. I rank it somewhere between buying a house and getting a GreenCard.

It turns out that in order to buy a single license of LotusLive, there are forms to be filled out and faxed/emailed back to IBM. You don’t get these forms all at once. They come one at a time, from different channels. And these forms have to make their way through the IBM bureaucracy and approval process, which takes several weeks, before they reach the LotusLive sales team, which only then can grant you a full license. Since we couldn’t wait that long and had to be up and running pretty quick, the LotusLive team ended up giving us a full-access temporary license, which later, when all the paperwork is processed, got converted to a full license. All this took a lot of emails and phone calls on our part to push the process through — several weeks of effort all for a $1000-purchase. We made no money on this transaction. In fact, if I count the hours and the energy we spent on making this happen, we lost money on the transaction.

So, IBM, if you’re planning to continue to push LotusLive, you really need to re-evaluate your entire approach to this offering. SaaS should be simple. It’s all web based, it’s all browser based. I should be able to sign up for a free account using my browser. And, when ready to switch to a full paid account, I should be able to do this using the same browser and a credit card. The process should be SIMPLE. If it is not, I’m going to your competition. And some of your competition,while perhaps not offering all the same features, offers a lot of them for free. Frankly, if I was trying to set this up for myself, after a couple of days I would have just switched to Google Groups — not quite the same but free and I can be up and running in 5 minutes.

And lastly, if you want your Business Partners to help you sell LotusLive, figure out a way for them to make money on this offering. Otherwise, like a lot of other great things that have come out of IBM over the years, LotusLive will get killed by the competition. And in this case, you’re making it way too easy for them.

If this were Twitter, I would say “LotusLive as a service platform #fail”.

What is your experience with LotusLive?

On the importance of proper tire pressure

You’ve probably heard it said that inflating your tires to the tire pressure recommended by the manufacturer of your vehicle will improve your gas mileage and save you money on gas. If you are like me, you probably thought that while it kind of made sense, the difference in gas mileage is likely to be not noticeable. Well, I’ve become a convert, thanks to the friendly folk at the Bike Garage in East Dundee.

Like a lot of the stories, it all began with me.

When I first picked up my road bike, I thought that the tires on it were kind of soft. I didn’t think much of that, thinking that they were inflated to the proper pressure by the folks at Performance Bicycle and was riding like that for a while. One day, getting ready for a ride, I thought that the front tire was softer than usual, so I decided to pump it up a bit. I opened the valve and, seeing a push valve for the first time in my life and not having a proper pump for it, very quickly ended up letting all of the air out and no pump that would work with it.

I drove with the bike in the car to Bike Garage and asked to inflate my tire. The guy at the garage told me to use his hand pump that was standing in the corner. I fiddled with it for a bit and had to swallow my pride and admit complete ignorance. He showed me what to do and said that I should inflate the tire to 110 – 120 PSI. 110?! I didn’t believe him. I spent a few minutes looking at my tire and, sure enough, it said “max pressure 120 PSI”.

Wow! What a difference that made. The tire became rock hard, which, of course, made the ride less soft: I started to feel every bump on the road. But it also made the ride so much faster. Without exerting any extra effort, it added about 5 mph to my speed. Put a little more effort in and I really started moving.

So, next time you hear someone talk about proper tire pressure, believe them — it does make a huge difference.

Domino 8.5 in Omaha – Part deux

All is well that ends well. Well, it hasn’t quite ended just yet. But, damn!, I’m good. Alex, even though you’ve been a manager for the past 3 years, you still got it! After several days of going back and forth with IBM tech support, where they just never seemed to be able to gather enough information to diagnose the problem, I found an SPR that described the very same problem, with exact same symptoms and the very same resulting error message. The SPR was supposed to have been fixed i the Domino 8.0.1 code stream. But here it was again, an apparent regression bug of sorts, causing the poor server to hang every morning. Basically, the router was getting into a lock situation trying to access one of the mail.box files and running an LZ1 compression algorithm.

