Messaging tips for admins part 2: Notes or not, secure e-mail

In this tip, Julie Farris helps a user decide whether or not Lotus Notes can be useful in a Linux environment.

Julie Farris is familiar with the enterprise e-mail trenches. At Bell South Telecommunications, she pioneered the design and deployment of one of the world's largest and most advanced enterprise scale networks for distributed messaging and groupware. As a site expert on SearchEnterpriseLinux.com, Julie helps our readers deal with their own enterprise messaging challenges. In part one of this two-part tip, Julie gave advice for choosing the right e-mail server in different circumstances. In part two, she tackles other tough decisions -- including whether or not Lotus Notes can be useful in a Linux environment.

We are now using Domino 6.5.1 server and Lotus Notes client 6.5.1. Server OS is Windows NT 4.0 SP6a. We are considering migrating to Red Hat Linux. In this case, we could upgrade Domino and Lotus Notes or change to another option, but we can't think of an alternative. Naturally, it would be great to use open source and a cheaper set of Linux applications. Lotus Notes, however, offers good security, instant messaging and database/groupware...

functions. I have to explain to the executives which option is best. One reason for using Lotus Notes is the large conversion cost of changing the Lotus Notes e-mail boxes to another application. What are some of our options?

Farris: From reading your question I sense you've decided to move your server environment from Windows to Linux. Prior to beginning your Linux migration, you want to explore the e-mail, IM and database options that are newly available to you in the Linux and open source environment.

Yes, there are open source alternatives to Domino Servers and Notes clients that address rich e-mail, calendaring, groupware applications and instant messaging in your organization. There is, however, one very important difference. Domino/Notes is composed of a series of highly integrated applications from a single vendor. A comparable open source solution will include multiple best-of-breed components that are integrated through open standards.

You'll need to assess the capabilities and architecture of a single-vendor solution versus the open source advantages of openness and flexibility. Because Domino servers and multiple commercial and open source alternatives are available on the Linux platform, you can proceed with your Windows-to-Linux migration knowing that you have alternatives.

Here are some applications on Linux that may address the functionality you currently get from Domino/Notes:

  • For creating database and groupware applications you can use the popular "LAMP" stack: Linux operating system, Apache middleware, MySQL databases and PHP, Perl and Python tools.
  • For Linux e-mail and calendar servers you may want to consider Groupwise, Bynari, Stalker, OpenExchange and Scalix.
  • GAIM, Jabber and Kopete are popular Instant messaging choices.
  • There are many other Linux offerings that can round out your solutions.

Finally, migrating to a different solution set for e-mail and collaboration doesn't necessarily mean a higher conversion cost than continuing with Notes/Domino. I'd advise you to undergo a closer comparison to determine what the most cost-effective route is.

I have a request to pop up a data entry form every Friday afternoon so Product Engineers can record their time for the week. I can imagine a LotusScript agent that sends an e-mail containing a link to the form, but we want it to be more aggressive. We don't wait for the PE to check his/her mail and don't expect them to click a link. We'd like to have the database "force" the form up on their screen. Can you have an agent push out a form to a small group of users at a specific time?

Farris: A fairly easy, low tech solution that utilizes the "appointment reminder" function common in most calendaring systems should provide the functionality you are looking for. An alert on every project engineers' workstation would pop up at the appropriate time at which point they will be one click away from the timecard form.

Here's how to set it up. Send out a recurring appointment/event called "Update Timecards" to all project engineers. When creating the appointment, make sure you specify a recurring appointment for a set time every Friday afternoon. Remember to include the link to the timecard form in the reminder. When the project engineers add the appointment to their calendars, the client software ensures the alert and the link pop up in a dialog box.

There is some discussion at my company of putting e-mail files on our e-mail relay server, which is outside our firewall. People currently access via a dialup VPN, but would like to not carry a laptop around all the time. Some people question the security of this. Have you got any suggestions?

Farris: Files stored outside your firewall will be significantly less secure than behind the firewall. In today's world of ever-increasing security threats, e-mail hygiene and security have emerged as important IT functions. If this expertise doesn't exist within your organization, an IT security consultant can help you understand the full implications of the alternatives you are considering, while working with you to define and implement a security infrastructure that protects your corporate data assets, enables secure access by authorized users, and minimizes risks from viruses, malicious users and other Internet-borne threats.


For more information: Read other expert responses by Julie Hanna Farris.
This was first published in March 2005

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