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Second Signal will migrate off Domino for Web Services - help me pick an alternate platform

By Andrew Pollack on 12/07/2012 at 06:29 PM EST

I've decided to move forward with migrating Second Signal away from Domino before the end of Q1 2013. There are a number of platform choices to consider and I'm looking for suggestions.

Since I know the majority of readers on this blog will of course be Domino fans, let me point out that I'm fully aware of the strengths of Domino as a platform. I did pick it, after all. There are reasons to migrate away, however, even if it means I've got to do more of the work for security, replication, and indexing myself. The short answer to that is that no matter how good it is, it is no longer relevant in the marketplace.

The longer answer is, at some point down the road I want the option of selling the business or doing something else with it. Domino is a major roadblock to that. I've been involved with several startups and I know how negative a result having a platform in the back end that isn't considered mainstream (and Domino just isn't for external facing sites) can have on the process and interest level of prospective partners or buyers. Add to that the licensing rules and costs around Domino as a service provider and IBM's demonstrated unwillingness to treat the platform as a first class citizen in its offerings, and top it off with my current disgust and utter lack of confidence in product management and my need to migrate becomes clear.

The most obvious choice is probably the Microsoft IIS/.NET stack. I'm already using .NET to build Windows based software for the client side applications and it would certainly not present any issues for prospective business partners or buyers in the future. On the other hand, the traditional open source approach with Apache, Tomcat, and PHP connecting to a PostgresSQL or mysql database would leave me with an entirely open source based solution at the back end with all of the obvious advantages inherent in that.

I've had Salesforce.com recommended to me for a variety of workflow apps, but I don't think it's a good fit here and I'm very reticent to build something like this on someone else's infrastructure. Frameworks like Ruby on Rails and Drupal seem to get a lot of attention, and I suppose those should be looked at. My concern with frameworks is keeping them up to date and avoiding security problems when in reality I would probably be using very little of their inherent functionality.

NoSQL style databases have their appeal, but I'm not looking to adopt another platform that I have to explain to anyone I want to talk to about the business. I think there is room for a major player in that space, but so far nobody is stepping out into that role.

So,... I've put my initial thoughts out here for you. I'm curious to hear what you come up with.


There are  - loading -  comments....

re: Second Signal will migrate off Domino for Web Services - help me pick an alternate platformBy richard moy on 12/07/2012 at 08:11 PM EST
Andrew,

Have you looked into the Zend PHP Framework?
re: Second Signal will migrate off Domino for Web Services - help me pick an alternate platformBy Toby Samples on 12/07/2012 at 09:37 PM EST
If mainstream is the plan, it depends on the specific applications and talent
that will be maintaining the site, however I think your thought of using the
.net stack are pretty good, Its definitely has the most out of the box
enhancements to the framework to make development quicker.
re: Second Signal will migrate off Domino for Web Services - help me pick an alternate platformBy Jim Knight on 12/07/2012 at 09:38 PM EST
If you have nosql data but want a relational db you can do HSTORE in postresql.
FYI if you weren't aware yet.
http://railscasts.com/episodes/345-hstore
re: Second Signal will migrate off Domino for Web Services - help me pick an alternate platformBy Corey Davis on 12/07/2012 at 10:38 PM EST
I don't do many non-Domino projects, but when I do I prefer the Apache / mySQL
/ PHP (backend) / JavaScript with jQuery (front end) approach. In all honesty,
I feel a real sense of freedom when I do those projects, but also very out of
my element.
re: Second Signal will migrate off Domino for Web Services - help me pick an alternate platformBy Richard Schwartz on 12/07/2012 at 11:12 PM EST
Have you considered cloud services and the stacks that they support? Perhaps
your vision for how you want it hosted/deployed/managed should take precedence
over picking a stack.
re: Second Signal will migrate off Domino for Web Services - help me pick an alternate platformBy Richard Schwartz on 12/08/2012 at 01:40 AM EST
Having said that, however, I want to say one more thing: I hate SQL with a
passion. I learned it in college when it was covered in my database textbook
as an "experimental" language" from IBM. I barely touched it for more than the
next 30 years. This past year, I've had to get back into it, and after
spending most of the last 20 years dealing with a document database I'm not
liking SQL at all. Can you do incredibly powerful things with it? Sure. I've
built some monster queries in the past few months, but here's the thing: they
don't really do what the customer wants because the some requirements weren't
anticipated and weren't accounted for in the schema. Of course, we can fix the
schema, but the data can't be filled in for the pre-existing records -- and
that means the queries have to account for odd-ball cases, and so what's the
point of having the schema in the first place? Even when the data could fit
into the mathematical elegance of a relational database, the messy evolving
nature of real systems steps in and makes it ugly. This bugs me, and makes me
wish I was dealing with a schemaless document-oriented database. I think it
will bug you, too.
re: Second Signal will migrate off Domino for Web Services - help me pick an alternate platformBy Jesper Kiaer on 12/08/2012 at 07:56 AM EST
If you like simplicity, but want a powerful web platform choose "Play
Framework".

