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Living with Legacy

December 12, 2017

This Twitter comment got me thinking about companies that continue to run legacy hardware and operating systems, etc.:

The software needs to be reliable. We had an operator put in a wrong toolholder and poof, 37k out the window for a new spindle. Imagine if it were a software error? Machine manufacturers aren’t going to risk it. They develop something, test the snot out of it, and then try not to change anything unless they have to. The machines are likely to last far longer than the average operating system. We have some that are between 15-20 years old and it is not uncommon to find them 30+ years old like the lathe this guy is working on. The more expensive the machine, the more likely it will be rebuilt and kept running.

Although his focus is Windows XP, I'm sure if you ask around, you can find examples of ancient unsupported systems on your own. They may even be in your own organizations.

Here's a sampling of replies:

This is almost always the vendor's fault, and no they usually don't test on new OSes when they come out. I've seen this happen with law enforcement, medical, and industrial software.

I've had vendors tell me the newest version of Windows/Windows Server they support is one that had been out of extended support for years. Server software that requires 2000/2003. Client software that requires NT or XP. Low competition, vendor lock in? Why bother.

And the other problem? These industries are boring. Not many SV nerds getting on GitHub to write new jail cell management software. Again, little/no competition, niche industry, locked in customers. No choice but to run insecure software.

The vendors have no incentive to change, or they've gone out of business, but their customers have found that their existing solutions solve their problems so they're not looking for another solution. I still come in contact with people that are happily running AIX 5.3 on POWER5 hardware and don't see any reason to move ahead. Save for the occasional hard drive failure, they don't even touch their systems.

While most of us understand the numerous, important benefits of being current, supported and up to date, others do not. IBM has tried to give them a way forward with Extended Support and other options allow customers to run unsupported operating systems on modern hardware, but you can only do that for so long.

Unfortunately, these customers may find themselves painted into a corner with no way out. The technical debt will catch up with them.

So what's the answer? What is the best path forward for customers that insist on running some old application on DOS, or on AIX 4.3.3, or something similar? Because eventually you will get called to help out this sort of customer. What are you doing now to prepare for the day when critical legacy infrastructure goes down?

Maybe all we can do is hope that this joke, recently told on Twitter, becomes reality:

@eashman AWS has announced new PDP-11 instances. Useful for airlines and Motor Vehicle departments looking to move to the cloud without upgrading existing infrastructure. #reInvent #geekhumor

Posted December 12, 2017| Permalink

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