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IBM's 18-month company-wide email system migration has been a disaster, sources say

Thousands struggle with intermittent failure of multiple messaging services

IBM's planned company-wide email migration has gone off the rails, leaving many employees unable to use email or schedule calendar events. And this has been going on for several days.

Current and former IBMers have confirmed to The Register that the migration, 18 months in the making, has been a disaster.

"I feel bad for bringing this to the press but I'm afraid that I'm only one of the many thousands at Big Blue who are utterly disgruntled at the moment," one employee told us. "If we can't even handle our own cloud migration program then why would any customer trust us?"

The incident has spilled out onto social media as IBMers vent their frustration. "Every IBMer has descended into a dark, chaotic pit of not being able to access email or calendars for the past 3 days.... wondering where we are??" lamented one IBM designer via a now-deleted tweet.

We've been told that email service has been intermittent for the past four or five days, and not everyone has been affected in the same way. Lack of access has been shorter for some – one source told us email was back after two days of downtime.

Slack is said to be working though Outlook, Verse (IBM's webmail), and Notes have been unreliable.

"Outlook won't work with the new system, IBM Notes won't work and the online email called Verse has now gone down," a tipster told us. "Everyone has been affected and no fix is in sight."

One source we spoke with laid the blame on IBM CFO James Kavanaugh for cutting costs and not hiring the right people.

Everything's fine! For the moment

An IBM spokesperson contacted by phone declined to confirm that anything is amiss or to comment on the situation. The IT giant subsequently got back in touch with The Register, and we understand Big Blue may have something to say at a later time, or not.

Over the weekend, a source told us, a blog post to IBM's internal network w3 said the migration had been planned for 18 months and that everything should go fine provided everyone follows the instructions emailed to them. Evidently, this did not happen.

Screenshot of IBM's w3 intranet

A warning banner on IBM's intranet alerting staff to email delays ... Click to enlarge

Since then, a banner has gone up on w3 pointing people to a Slack channel for updates on the situation, and IBM's CIO has posted a note to employees addressing the problems. Presently, the w3 status page returns an error.

Thousands of staff, we're told, have been dealing with poor performance from iNotes on desktop devices and Verse on the web and on mobile devices (which hasn't been getting great reviews). Initially, the company tried to resolve complaints through help desk chat but the queue ballooned to the point that employees gave up.

We're told that the migration plan followed from IBM's decision in 2018 to sell various software products, including Notes, to India-based HCL Technologies. Following the sale, Big Blue didn't want its data on HCL's servers.

"They were transitioning to IBM-owned servers," one source told us. "That's where it broke down."

Among those employees unable to access their email, there's concern that disappeared messages may not be restored. We've even heard that IBM employees have been approached by recruiters posing questions like, "Why are you still at IBM? They can't even get email straight."

“We sold Notes to HCL a few years back,” a source told us. “The problem is we are late getting off the version that becomes unsupported tomorrow.”

If IBM decides it wishes to comment, we will let you know. ®

Updated to add

Minutes after this article was published, an IBM spokesperson dictated the company’s statement over the phone, presumably because email is a bit spotty: “Some IBM employees are experiencing email service delays. We are working to restore full service as quickly as possible, and we are leveraging a variety of alternative communications tools to ensure minimal disruption to our clients and to our business while we work to restore full email capabilities.”

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