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Supporting Notes Users in Bandwidth Challenged Environment

In a recent meeting with a client the question was raised: "How do I support users in bandwidth challenged environments". Bandwidth challenged as in GSM (no GPRS), Modem dialup, Satellite links and the like. My first instinctive answer was replication of course. Notes was around when 9600 Baud was considered fast and replication was working then. But after reflecting on the question for a while I had to answer: It depends. You have a number of options depending on your use case. In general there are two strategies to look into: a) let data transmission happen outside the user time (a.k.a in the background) b) minimize data transmission. These are the options:
  • Replication: This is the clear choice for email and informational databases like document libraries, discussions, team rooms etc. The clear advantage: while you do other things the background replication task makes sure all information reaches your desktop. It also has the clear advantage of data being available off-line. Replication is less suitable for applications where you actually only need a small subset of the whole data (typically in workflow applications) or where data transmission is very expensive. You can tweak replication settings to accommodate that. E.g. in the location "Expensive" you only receive your email (and other) database(s) while in the location Internet all is replicated (The sending of new messages is handled by the router, so it will go out). You also can limit the amount of information replicated. (See your admin help for details)
  • Mail routing: In workflow applications when requesting action or approval is is usual to just send an email with a link to the workflow document. For low bandwidth situation that could be changed to send a whole form that includes the action buttons. That form could be made part of the mail design (if it is generic enough) or could be send using "Store form in document". A decision maker would get the entire information in the inbox and can click the button (which would trigger a return mail to the mail-in enabled main application. The mail is stored there as documentation and the main document is updated.
  • Forms Bin: This is the "other" end of the Mail routing concept. A central database contains all the forms for all the workflow application used by bandwidth challenged users and the look-up configuration as far as possible. This database gets copied onto the workstation (either when they are in good network condition or via CD-ROM). Users fill out forms there, but the forms don't get stored in the forms bin but get emailed to a mail-in database that is the main application. You could add a non-replicating "personal bin" to keep local copies. This way only documents that are relevant to the user are transmitted. The forms bin replicates (probably receive ony), so updates to the forms, form removals or new forms are properly reflected.
  • Feed enablement: To get an overview on what is happening, what action is required pulling a summary through RSS into your favorite reader. While that is a read-only approach it might fit a lot of needs. Since Domino 702 there is a feed wizzard, that can generate feeds without touching your existing application. Of course you can take a peek into IBM's and OpenNTF's templates and have the RSS generated inside your application.
  • Sametime enablement: Add a Sametime BOT to your application, so users can use simple commands to retrieve or act on data there. While it is minimalist it is also frugal on the bandwidth. IBM has toolkits for Java and C++, while our business partners Botstation and Instant Tech provide libraries for LotusScript. Works great on mobile devices too.
  • MQ Enablement: This is a variation of the Forms Bin approach. Using the Expeditor Framework in the Notes8 client you can use MQ to send the data (with a little work - sample on request) it works on R6/R7 clients too. Advantage here: you application doesn't need to worry about on-line/off-line and the data transmitted is very small. Disadvantage: you need to get used to MQ (an obviously install it)
  • Web enablement: Since 4.x it has been possible to render Notes form in the browser. There is a large body of knowledge out there how to do that. Of course you want to be very light for challenged bandwidth, add compression or use XPages which does a lot of optimization for you (you want to use Firefox for its better handling of JavaScript caching)

Posted by on 13 November 2008 | Comments (3) | categories: Show-N-Tell Thursday


  1. posted by Carl Tyler on Friday 14 November 2008 AD:
    Domino/Notes performs very well on high latency networks low bandwidth networks, it just needs some tweaks to a few Notes.ini settings and it's one of the best systems out there. That's why the US Navy use it on their ships and subs, as it can do server to server replication quite happily over UHF 2400baud connections.
  2. posted by Tomas Nielsen on Friday 14 November 2008 AD:
    For compression and caching you can also use Domino Accelerator Pack.
    Installs in 5 minutes and really gets your HTTP data moving.
    { Link }
  3. posted by Stephan H. Wissel on Sunday 23 November 2008 AD:
    @Carl: Exactly. They use replication and mail routing on their networks. I would presume you don't want to open a large view online over a 2400Baud connection.

    @Thomas: can I have a copy. I'd give it a spin.