For the past 17 years, I've been serving organizations and individuals that use Lotus Notes to get things done. My focus is on high performance knowledge work and I teach the importance of having the right tools for the job and knowing how to use them to be productive. Unfortunately, many people don't give a thought to their systems and what makes them work well.
Instead of using tools that are optimized for the job, users often struggle and are less productive than they could be. That's like using a dull saw to cut a tree down -- you can do it, but it's going to take a lot more work to get the job done.As I work with and coach clients around the world that use Lotus Notes, I'm often asked why Notes and their systems in general seem to get slower and slower. While there are many parts to the answer, the good news is that there is much you can do to improve the user experience in terms of performance.
First, let me provide some context: for purposes of this discussion I'll be referring to the Lotus Notes Mail file; however, the concepts I describe can be applied equally to any Lotus Notes database or application.
Before we can talk about the things that can be done to speed up Lotus Notes, we must first understand what aspects of your system and Notes affect performance. I have broken these down into three areas: System, Lotus Notes, and User Data. Elements in each of these areas will affect end-user performance. Some are things you can change easily; some are not. Let's take a look:
There's no question that better and faster hardware will [usually] lead to better overall performance at the desktop. But, not everyone can run out and replace their hardware. Still, it's valuable to understand the system elements that will affect your performance. these include:
CPU and RAM Memory - the speed of the processor and amount of available memory will always play a huge part in determining overall performance. Often, big leaps in performance can be gained simply be adding additional memory to the system. An $80 investment in memory chips can save hours each week. Bottom line: the more memory your system has available, the less time it will spend swapping memory to disk.
# of applications running - Each time you open an application, additional system memory is required. If your system does not have enough memory (RAM) it will swap to disk and you will be constrained by the speed of your disk. (See below). If you have lots of memory available, great - go ahead and open 20 applications. If not, consider closing a few windows.
Hard Drive Disk Speed - It goes without saying that the faster the disk the better overall performance. But every disk will run faster when the files are defragmented. Defragmenting optimizes the information on the disk so thet it can be located and retrieved as quickly as possible. This is something anyone can do and it doesn't cost a penny. I recommend running your disk defragmenter at least once a month. I run mine once a week and sometimes more often when I want higher performance. The less time the disk has to spend locating all of the parts of a file, the faster the response.
Disk Encryption - If you are running software that encrypts the contents of your disk, know that you are trading security for speed. Big time. Each time you read or write data it has to be encrypted/decrypted and you pay a penalty in speed. I usually recommend encrypting only a portion of the disk drive where sensitive documents are stored and, when possible, use hardware encryption. IF you do encrypt your hard drive, be sure to disable encryption in your Lotus Notes databases as you will pay a steep price for double encryption. (More on that later.)
Disk Space Available - it's important that you have sufficient disk space for swap files, temporary files, indexes, etc. I try not to exceed 60% of usable disk space.
OK, we've covered the system elements. Your key takeaway should be to use memory wisely and defragment your disks regularly. Now, let's take a look at Lotus Notes...
II. LOTUS NOTES
Basic or Standard Mode? - Lotus Notes 8.x provides many powerful and productive new features but if you are running on an older system it may slow to a crawl. If you are running Notes 8.x and your system does not meet IBM's recommended minimum requirements , consider running in "Basic" mode instead of "Standard" mode. This will speed things up until you can get faster hardware.
Database Encryption - Lotus Notes databases can be encrypted. The good news is that the encryption is hidden from the user and the entire process is transparent to the user. Well, mostly. When you enable encryption on a Notes database, every read or write needs to be processed by the encryption software and this can slow down performance. For laptops, I recommend using medium encryption; for desktops, I usually turn off encryption. In any case, if you encrypt your Notes data, do not also encrypt the disk drive that it's stored on. if you do, your system will be come painfully slow, as every read or write must be encrypted not once but twice. Did I mention that encryption will slow down your system? It's a tradeoff between security and performance.
Local or Server Replica? - The IBM recommended best practice for Lotus Notes & Domino performance is to use Local replicas. With few exceptions, my experience has been shown a local replica will almost always outperform a server replica. When you use a local replica you are not constrained by the speed or congestion of your network or internet connection. This becomes even more relevant if you are using WiFi, a wireless WAN card, or a VPN connection. Bottom line, for maximum performance, I always recommend using a local replica. The good news is that you can set this up in 2 minutes and then forget about it while Lotus Notes handles the details. It is also possible for the Notes administrator to enable this via a policy setting for all users.
