In many IT organizations, there's a strict schedule for on-call duties. As with other professions that transcend the 9-to-5 world, someone must be available to answer the phone when it all goes pear shaped, and ideally that person isn't working on his or her fourth bourbon on a Friday night. In most shops, this is a simple weekday/weekend schedule that rotates people through a more-or-less regular cycle of availability and triage duties.
This sort of on-call schedule works quite well in many organizations. In others, it's a joke.
At the center of most IT shops is a core group of admins or engineers. They probably had a hand in building the infrastructure, or at least a significant part of it, and are among the few people who can diagnose and address major problems as they occur. These aren't the folks that get called in to handle a partition filling up unexpectedly, mind you -- they're the ones who are alerted when nobody else has any idea where to even start looking for a fix to a problem.
In other words, these folks are on call 24/7/365, whether they like it or not.
If you're one of these people, you know as well as I do that you can forget about turning off your cellphone when on vacation. Every flight to Aruba or wherever comes with an unwelcome thought: When the plane goes wheels down and the phone is taken out of airplane mode, will your device explode with a series of increasingly desperate texts and emails describing a situation that has gone plaid while you were playing Angry Birds at 30,000 feet?
I know this feeling well, having lived it for years. It's ingrained in my psyche at this point, and I'm fairly sure that's not healthy.
But what's the solution? To maintain multiple people of equal skill levels and experience? Far too costly for most shops, even if it were truly possible to replicate years of in the field, not to mention the knowledge that comes with building the infrastructure. Vendor support? Hardly. Once you get through the first few tiers of responses, you find yourself repeating problem descriptions to folks on the phone who maintain a constant stream of "uh huh" and "I see" vocal pauses to lend the appearance of a trained mind formulating a successful solution -- when they're actually listening for keywords that will let them shift the call to another queue as soon as possible.