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New Tools for Migrating IBM Domino Mailboxes to Exchange Server

 

Topic Last Modified: 2006-01-06

When I look at applications that I've worked on, I frequently see features that can be added and new scenarios that can be supported. This was especially true for the Microsoft® Exchange Server tools for transitioning from IBM Domino/Lotus Notes.

For several years, Microsoft has offered three tools that enable messaging coexistence and migration from IBM Domino servers to Exchange Server:

  • Exchange Connector for Lotus Notes   Provides directory, messaging, and meeting requests between Exchange and Domino servers.
  • Exchange Calendar Connector   Enables free/busy lookup between Exchange and Domino servers.
  • Exchange Migration Wizard   Facilitates migration of mailboxes from Domino to Exchange.

These tools were originally developed during the Microsoft Exchange Server version 5.5 development cycle, and they were upgraded to run with Microsoft Exchange 2000 Server. However, little was done with these tools after the release of Exchange 2000 Server. They aged while other messaging technology improved, and they were no longer capable of running on the latest IBM or Microsoft server software.

This situation caused several technical issues, and confusion inside and outside Microsoft about the overall strategy for transitioning from Domino.

In early 2005, I had the opportunity to update these tools to provide improved coexistence and migration of mailboxes from IBM Domino servers to Exchange Server. The tools were released in December 2005.

Following are some of the problems with the legacy Exchange Server 2003 Connector for Lotus Notes, Calendar Connector, and Migration Wizard:

  • Unicode content was not supported   If a mail item was sent from Notes to Exchange with Japanese content in the subject (or from a Japanese name), any non-English characters in the Subject and From fields would be rendered as question marks (???). Customers were forced to run regional connectors in an attempt to support regional languages, which was not always a successful solution.
  • HTML/MIME content was not supported   Neither the Exchange Connector for Lotus Notes nor the Exchange Migration Wizard handled HTML. The messages were somewhat readable, but all formatting was lost.
  • iNotes clients were not supported   The Exchange Connector for Lotus Notes was not updated when iNotes clients began appearing. As a result, it wasn't possible to send meeting requests to someone who was using iNotes.
  • Stability issues   Many customers reported issues with the Exchange Connector for Lotus Notes stopping to process mail, or shutting down while opening a message. Although we fixed these issues as they arose, it was clear that stability needed to be addressed.

Figure 1 shows an example of an HTML message sent from a Microsoft Office Outlook® client with a mailbox on a server running Exchange to Notes through the Exchange Connector for Lotus Notes.

Message from Exchange to Notes using Connector

Both customers and Microsoft employees were confused about transitioning from Domino to a Microsoft platform. The confusion became apparent when we met with customers and were unable to answer questions such as:

  • Are your tools able to support an enterprise?
  • Is Microsoft serious about supporting a transition?
  • What is involved in a transition?
  • How can I preserve the investment I made in Domino?
  • Domino is much more than a mail system. What about the existing applications?
  • How do I find experts who can help with a transition?

Although many transitions from Domino to Exchange have occurred since the Exchange Connector for Lotus Notes, Exchange Calendar Connector, and Exchange Migration Wizard were released in the Exchange Server 5.5 time frame, many more transitions occurred after Exchange Server 2003 was released with its enhanced messaging functionality. In 2004, we began seeing an incredible amount of interest in transitions. It became obvious that both the technical problems and confusion related to transitions needed to be solved.

We improved our tools for transitioning from IBM Domino to Exchange Server by using the following process:

  • Build a team
  • Develop an IBM/Domino transition strategy
  • Fix the tools
  • Educate users (including Microsoft staff, partners, and customers)
  • Engage our partners

Last winter, we formed a team that focused on transitions from Notes to Exchange Server. Our team was code named Redbull, after a common energy drink. The Redbull team started small, but it quickly grew to a full team focused completely on the transition from IBM Domino/Notes. Our core team now includes development staff focused on improving the tools and an internal consulting staff who provide special direct expertise to the field. We worked hard to staff our team, not only with Microsoft experts, but also with IBM Domino experts from the Notes community.

We also built a virtual team that includes additional experts from around the world who can directly help customers both before and after they purchase Exchange Server. These experts provide assistance related to specific functionality or in specific regions.

The Redbull team now has a dedicated and experienced internal staff to improve our tools and provide information to our partners and customers to make transitions successful.

As the Redbull team came together, the first thing we did was to evaluate our strategy for transitioning from IBM/Domino to the Microsoft platform. Although Microsoft had previously provided several technical articles and other guidance for the transition, we did not outline the overall transition path or the steps for completing the process.

