The iPhora Journey - Part I - Reimagining Domino
Domino, which is currently owned by HCL Technologies, is one of the most enduring application platforms ever built. It owes its existence to Ray Ozzie, who was heavily influenced by his use of the PLATO system, a pioneering interactive/educational network at the University of Illinois. The first version of Domino (then called Lotus Notes) was released in 1989, and Domino applications from 1989 can still run on the newest version (12.01). You can build Domino applications for deployment on the Notes clients, mobile devices, or Web browsers, and for programming and customization, you can use Nodejs, Java, LotusScript, and Formula language, or any combination of them. Regardless of which programming languages are used, a typical application is usually represented by a single Domino database.
However, the IT landscape has changed significantly since Domino was a dominant player in the market. The migration to web and mobile applications using cloud-based solutions has led to the steep decline of traditional client-server architectures. This, combined with the rise of no-code / low-code development tools for web and mobile applications, has made Domino more of legacy system than a cutting-edge platform. Easy integration with external services via APIs is now a must, and deployment time is now measured in minutes, not days. Companies are implementing digital workspaces, allowing users to browse through the offerings in an application store, select, pay (if needed) and deploy the application to their workspace all in less time than it takes to get a cup of coffee.
Over the past few years, HCL has made a number of great improvements to the Domino platform, which can now be deployed on Docker and Kubernetes. However, the application development process, whether for Notes clients or Web browsers, really has not changed much at all. Fifty percent of all Domino development still centers around Notes client applications. This is fine for the existing Domino community, but having to install a large client is a very hard sell to new customers.
If we are to reimagine Domino, the first step is to identify the things that Domino excels at. These happen to be the same things that Domino did well from the beginning:
- Data Security
- Master-to-Master Replication
- Integrated Web Application Platform
- Multiple programming tools with tight integration to data stores
As a fully integrated application server, Domino provides an advantage in ease of deployment and manageability. Of course, this can also be an Achilles heel when it comes to upgrading to the latest versions of critical technologies like Java. The tight integration makes it more difficult to upgrade the individual components that make up Domino.
The next step is to identify new features and capabilities that are desirable to customers today:
- No-code/low-code development
- API-driven platform
- Web and mobile client support
- Easy private/public cloud deployment
- App store delivery
- Easy integration with external services
These are the features that are needed in order to keep Domino relevant in the future. Competitive database solutions, such as MongoDB, RavenDB, and Couchbase, all interact well with a variety of UI and server technologies to achieve these capabilities, while Domino struggles with such integration because of difficulties upgrading to the latest versions of critical components or simply lacking support for certain capabilities. By the way, as NoSQL solutions, all of those database products owe a debt of gratitude to Domino, which pioneered that technology in the corporate world.
This is part one of a fourteen-part series describing our long journey in redefining the Domino platform and how to use it to meet the expectations of today's customers -- specifically new customers. Our focus is totally on what new customers are looking for, not what existing Domino customers expect.
Domino may not be the ideal platform for a modern web application, but at least it provides a solid foundation built on security, data storage, and replication, all nicely integrated. Like all technologies, Domino has many shortcomings. The questions we had to ask ourselves are these: Do the shortcomings outweigh the benefits? Are there workarounds to mitigate the shortcomings, or even turn them into advantages? How can we apply industry best practices for web design to the existing Domino architecture? During this journey, these questions and many others came up again and again.
We discovered early on that it was necessary to abandon all existing notions of what an application is in Domino. The traditional Notes client application is simply not compatible with modern web technologies. A new design approach and a new application definition was needed, one that focuses on web/mobile deployment. With that in mind we started our journey.
Next time, Part II - Domino the Little Engine that Could