Legacy systems: headaches of rapidly advancing technology


microsd-2005-2014According to Moore’s Law, the processor speed doubles every two years[1]. In practice, this becomes very clear in the smartphone industry. There have been 8 Iphone versions[2] in roughly 8 years’ time with each version having better hardware specifications.

Now, in my opinion, there are 2 types of consumers. The first has the money and the will to buy a new phone every year or 2, being able to keep up with the current trend in technology. The second might not have the money to buy a new phone this occasionally or might not have the will to switch or might have specific information in his phone that he doesn´t want to lose switching to another device as it would take a lot of time to create the same setting. At some point however, new updates are not supported anymore by our device and if we want to keep up with the updates we need to buy a new phone.Legacy-Software

For us consumers, the abovementioned struggles of the second type of consumer might seem familiar for some but we are alright in dealing with them. However, when these problems are scaled up to systems at a company level, this becomes a quite different story. Outdated software systems that are not supported anymore but are still in use by companies are called Legacy Systems and they can become quite a headache for companies.

The biggest problem with Legacy Systems is that the original engineers who knew how to manage and configure the systems have long since retired so no original knowledge is left to fix or to update the software. For example, the system that maintains the USA´s nuclear warheads still runs on software from the 1970s[3]. As a matter of fact, it has turned out that replacing the system with modern technology is more risky than keeping it running as is.windows-xp-cash-machine

Another issue with Legacy systems is that they are not supported anymore by the operating systems they are running on. It is shown that most of the ATMs run on Windows XP which is not supported anymore by Microsoft[4]. This means that any newly found security threats within the operating system are not patched anymore. This poses a major threat for banks as the ATMs are now vulnerable for malware or worse[5].

Some major companies still use physical tapes for their back-ups. This means that every day, an employee has to take out a full tape and has to insert a new empty one[6]. This is because their system just can’t handle new types of back-up systems.

All in all, legacy systems can pose quite a nuisance for companies as they can become quite expensive to maintain. Also, don’t be surprised to see that a lot of companies are actually still dealing with legacy systems though this is may not always be visible from the surface.

So, what do you think about this subject? Do you have ideas how companies can deal with legacy systems?

Tony Jordan – 400986tj


[1] http://www.mooreslaw.org/

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IPhone_%281st_generation%29

[3] http://www.pcworld.com/article/249951/if_it_aint_broke_dont_fix_it_ancient_computers_in_use_today.html?page=2

[4] http://money.cnn.com/2014/03/04/technology/security/atm-windows-xp/

[5] http://www.esecurityplanet.com/windows-security/atms-on-windows-xp-how-risky-is-it.html

[6] https://www.backupassist.com/education/articles/tape-backup-introduction.html

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5 responses to “Legacy systems: headaches of rapidly advancing technology”

  1. 440015ms says :

    You have pointed clearly an important issue, which is affecting both customer and companies. I think that for companies, a relief (use the word solution is too strong) can come from the outsourcing. New business practices such as Software-as-a-Service and Hardaware-as-a-Service will allow companies to not incur in legacy problems:
    They will rent from others companies what is needed and will not have the ownership of assets which will become soon obsolete. Will be up to the renters to keep their systems updated and to manage the legacy issue

  2. 343244jp says :

    Interesting subject and examples!
    While I fully agree with the problems you mention (being: original engineers have retired and old OS editions are not supported anymore), I came across another significant issue related to legacy systems when we talked to an IT manager at a public transport company. He told us that they experienced several times that legacy systems can hold back the implementation of new services. Imagine you want to provide your customers with an innovative, IT-related solution, but you find out you’ll have to replace the entire IT system of a train in order to get it running. As this is typically only done once in every 15 years, it’s likely that you’ll end up accepting that you cannot implement it.

  3. glenndejong says :

    Nice post, the issue you described here is even true for most of larger and quite important weaponary IT systems still used today in armies and other governmental related organizations. These systems were often developed in times of uncertainty and unstability, but these organizations hesitate to update the really complex and vulnerable systems as they still work and are relatively error free. Dispite the fact that they are working on outdated operating systems et cetera. These systems, still can for example still be found on nuclear and submarines and missle launch installations as it can be dangerous to replace them.

  4. 366864mw says :

    I like the article, very interesting to have a think about this as it impacts, or will impact, virtually any firm. I do agree with 440015sm outsourcing is a viable option when it comes to eliminating the legacy system issue, its very cost effective too. However its also important to think about a) the security of information and b) how strategically important the information is. It goes without saying that data and information must be kept secure, however this may be difficult to monitor when outsourcing (pretty much anything, also quality control in operations like production). Now I also think that especially when it comes to strategically important information, whether it is a system being used by a firm, or as previously mentioned in nuclear, submarines, and missile launch installations. Replacing them is dangerous by all means, but I would also think that outsourcing to third parties could be equally dangerous. We are at a day and age in which information and data are the answers to many (business) problems, however sensitive data could be used to cause many threats and damages too. I guess any organisation must make the trade off between keeping things in house and running the potential disadvantage of legacy problems, and outsourcing with the potential disadvantage of information theft and misuse.

  5. 358985ks says :

    Interesting read and good examples!

    Just a bit informational: Moore’s Law actually says that the amount of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles every two years. However Moore himself confirmed that this law is mostly dead because it will be too costly to maintain this law in the coming years and there is also physical limit because we cannot go tinier than atomic levels.

    However people will find ways to keep the technological grow steady. So the problem of legacy systems will stay. You clearly described examples and threats of maintaining legacy systems. We all know a company that still has computers which runs on windows XP.

    From my perspective I see that most of the companies that still has a legacy system have a lack of innovation in their company’s culture. The employees are mostly conservative and companies do not think that the benefits outweighs the risks by implementing a new system. For these companies it is important that their company’s culture is mapped and made more innovative. When the new innovation or system is implemented it is better to implement it in steps (if possible).

    Having an innovative culture and to manage innovation the right way is a strong competitive advantage and maybe that is why RSM offers a course called Innovation Management in the third year of the bachelor “Business Administration”.

    Sources:

    Innovationmanagement course Business Administration

    Dubash, Manek (2005). “Moore’s Law is dead, says Gordon Moore”. Techworld. Retrieved 11-10-2015.

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