Lotus Notes NSF – Notes Storage Facility

Export data from NSF files and make Lotus Notes data part of your information lifecycle

Lotus Notes NSF data and Information Lifecycle Management

Information Lifecycle Management (ILM) and Lotus Notes

Companies that are sunsetting Lotus Notes and Domino face an Information Lifecycle Management (ILM) challenge. For one thing, it’s not even called Lotus Notes nor IBM Notes any more. It’s HCL Notes. HCL Technologies bought Notes and Domino from IBM in 2018. In any event, Lotus Notes data is different from almost every other type of data that an organization wants—or needs—to archive for long-term availability. It’s enmeshed with application functionality and subject to the structure of a distinctive NoSQL database.

Archiving Notes Storage Facility (NSF) data “as-is” assumes the availability of a functioning Notes infrastructure in the future. This may not be viable, however, if an organization is phasing out Notes and Domino. Without taking specific steps to the contrary, an organization could find itself unable to access NSF data years hence. There is a solution to the problem, however.

Lotus Notes NSF data storage — not your average cup of joe

Notes and Domino store data differently from most of today’s mainstream applications. Instead of keeping data separate from application logic and the presentation tier, Notes puts it all together into an NSF file. There is no standalone database and/or directory of binary files that’s linked to the application.

Instead, a Lotus Notes Domino NSF database contains semi-structured data, which includes Notes documents, file attachments and metadata. The NSF files also have document views, application logic, structure (i.e., document hierarchy) and links. This structure means that an NSF file is dependent on Notes and the Domino platform to deliver data to the user in a useful, comprehensible form.

ILM and Notes Domino data — a marriage of (in)convenience?

Information Lifecycle Management is a broad field, with specific practices varying widely from organization to organization. However, the general goals and processes are comparable wherever one goes. The goal of ILM is to manage information so that it’s available when needed and maintained according to policies. ILM follows a standard flow of Creation and Receipt, Distribution, Use, Maintenance, and Disposition. If an organization cease to invest in Notes and Domino, the IT group needs to focus on the Maintenance and Disposition stages of the cycle.

For example, an ILM policy might require that corporate data be available for 7 years, and then destroyed. With new laws like the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), there are actually strict regulations governing the storage and retrieval of consumers’ personal data. With CCPA’s “right to be forgotten,” for instance, a business is mandated to tell consumers what of their personal data they have on record. This, of course, requires having a database that’s accessible.

An organization that has decommissioned their Notes and Domino infrastructure and allowed the Notes/Domino specialists to leave the company is not going to readily access that consumer data. It is locked away in an NSF file that can’t be read without a working Lotus Notes application. That would put the company out of compliance with CCPA, a serious problem with potential financial and legal repercussions.

Similarly, an ILM might be set up to make sure data is available for electronic discovery (e-discovery) in legal matters. Again, if the data is not available due it’s being stuck in an NSF database, that might lead to the company not having evidence it can use to win a lawsuit. Or, worse, it may look as if the company is hiding evidence from the court.

Even without legal or compliance problems, losing information from Lotus Notes/Domino systems can be bad for business. There could be valuable intellectual property (IP) in those NSF files. Or, employees might just need to find some information that was always available, but has now effectively disappeared. That’s not in alignment with a sound ILM strategy.

Protect your organization’s information assets

There are now proven methods to make Notes and Domino data part of the ILM. It is possible to extract data from NSF files and separate data and content from application logic and other elements of the file. The specifics will vary from one Notes installation to another, and even by individual Notes application. Whatever the specifics of the Notes instance, the process will still yield a collection of standard files, such as PDFs, with their layouts preserved.

At that point, admins can place the data into whatever document repository or storage infrastructure they prefer. There, it will be discoverable and retrievable by anyone who needs it. As the ILM progresses, older files can be purged as per policy and so forth. One key to success in this activity is to work with standards such as XML and JavaScript Object Notation (JSON). This way, the data will work with virtually any platform. The organization achieves a state of platform independence for data that was previously exclusive to Notes and Domino.

Take back control of your Lotus Notes data

Decommissioning Notes and Domino may be unavoidable. Yet, it does not mean saying goodbye to the data stored on that infrastructure. The old NSF file format no longer has to be a container that cannot be opened without a working instance of Notes or Domino. With the right tools and processes, admins can extract data from NSF files and put it into standardized formats that work with existing data storage systems.


Do you have a specific Notes application decommissioning or data archiving project you would like to discuss with us? Please send us your thoughts, comments or questions.

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