Unfortunately, this thing doesn’t appear to be easy to solve. We were hoping that the development team would be able to put together a hot fix in a matter of hours, after all, they did solve it once before. However, they confirmed that the fix for that SPR is in the 8.5 code stream. So now we’re waiting, with baited breath, to hear what the development team comes back with. Come on, Westford folks, make me proud!

And while we’re waiting, a few interesting observations while working with the IT team of this particular client, if I may.

For reasons unknown to me, this organization is on its 3rd mail system. Once upon the time, they were an Exchange shop. Then later they moved to GroupWise. And now they are a Lotus shop. While I am not completely clear on their decision to move to Domino, some part of that decision was based on their ability to run mail server on top of AIX. Some years ago, AIX was my favorite platform to run Domino on: it was rock solid, required minimal maintenance and ran well. These folks did their homework. They had talked to a number of companies that ran Domino on AIX and everyone confirmed that AIX and Domino is a winning combination.

They told me of one company they spoke to, which used to run Domino on the iSeries (i5 OS, I believe). It ran so poorly that the company decided to move off Domino to Exchange. Then, somewhere along the process, they tried moving Domino on to AIX and it ran so well, that they canceled their Exchange migration and stayed with Lotus, although now on top of AIX.

Having said that, some of the younger members of the IT team did tell me that they didn’t like the Notes client. They thought it wasn’t as user friendly as even the latest version of GroupWise that they ran. They readily acknowledged that Domino ran better and did things better than GroupWise; that a lot of email problems that they had with GroupWise simply went away when they moved to Domino. But they still complained of usability of the Notes client.

This is nothing new.  I’ve been saying this for quite some time now. IBM makes great servers. Lotus makes a great server, there’s probably none better. Their client though is not so much. How I wish that IBM would support other email clients with full fidelity. This client in Omaha is a great case study of that. The admins love AIX, the admins love Domino, let the users run whatever they want to run: Notes, Outlook, Mac Mail, Thunderbird, whatever else. And may system administrators and end users exist in perfect peace and harmony. Like the famous bumper sticker says: “COEXIST”.


Domino 8.5 in Omaha

It is not often nowadays that I get to spend several days on a full time billable consulting engagement.  And when the said engagement takes me on the road to Omaha, Nebraska and constitutes helping a brand new Lotus Domino client, I just have to write about it.

A company here, in Omaha, very recently (2 weeks ago, to be exact) migrated from Groupwise to Lotus Domino 8.5  (Hip, Hip, Hooray and 3 cheers for their decision to go with Lotus.)  They took the plunge and deployed all the latest and greatest features: DAOS, Transaction Logging, ID Vault, SameTime, Quickr — the works.  To top it off, they deployed it on AIX.  Some kick-ass boxes: 12 CPUs, 12 GB of RAM — the thing screams.

Unfortunately, I have a bad feeling that the number of Domino 8.5 customers running on AIX can be counted on the fingers of one hand of a Chinese butcher.  In these 2 weeks they’ve had nothing but problems with server up time, stability and performance.  So several hot fixes later, things are beginning to look better.  I’m here to help troubleshoot, to work with IBM support and to validate their setup and configuration as left by another business partner.  

After a very stressful day of the primary mail server going up and down like a yo-yo every 2 to 3 minutes, I just can’t wait to see what tomorrow morning will bring.  The server was finally stable at the end of the day.  This same server freezes up every morning between 7:15 and 7:30 am.  What are the chances that whatever I did today will solve that problem, too?

Notes 8.5 Upgrade Workshop in June

The upgrade workshop that we hosted at the of May was a huge success.  We ended up having to turn people away.  As the result, due to popular demand, so to speak, we are hosting another workshop at the end of June.

On June 24th and 25th we will host a Notes/Domino 8.5 upgrade workshop in Schaumburg at PSC.  Detailed information on the workshop and registration is on the PSC website.  So, if you didn’t get a chance to make it to the first workshop, hope we’ll see you on the 24th.