Figure 2 shows the strategy that we developed for a transition from IBM Domino to the Microsoft platform.

Strategy for transition from Domino to Microsoft

This strategy divides the Domino server into three distinct areas: directory, messaging, and applications, and it indicates the corresponding Microsoft solutions. The strategy also defines the phases of a transition: plan and prepare, coexistence, and migration. For more information about this strategy, see "Microsoft's Collaboration Strategy," a new document on the Microsoft Exchange Server TechCenter.

After we created a transition strategy, it was time to fix the existing tools. At first, we planned to include a set of fixes in Exchange Server 2003 Service Pack 2 (SP2). However, we quickly realized that the changes that we planned were far too extensive for a service pack and would require a whole new release of the tools.

In December 2005, we released the three improved tools to the Web. These tools are based on the original technology, but they are complete, stand-alone applications that can be installed on any server that is running Exchange Server 2003 SP2. The tools include several major improvements over the legacy versions.

The three tools retained their names, although their functionality has changed. To download these new tools and read information about them, visit the collaboration Web site.

The Exchange Server 2003 Connector for Lotus Notes is designed to serve as a bridge between Notes clients on Domino and Outlook clients on Exchange Server. It provides directory synchronization, mail transport, and interoperability between calendars (meeting requests).

The new version of the tool includes the following enhancements:

  • Available on the Web   The connector can be downloaded and installed (or updated) directly from the Web.
  • Better international support   The connector now offers full Unicode support for directory and messaging.
  • Improved content handling   The connector supports HTML/MIME content and uses HTML/MIME instead of RTF as much as possible to preserve content.
  • More reliable   The new connector handles errors more effectively than the previous version of the tool, can automatically recover from problems in the Notes API, and is better at ensuring that bad mail does not block mail flow.
  • Supports newer versions of Microsoft Windows®   The updated connector runs and is fully supported on Microsoft Windows Server™ 2003.
Message sent through new Connector for Lotus Notes

The Exchange Server 2003 Calendar Connector provides free/busy lookup between Domino and Exchange servers. This tool is intended to be used with the meeting functionality that is already included in the Exchange Server 2003 Connector for Lotus Notes, and the tool will run on top of it. Like the new Connector for Lotus Notes, the Calendar Connector was also released with a full installer, and it is much more stable than the legacy version.

The Exchange Server 2003 Migration Wizard for Lotus Notes is a new tool that focuses on migrating Lotus Notes mailboxes from a Domino server to Exchange. This tool differs from the legacy Migration Wizard that is used as a generic tool for migrating other systems, such as Novell GroupWise or systems that are running Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) and/or Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP). The Migration Wizard for Lotus Notes has also been improved to handle Unicode and HTML content.

After we crafted our strategy and began to update the existing tools, we realized that we needed an easy way for anyone—including Microsoft staff, partners, and customers—to learn about transitioning from Domino to Exchange, now and in the future.

Our team includes an expert who has more than 15 years of Notes experience. She wrote the content that describes how to use the new tools and, earlier, as the team was formed, delivered extensive guidance that helped shape our strategy.

We also needed a good way to distribute information. To do this, we built a collaboration Web portal with a page dedicated to moving to the Microsoft collaboration platform. These pages outline the different Microsoft solutions and the guidance and tools that are needed when moving to a Microsoft platform.

The last step in improving the transitioning tools was to make sure that our partners are fully engaged. We have a great set of partners who provide both tools to help in migrations and expertise in migrations. We have worked directly with partners such as Quest Software, Inc.; Binary Tree, Inc.; Transend Corp.; and others to make sure that they provide solutions that enhance what we offer.

These partners have stepped forward to provide solutions for migrating personal address books and archives. Additionally, these same partners and others like Avanade, Inc. provide migration consulting and services to make the process more straightforward.

Recently, we visited partners around the world and trained partners in each region regarding the new tools and our strategy for transitions. As a result of our visits, our partner list is growing and our partners are better trained. We list some of these partners on the Exchange Server Web site.

As a result of our recent work, we've made great progress on Domino transitions. We have:

  • An expert team developing solutions.
  • A good migration strategy.
  • An up-to-date set of tools for messaging transitions.
  • A good communication strategy.
  • Excellent partners.

In summary, we have a solid solution for directory and messaging transitions.

Are we done? No, we have more work to do. We can create more tools to simplify migrations even more, drive down the cost, and address transitioning directory, messaging, and applications from Domino.

 
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