Monday, August 13, 2012

I hate my Blackberry and I miss GroupWise

I hate my Blackberry. It represents to me the most intrusive Microsoft-soaked influence on my life. My Blackberry Bold is temperamental, slow and extremely limited in what it can do on the hardware that it runs. Blackberry, like Microsoft, is more of a brand than anything else. People buy them no longer because they are better but just because people don't know better. Blackberry used to represent a luxury, business-related token meant to elevate your status among your peers. Except all it's used for is for e-mail and messaging. Except that everyone else uses them too (those who aren't using iPhones). NYC hookers prefer them because they make them look more professional and "higher-class". Go figure.
Unlike iPhones and Androids, BBs do not represent a technological advancement. Palm phones were as functional. As far as I can figure out, outside North America, the mythical push e-mail fares no better than frequently polled pull e-mail. What does push e-mail really mean? Does it means that e-mail is sent to your phone the moment it arrives? Provided your phone is in coverage. Provided the coverage includes data connectivity.
BB basically twisted the arms of the carriers to provide unlimited data (the most alien concept to them) and then convinced businessmen who were beginning to rely more and more on e-mails, that the Blackberries will bring the e-mail faster and cheaper because it's on a fixed data/Blackberry charge. The problem is, in Asia, you could get unlimited data plans for your phone. So poll all you want.
The only thing I can give to the BlackBerry was that they would download only the text part of the message and process the attachment into a readable format (there are apps for that). And they could provide end-to-end verification of the sender and recipient within the same BlackBerry Enterprise system. Except when receiving mail from the Internet.
But the main reason I wish to put my BlackBerry Bold under a steamroller is that it fails at it's primary function: it would often prevent me from answering calls. You could see the call coming in. The phone rings but you can't do anything. Pressing the answer button on-screen is just a suggestion to the phone. My hit rate has fallen below 40%.
Thank god I am finally rid of it.

I also miss GroupWise. I have configured BB Enterprise to work with GoupWise on Linux. BlackBerry almost doesn't acknowledge that GroupWise can run on Linux but rather focuses on GroupWise on Windows Server (which has it's own peculiarities) and NetWare ( I miss NetWare, too (fire-and-forget file and printer sharing)). Fortunately, getting BES to talk to GroupWise on Linux has the same requirements. In fact, BES has no idea it's talking to a Linux box, just a GroupWise system on another server.

GroupWise was a major technical achievement in it's time. One of the first systems I set up on NetWare ran so well, the customer forgot about it and only had to deal with the server when the disk became full. 200-300 days of no downtime was not uncommon when Windows servers had a 90 day up-time average.
The problem is that everyone else has caught up but GroupWise hasn't grown up that much. In fact they never really addressed their Achilles heels

  1. The need for a Novell client on later versions. On the BES server, it was used for authentication and to use the client libraries that were related to secure networking by the GroupWise client libraries. Anyone who has used it knows that the Novell client can affect the machine's performance for seemingly no reason. Heap onto that the GroupWise client libraries that are memory hogs and you have a terrible user experience. 
  2. All messages are in one file, no ifs not buts. You can auto-archive but you have to bring the archive back on-line to read them. I had a customer with a 100Gb mailbox file stretching 3 years worth of e-mail. Parsing through that was horrible. You could try to move to the files to a local folder which is stored else where but you would need access to that folder whenever you opened the GW client. 
  3. Poor backup options. At least if you want to ever have the chance to restore them. No real safe or easy way to do incremental backup. My experience is that restoring incrementals have a tendency to stomp on user mailboxes. Also you have to put up with the numerous "Why have my deleted messages re-appeared?" queries. I cheated by running the Novell Standby Server and having the standby as a backup. That was ok until EMC bought it and discontinued the NetWare version. Now you have to go to a third party system. But what I heard is that it is just replicating the server, hiving off the messages from master. So much so, that a vendor told me that one of his customers used that system to run GroupWise while the main system was being upgraded. 

Technology should do what they are supposed to. I would also like it if they kept doing it quietly.
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  1. The answer your three Achilles heels list:
    (1) The GroupWise and Novell clients are NOT needed at all on the BES 5.0.x server. BES 5 uses a 100% SOAP connection to the GWPOA post office back-end now. It's an event driven connection now. No polling, like BES 4.x did.

    (2) This is the SiS set of DBs, USER.DB, MSG.DB and NGWGUARD.DB with all file attachments >2K being BLOB files. You can read GW Archives with the GW client in Caching mode, you do not have to bring the Archive data-store back to on-line mode as you indicate.

    (3) I have done many successful synchronized backs using SAN Snapshot backups. You just unload the GWPOA for 1 minute, Snap the GW PO LUN, then reload the GWPOA again. All scripted on the Linux server. Then I backup the 100% synchronized PO Snapshot to tape over the next few hours. Works like a charm.

    1. I'm away with a GPRS connection so forgive me for being terse.
      Writing long replies fails.
      (1) good to know that is fixed
      (3) I did something similar on another setup with a script and gwbackup to a SAN and then backed up the resulting dirs to tape. Still thinks the standby server solution was more elegant
      (2) I stand corrected. Yes you can read them in caching mode.

      Anyway, it has been 2 years since I last touched GW. The company was besieged by Microsoft marketing types. And users didn't like being educated about off line and caching modes. They wanted Outlook. But they passed on Exchange and I ended up going back to a mixture of pop/imap on a Linux box and Scalix aka HP open mail. Then someone convinced them that outsourcing email is the solution. Suffice to say I'm not working there anymore.


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