If you like the database part of Domino but want more look at "OrientDB".
It is document and graph database. It has master <-> master replication, ACID,
SQL queries and much much more. AND it is super fast!

/Jesper Kiaer
re: Second Signal will migrate off Domino for Web Services - help me pick an alternate platformBy Henning Heinz on 12/08/2012 at 10:09 AM EST
I'll second Play Framework although V2 lost a bit of its magic but if I
remember correctly Java is not one of Andrew's preferred languages (although
Play would also support Scala).
My current project (Course Management System) involves Play2, Twitter Bootstrap
for the backend, some jQuery magic and it went really,really well. Server
requirements: A JVM, a database and optional the play framework files (less
than 100 MB zip). It replaces a ten year old Domino solution (which was still
working fine).
I don't like Windows servers as a backend for web applications but Visual
Studio really rocks as an IDE.
re: Second Signal will migrate off Domino for Web Services - help me pick an alternate platformBy Bill Dorge on 12/08/2012 at 10:22 AM EST
Since you said you might be interested in selling, I would think that the
preferred path would be IIS/.Net.

I say that because most of the vendors I can think of that you might need to
integrate with are .Net/SQL based. Windows resources are also available in
your target markets, and that always makes the decision makers more comfortable
with a solution.

This might be one of those times you put Mr. Developer off to the side and let
Mr. Business Man make the decision.

Good Luck with your decision to move forward with the migration, I'm sure
whatever platform you pick it will be a rock solid solution.
re: Second Signal will migrate off Domino for Web Services - help me pick an alternate platformBy Joe Blauer on 12/08/2012 at 02:35 PM EST
Let me put in a good word for Ruby on Rails.

First, as you well know from the Notes/Domino (hereafter Notes) industry,
perhaps the most important factor in selecting a technical platform is
community.

Both commercial platforms, like Notes and .Net, and open source platforms like
Rails, Django, Drupal, have ecosystems of users, consultants and vendors that
form around them. But in open source, the platform developers themselves, by
definition, form a strong community in which anyone with the appropriate skills
and inclinations can participate. In other words, the notion of community is
baked into the very development of the platform, not added in for marketing
purposes. This is a very powerful concept.

Second, both Ruby and Rails share the mission of developer happiness (see, for
instance: http://gettingreal.37signals.com/ch10_Optimize_for_Happiness.php).
This largely contributes to the strength of the community, but also to the
happiness of customers who are dealing with developers who truly love what they
do.

Third, while it is often criticized on these grounds, Rails resembles Notes in
being highly "opinionated" in that it makes many important architectural
decisions for you, leaving you the bits that actually add business value. While
this does involve a learning curve, and some uncomfortable periods of trying to
coax the platform into conforming to your preconceptions, when you take the
time to appreciate and master "the Rails way", I think you'll find, as I have,
that the decisions that are being made for you are very good ones, and they
save you a great deal of trouble and complexity of experimenting with different
alternatives. The thought leadership for Rails
(http://david.heinemeierhansson.com/) is indeed, in very good hands.

