image I recently replaced my home laptop. My trusty old Dell Latitude was just worn out, as we tend to put our systems to a lot of use, and it was three years old – dead battery, failed to start one time, telling me it had no hard drive, etc. We buy enough computer equipment that even though we are not a small business, we purchase through the Dell small business sales unit. It doesn’t provide us any benefit other than one very important one – warranties against any possible harm. To quote the support rep I chatted with when one of our laptops had a glass of water dumped on it, “doesn’t matter if you throw it out the window of the car, this warranty covers it”. They replaced that machine, no questions asked, and we’ve been fans ever since.

image When I ordered my new laptop, Dell was running a deal to get their subnotebook for $85 when you order a full-featured laptop. So I took it. I really didn’t have a use for the subnotebook, but we do have a Toddler and a Teen, between them I figured one would make use of it if Lori and I didn’t find a use once it was in our hands.

Images shamelessly snagged from Dell.com

I have a Blackberry, a Kindle, two laptops (one F5, one home), a variety of portable disks, MP4 players, etc. I really didn’t think that the subnotebook would be useful.

But it came before my new laptop, leaving me an entire evening to play with it in preparation for my laptop arriving. I cannot stand the mouse buttons, they’re connected to the glidepad – actually physically part of the glidepad – which makes it difficult to click without moving the mouse pointer – but even in spite of that, I discovered that it does have a use giving me a “more connected” status during that time between dinner and when everyone else goes to bed. The Toddler likes to sit in a lap in the evenings, which rules out use of a big old laptop, but doesn’t rule out the use of the subnotebook.

And it was a couple of days, perhaps a week, when I realized that I wanted to be more connected, and what that meant. I don’t have an iPhone or iPad, those of you who read my stuff regularly know that we’re an Apple-free house for personal reasons, and we’re waiting for the Blackberry Pad before we make the leap to tablet computing. But as things go, Lori and I are constantly accessible to work via our Blackberries, and nearly constantly available for personal stuff via laptops strategically placed in the house. Our kids living away from home have our SMS numbers. So why in the world would I want to be more connected?

And the answer is that this is a phenomenon occurring at an even faster rate in the non-tech world than in our house. The uptake of phones that can IM, pads that can surf, laptops that connect anywhere, is astounding. And there is little evidence that the world’s economic problems have slowed this rate of adoption. All major game consoles can go online, our cable is now subservient to an HP Media Center PC, everywhere you look, availability is on the upswing.

And yes, I want to get at my work email from that subnotebook. Yes, I want to be able to log onto work’s VPN and do some work, and no, F5 doesn’t have control over what I install other than the VPN’s check to make sure I’ve run a recent virus scan with an approved product. That does kind of imply though that the idea of a “downtime window” is definitively dead or dying (depending upon your organization and where they are on the curve – multi-nationals tend to have found workarounds for things like backups already).

But security, the database, the web server, and the file servers need to be available to me. I’m salaried, so failing to do so might discourage me from things like writing a blog (or evaluating internal test results) at midnight – a common time for me to be doing a little work. And that is, in essence, lost productivity.

Welcome to the world of the 24 hour datacenter. All the things like Cloud Storage Gateways and Load Balancers and File Virtualization can help you get to a world where your business people can be working while IT is sleeping without fear of the dreaded midnight call, or worse, the lack of a call because they just gave up and didn’t do the work. You have to do some prep work to get there, but it is the first step in highly adaptable datacenters anyway. First they’re always available, then they’re on-demand, then they’re self-healing. Yeah, I know, IBM used that phrase up before its time, but it is coming. To get there you have to get to a point where your systems are running no matter what else is going on in the background. “Maintenance windows” have to go away simply because they interfere with “adaptable”. Well, that and they discourage employees from putting in a half an hour at 2am when they suffer insomnia ;-).

We’ve got some newer offerings in our services group – like iHealth – that can help you when unplanned downtime happens, and we have tools to help eliminate planned downtime, but you’ll need to work with database vendors, app vendors, and others to completely eliminate the maintenance window. We’re there though, lots of companies have done lots of cool things to help you drive out the maintenance window and instead have a steady stream of maintenance without downtime. It doesn’t change much for IT – maintenance still has to happen – but it does remove barriers for the business to do… business.

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