Releasing old technology into the wild

In a new year, plans are being made at legacy computing sites for a different year. Some of the smartest companies in the world still rely on legacy technology. Some plans for the IT hardware at those sites, however, don’t look well-considered in the fresh light of 2021.

An email from Stromasys, makers of the hardware virtualization software Charon, uses a familiar meme about hanging on too long. “The 1990s called,” the email says. “They want their technology back.”

It’s not impossible, or even that difficult, to find enterprise IT sites leaning on decades-old servers and disks. In the HP 3000 market, the support companies that continue to help maintain MPE hardware with the HP brand are warning their customers. Don’t power down the old servers, they say. A restart might kill off aging components in a flash of electricity.

At another meeting among legacy customers, the MPE Support Group’s Ralph Bagen advised the system managers to watch out for tape devices. Few modern sites choose tape for backup anymore. There will always be a problem with magnetic media utilizing mylar. The tape itself is durable enough, but the records living on it can come and go. Disk backup, preferably to the cloud, is the modern choice.

Clumsy connections

Choices like disk and cloud backup can be integrated into the aging legacy hardware. But it can be a clumsy connection. The HP 3000 has had disk-to-disk backups for more than 20 years. The worry lies in the disks, which are also 20 years old. While reaching for newer disks, technology gaps appear. Finding a Seagate ST disk for SCSI connections isn’t making the hardware newer in a meaningful way.

The old vendor-branded IT hardware isn’t the only way to host legacy enterprises. Not with the adoption of virtualization, a technology that modernizes and future-proofs every physical component. The solution doesn’t come as news to users of Solaris workstations, or the rare Alpha server manager running Tru64 or VMS. Technologies underlying legacy IT choices efficient at the start try to look like forever investments. A physical component is never forever, not if it runs on electricity and has moving parts.

Fresche Solutions, which modernizes IBM midrange enterprises, tells its customers that the very thing that made legacy tech attractive is what threatens the companies using it. It was cost-efficient, so investments could be rare events.

Releasing the aging hardware tech back into the wild can be a resolution for IT sites, especially the ones using legacy environments. The hardware might not make it all the way back to the 1990s. It’s certain to have an even harder time moving forward.

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