Fourth, don't make the mistake of lumping Rails, an application development
framework, in with Drupal, an extensible application (i.e. content management
system). In this sense, Drupal resembles Notes more than Rails does, but in my
opinion the Rails approach clearly wins. You know how, much as you try, a Notes
app will always look likeu2026well, a Notes app? Same with Drupal. But not
Rails. While its UI development approach is extremely powerful
(http://railscasts.com/episodes/279-understanding-the-asset-pipeline), it's a
framework for building user interfaces, and not a set of lego blocks for you to
assemble and fight with or give up when you want to do something slightly
different.

This last point may seem to contradict the previous one, but on the contrary,
it illustrates to me its uncanny knack, like good government, for making the
right decisions, but staying out of the ones it has no business making.

There's much more to say, and feel free to follow up with me if you like.

One caveat, though. Rails is almost 10 years old now, and many in the web
development industry are already beginning to treat it as yesterday's news. All
things node.js (javascript everywhere) is the rage these days, and if what's
cool and attractive to VC's forms an important part of your selection criteria,
then this would be the way to go. This may sound cynical, but I actually have
nothing against it (although I would find it painful to give up Ruby, my true
love, for JavaScript, yet again). The trade-off, for now anyway, is very much
one of stability and maturity vs. life on the bleeding edge. Depends, I guess
on your appetite for risk. But I've been working with Rails since its beta, and
I will say this about it: In its 10 years it has shown a remarkable resilience
to change, and has managed to remain very relevant, and in many ways the
measure against which the other frameworks are judged.
re: Second Signal will migrate off Domino for Web Services - help me pick an alternate platformBy Stephan H. Wissel on 12/09/2012 at 09:17 PM EST
Depends where your target market (for selling) is. In the startup world you
will find OpenSource dominating with LAMP at the front, but Ruby and Node.js
coming quite close. Twitter is good ol' Java by now (after its start as a Ruby
app) and What'sApp is Erlang (as is CouchDB).
.net/MS-SQL is a no-no in a startup environment, but well entrenched in
corporate. You might look at CouchDB or MongoDB which are closer to the Domino
way of doing things. Node.js/Mongo is a "no-explanation-needed" combination in
the startup scene, but might not be well known outside.
re: Second Signal will migrate off Domino for Web Services - help me pick an alternate platformBy Richard Moy on 12/10/2012 at 10:14 AM EST
Stephen,

I agree with you, but I see more and more corporations moving towards these
solutions beyond startup. Node.js with MongoDB or CouchDB is getting more and
more popular here in the Midwest.
re: Second Signal will migrate off Domino for Web Services - help me pick an alternate platformBy Mark Barton on 12/14/2012 at 06:47 AM EST
I would second node.js and either Mongo DB or CounchDB.

I have been looking seriously at node and I have to say its pretty amazing.
From a performance point of view node has apparently reached the point where
the limiting factor is the OS TCPIP stack.
re: Second Signal will migrate off Domino for Web Services - help me pick an alternate platformBy Andrew Pollack on 12/14/2012 at 08:22 AM EST
node.js sounds interesting. I've heard some buzz around mongodb. Couchdb,
while not dead, seems to have grown to its potential as far as general
acceptance. I'd really like to avoid another dead end with limited support
long term.
re: Second Signal will migrate off Domino for Web Services - help me pick an alternate platformBy charles ross on 01/22/2014 at 11:39 AM EST
For those who deal with business minds, Mongo will be the only commercially
viable non-relational answer to customers.

Seems to be that if you can develop a solution that runs against REST data
services, moving the datastore from NSF to Mongo (or couch) could be workable.

What about that? I am dying to see some people figure this out, since couch
got plowed under by Mongo.


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