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Consultant's Corner: Paradigm Shifting and Smooth Sailing

Novell Cool Solutions: Feature
By Gregg Hinchman

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Posted: 30 Jan 2007
 

"And now that my life is so pre-arranged ..."

Happy New Year! I hope this year brings you peace, happiness and, of course, a stable GroupWise system. For my part, I hope to bring you a series of 12 articles that will assist you in improving your GroupWise system as well as make you smile. A new year has such promise, such hope and quite often change - change in thoughts, change in actions and sometimes life changes. My New Year was no different. After way too many years as a single self-unemployed consultant, I met and married a wonderful woman, which fate bestowed upon me during my first visit to the other side of the world. Blindsided as I was, I eventually succumbed to a paradigm shift in my way of thinking and way of life.

And its these paradigm shifts that change us and help us grow. The same can be said for GroupWise. Once in a while you need to shift your thinking in order to help your GroupWise system grow or to help you take more time off by easing administration. In this article I would like to introduce just such a shift to you. But first - what is paradigm shift? Well, it's a fancy phrase that consultants use to sound very smart. Mostly its just a change in thought that increases your learning. Or, as Webster.com defines paradigm:

"A philosophical and theoretical framework of a scientific school or discipline within which theories, laws, and generalizations and the experiments performed in support of them are formulated; broadly, a philosophical or theoretical framework of any kind"

Whoa - lots of big words in that definition! Let me take you on a little sailing trip through the land of GroupWise on the good ship WebAccess.

WebAccess Considerations

Do you like supporting GroupWise on the desktop? I would bet - NOT. It can be such a pain, especially trying to keep it up to date with the new service packs or versions. Have you ever considered deploying GroupWise for some or all of your users with just the WebAccess agent? Here are few questions to ask yourself to determine if you can shift users to WebAccess:

  • What kind of users does the organization have ?light, heavy?
  • What are light/heavy users?
  • What features do most users use?
  • What percentage of users are transitory (moving about to different workstations)?

If you find you have a population of light users who do only e-mail and some calendar, then switch them to WebAccess. Why provide these users with a GroupWise client? Most features of the GroupWise client are available within GroupWise 7 WebAccess. Here is a list of the features available in WebAccess:

  • Send: Mail, Phone, Task, and Appointment Messages
  • Search the entire mailbox
  • Right-Click Menu
  • Drag and Drop Messages
  • Work In Progress Folder
  • Full Email Management including Resend of Sent Items
  • Full Appointment Management including Posted Appointments
  • Full Note and Task Management including Posted Notes and Tasks
  • Full Status Tracking (Properties)
  • Item Type Change Ability
  • Full Spell Checker
  • Address Books - Personal, Shared and System
  • Address Book Searching
  • Personal Address Book Management
  • Name Completion from Frequent Contacts Address Book
  • Accepting a Shared Address Book
  • Personal Group Management
  • Full Attachment Management - View, Save As, Attach
  • Calendar Management - Day, Week, Month View
  • Full Folder Management - Personal, Shared
  • Shared Folder Management - Create, Rights, Delete
  • Checklist Folder Management
  • Full Proxy Management - Proxy Access, Adding Proxy
  • QuickFind feature for fast, full-text searches
  • Options Management - Send Options, Password, Rules, Signature
  • Rules Management - Vacation, Forward, Move to
  • Trash Management - Undelete, Empty
  • Document Management - Library Access, View, Save
  • Low Bandwidth Options for slow links

Now let's look and see what is NOT in WebAccess 7.

  • Shared Address Book Creation
  • Multi-Calendar Viewing
  • Search Folder Creation
  • Routing Slip Creation
  • Expanded Mailbox Options
  • Personalization of the Mailbox Look and Feel
  • Automatic Spell Check while typing
  • Name Completion for Frequent Contacts Address Book only
  • Junk Mail Handling
  • Email Certificates
  • Digital Signatures
  • Limited Send Options
  • Multiple Signature Blocks
  • Native Archiving - must use a 3rd party product like GWArchive for WebAccess to archives

OK, so now you have moved your users to WebAccess. What happens if the WebAccess agent fails on you? Now you have a large population without e-mail access, and as we all know this is akin to a world-killing-meteor hitting earth - death, destruction, mayhem and chaos within your organization. Yes, I exaggerate a bit. What can you do to decrease the potential for such a failure? Simple - expand and strengthen your WebAccess implementation.