Maui Jim sunglasses – great customer service

It seems that in today’s economy, as companies look to cut costs and save money, more and more often it is customer service that suffers the most.  Rather the quality of customer service.  That’s why, every now and then, when I happen to come across outstanding customer service, the kind that makes me go “Wow”, I feel that I want to tell everyone about it.

I have always been a fan of Maui Jim sunglasses: they are pricey but I feel that they are worth it.  Over 2 years ago I bought a pair of rimless nylon glasses, the kind with plastic arms that use tension to wrap around your head – no hinges.  Some time after the purchase, one of the arms broke.  I sent the glasses to the warranty repair service and they fixed them.

Last winter, I broke one of the arms again.  I don’t if it was my carelessness or very cold temperatures of the last Chicago winter that caused the plastic to become brittle.  Whatever the cause, I felt like an idiot and kept the broken glasses for several months, thinking that at some point I should replace them.

On a whim, I called Maui Jim customer service and admitted that I broke the glasses and didn’t know what to do with them.  They suggest I send them in, include a check for $10 and my contact information.  I spent a couple weeks waiting for them to call me, thinking that they would ask me to pay for the repair.  Instead, after 2 weeks or so I received my sunglasses.  They were repaired.  My check was also in the box with ‘VOID’ written across it.  A note in the box apologized for the inconvenience, explained that the fee was waived and included a new 2-year warranty.  

Guess what brand of sunglasses I will be buying next.  If you said ‘Maui Jim’, you’re probably right.

I got a new bike

I finally got a new bike. I’ve been talking about it long enough and took my time to decide and select one. Just like I do with every purchase more than 50 or 100 bucks. So what I got is a brand spanking new all-carbon 2008 Scattante Race road bike. Shimano Ultegra components. Mavic wheels. Forte SPD pedals. Louis Garneau shoes. Bell Alchera road helmet. I attached my Garmin Edge 305 bike computer, attached the cadence sensor — one heck of a machine. At first I wasn’t so sure about Scattante — there’s a lot of talk about it on the web, but no concrete information on who makes this bike. Scattante is actually a Fuji bike made for and sold by Performance Bicycle stores under their own brand name. Of course, it’s not Specialized, which I had my heart set on for a long time. But for the price it can’t be beat. An all-carbon Specialized with comparable components would’ve cost several grand more — probably not worth it for a beginning road rider like me.

I was also a little reluctant purchasing a bike from Performance.  I heard that they didn’t spend all that much time fitting the bike for you, so I was leery of their customer service.  In comparison, last year I was looking at a bike at Spokes in Wheaton and they spent a lot of time measuring me to make sure that the bike geometry fit my size.  When I went to pick up my bike, it turned out that my worries were all for nothing.  They put my bike on the trainer, had me ride it and adjusted various things, including getting a shorter stem, to make sure that the bike was right for me.  I was very pleased with the experience.

Getting the bike home I felt like Lance Armstrong: ready to hit the road and cover 40 miles in a couple of hours. Turns out this road bike thing is not as easy as it looks. Those guys riding in Tour de France and Giro d’Italia make it look way too easy on TV. In reality, belting out even 15 miles is not so easy. And this is nothing that riding a mountain bike, even on the road, can ever prepare you for. There is something very unnatural about getting on top of a tiny hard bike saddle, getting clipped into a set of tiny metal thingies protruding at the bottom of the machine and trying to propel yourself and the whole contraption under you along the road. The whole thing gets even more ridiculous climbing a hill. In some instances it seems that I can make it faster to the top, if I were to carry the bike on my back.

Plus, there’s the whole image thing to be concerned about. When on top of a road bike, you don’t want to be seen slowly crawling along the sidewalk. You want to ride and ride fast and look good while doing it. And that is all very hard work.

In short, the first 2 rides totally kicked my ass. I am simply not strong enough yet: my legs, my upper body just have to get used to the riding a road bike. Looks like I’ll have to keep practicing.

And in the mean time, if you are a road rider, live around Elgin/Hoffman Estates and are looking for a riding partner, drop me a line.