It's nice to feel needed. Resellers and integrators are, on the whole, basking in this nice, warm feeling as companies look their way for strategic and tactical solutions. Everything I hear from integrators indicates that customers are clamouring for systems that give them strategic advantages and applications to enable new strategies.
I've felt encouraged hearing about all this activity, especially considering that some consultants and analysts had predicted that every available IT dollar would be spent on Y2K remediation this year. 1999 will still be followed by the year 2000, but most companies seem to have decided that they're going to keep developing new IT capabilities even as they fix what they already have.
Users seem to be first and foremost concerned with making functions and information available to more people more of the time, and each involves extending functions and information beyond the capabilities of old systems.
These are crucial, if seemingly obvious, factors, since they refute the assumption that we've entered a period of maintenance and retrenchment. They also point to the fact that the systems we install continue to drive significant changes in the way we think about work and living. I was a child of small towns. I remember running errands for my grandparents, getting to the grocery store before it closed at 5:00pm and to the bank before it closed at 2:00pm, and not even considering the possibility of doing anything on Sunday. Most businesses in town closed for an hour or so at noon so that everyone could have lunch.
Today that has all changed, of course. Even in small towns there tends to be supermarkets and chemists that are open constantly. Computer systems, by reducing the amount of human clerical time required for bookkeeping, stock ordering, and accounting, have made it possible to do business without the time away from customers required by precomputing business environments. We've managed to dissolve the lines between times when commercial transactions can take place and when they can't. A continuing ramification of this evolution is the need for constantly available applications.
When I talk to vendors that specialise in high-availability systems, they say that high-availability features are rapidly migrating down into "normal" systems and that systems integrators are clamouring for education on high-availability practices. It's not that integrators are eager to specialise - they just know that their customers need applications to be there whenever someone wants to get information or conduct business. This need for constant availability is driving choices in hardware and software, too.
I'm convinced that availability issues are part of the mix driving Linux, and even NetWare, over Windows NT right now. I know some people who swear by NT's reliability, but the perception in the field is that Microsoft's operating system is not comparable to Unix on that score. Linux, however, even with its open-source heritage, has received high reliability marks from users and OEMs, the latter group using it as an embedded operating system in an amazing number of products. (Scratch the surface on a growing number of storage jukeboxes or communications products, for instance, and you'll find Linux.) Imagine that: a computer industry that values products that work more than high-flash technology innovations. We may grow up yet. How important is reliability in your product choices?