Strengthening WebAccess

WebAccess is broken into two parts. The first is the Application, which runs best with Apache2/Tomcat4. The WebAccess Application can on average handle up to 1,000 simultaneous connections. The second part is the Agent, which is the workhorse of WebAccess. It communicates to the post office agent and acts as a client for the user. The WebAccess Agent can handle an average of 250 to 500 simultaneous connections.

Note: A subcomponent agent to the WebAccess Agent is the Document Viewer Agent. Each WebAccess Agent has 1 Document Viewer Agent (DVA). The DVA can be tuned to increase or decrease processing threads for attachment document viewing. It's simply important to know that the DVA has a 1-to-1 relationship with its parent WebAccess Agent.

So the key is to build more WebAccess Applications and agents and tie them together, so that if any one WebAccess Application fails another will pick up and run. Likewise, if any one WebAccess agent fails, another is available to run in its place, ensuring your users are never denied. This requires just a few shifts in design.

First, consider the path from a user's desktop (inside or outside of the organization) to his mailbox with WebAccess - browser to network to web server to WebAccess application to WebAccess agent to post office to mailbox - all on top of IP. Whether the user is at home or in the office, the first place he hits is the network. There's not much you can do about the Internet, so let's focus on your organization's network. A Layer 4 Content Switch will do load balancing and handle fault tolerance, but it's expensive. The way it works is simple - it 'front-ends' the WebAccess application. Users go to mail.demo.com, which resolves to an IP address on the Content Switch. The Content Switch accepts and passes on the request to a WebAcces appliation, based on load or weight or availability.

Note: You can also use DNS round-robin. But this can present your users with a 50% failure rate should one web server be unavailable. Another idea is to front end WebAccess with a simple web page that has multiple WebAccess links to the different WebAccess applications.

This means if you have two WebAccess applications, the Content Switch will pass between both. But once we get to the Application, what happens? Well, it's here you authenticate to GroupWise and get passed to an agent for servicing. And if one agent is not available, a second one will respond, or a third or fourth, etc.

This kind of setup is configurable within GroupWise at no additional cost. Simply make sure all WebAccess agents have the same encryption key - the same as the WebAccess applications. Here's the easiest way to do this:

1. Take the "commgr.cfg" file from the VOL:\DOMAIN\WPGATE\WEBACCESSAGENT directory of one WebAccess Agent and copy it to all WebAccess Application servers in the SYS:\NOVELL\WEBACCESS\ directory.

2. In ConsoleOne, in the properties of the WebAccess Agent where you got the "commgr.cfg" file, select the WebAccess tab and the Settings window.

3. Highlight the Encryption Key and press Ctrl-C to copy the key.

4. Close the Properties dialog.

5. Go to all the other WebAccess Agents, highlight the Encryption Key, and perform a Control-V to paste in the key from the first WebAccess Agent. This entire process assures you that you now have the same Encryption Key for all WebAccess Applications and Agents.

6. Restart each WebAccess Application and Agent if necessary.

7. Go to the GroupWise Provider object for each WebAccess application and assign each WebAccess agent to it.

Figure 1: WebAccess Application GroupWise Provider Object

Figure 2: WebAccess Agent Properties

Now you have WebAccess agents and applications that can communicate with each other, assuring you that if any one fails, the others will respond. And you have decreased your dependency upon the desktop, decreased your administration of the desktop, and increased your free time to enjoy a well deserved vacation, holiday, or night on the town!

Figure 3: Example of Highly Available and Fault Tolerant WebAccess solution

Summary

Does this sort of change really work? Yes. I have quite a few clients that have started driving their users to WebAccess only. But let me recap:

  1. Consider your user population and their GroupWise usage.
  2. Consider your budget - if you want more load balancing, a Content Switch may be the way to go.
  3. Start building free GroupWise add-on's to strengthen your WebAccess implementation.
  4. Present your users with a paradigm shift and some training.

And maybe you will start singing ... "I know that it's time for a cool change."

As always, I can be reached at: Gregg@HinchmanConsulting.com, if you have any comments, article ideas, or just want to help a quirky consultant support his GroupWise habit.


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