Network Compression Enabled? - Current versions of Lotus Notes support network compression. If you do not have this turned on, DO IT NOW. It will greatly boost your overall Lotus Notes performance. In my experience, it doubled the performance of databases that I access on my server. It also dramatically reduced my replication time.
Full-Text Index, or Not? - Lotus Notes can build a full-text index of all of the information in a Notes database, including information contained inside most file attachments. This is an easy way to speed up performance. When full-text indexing is enabled, Notes has less work to do to find the information you seek. Bottom line: for faster performance, always turn on full-text indexing, especially on your mail file.
OK, we've covered the Lotus Notes elements. Your key takeaway should be to use a local replica, with full-text indexing enabled, and the lowest level of encryption needed. Now, let's look at your data...
III. USER DATA
There are several elements of user data that work together to determine the performance you will receive when using Lotus Notes. This is especially true when using your mail file (which, as I explained, also contains calendar and tasks and more...). Let's look at these in greater detail:
File Size - In Lotus Notes, all of the data and applications are stored in a file on disk, often known as an .NSF file. While there's no practical limit to the size of this file, there are some things you need to know - especially when it comes to the size of your mail file. The first thing to know is that your Lotus Notes mail file doesn't contain just mail. It also contains your calendar and tasks. Also, it may contain contacts and journal/notebook entries if you sync these to your mail file. The point is, there's a lot going on in your mail file and it is constantly accessed during the course of the day. The smaller you can keep your file sizes, the better. I like to keep current information in my mail file and I archive old information when possible. This helps me keep my mail file size down and my system running as fast as possible.
# Documents - It almost goes without saying that the more documents (emails/calendar/tasks/attachments, etc) that you have in your database the more that needs to be processed. I'm a pack rat and I like to keep lots of history, but I don't keep it all in my mail file. (That's what archives are for.) For faster performance, store all you need to (or are permitted to) and no more. Don't be afraid to use the delete key.
# Folders & Views - Folders and Views are powerful features of Lotus Notes that allow you to organize and view the contents of a Notes database in different way. Used appropriately, these can greatly boost your productivity. At the same time, it's important to create only the folders and views that you need. Creating custom views is beyond the reach of most users so I will talk about folders instead. A folder is a collection of documents in a Notes database. Each time you open a folder, it must review and collect the documents it needs to show you. The more folders and documents to process the longer it can take. I'm just say'n. One more thing: if you sync your mail file to a PDA or smartphone, some of these devices may have limits on the number of folders that will sync. For example, some BlackBerry devices/software will not sync more than 255 folders.
Heavy Tasks or Calendar user? - The inbox folder in the Lotus Notes mail file shows all newly received email. There's no processing for Notes to do. On the other hand, if you are someone that actually processes your mail into calendar or tasks (and I hope you do) you will need to switch between the inbox and other views. These other views make use of a SELECT statement in Notes to filter the information that you see. The benefit is that you see only what you need; however, there's a small performance hit for that SELECT statement. If you have a Notes mail file or a system that is already slow and you suddenly start using Calendar, tasks, or even eProductivity in a big way, it may feel like Notes has suddenly slowed down. It probably hasn't. Rather, your usage pattern has shifted from living in your inbox to using other views. The good news is that many/any of the tips in this blog post can be applied to help improve performance.
eProductivity Enabled? - If you are using eProductivity for IBM Lotus Notes, then several additional views will be added to your mail file. These views allow eProductivity to filter and present only the relevant information to you when you need to see it. This productivity comes at a small price in terms of system performance, as eProductivity needs to scan through your mail file to find the relevant information. If you are running on a local replica and your Lotus Notes is already running fast, then this will be barely noticeable. On the other hand, if you are running on a server replica or if your Lotus Notes is already running slow for any of the reasons mentioned above, your performance could slow dramatically. The good news, is that there are many things that you can do to easily and quickly boost your performance and productivity.
File Attachments - Email is an easy way to exchange files with others, but it's not the best place to store them. I won't lecture you on what you should/should not store in your mail file here, but I will remind you that large file attachments will slow down your system. For most Notes databases, this is barely noticeable, but in your mail file, where performance is important, I recommend deleting or archiving any file attachments that you do not need to have in your mail file.
I hope you find that this blog post helpful and that you are able to use some of the information I have provided to improve your system performance and your personal productivity. This information comes from my experience building systems and from my 17 years of consulting and coaching clients that use Lotus Notes. If you have feedback or experience to share, I hope you will take the time to post your comments so that we can all learn.