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Proving the Case for Legacy Equipment

by Mark Hodge, Technical Director at Maindec

Organisations may be attempting to sweat their assets a little longer than in the past, but most are still swapping out hardware as soon as the vendor states it is ‘end of life’. But is this really the right approach for the business? Migrating core applications to a new platform is a major expense and incurs significant business risk. And at what gain?

Unless the legacy equipment is inherently unreliable, user performance appalling, or key software applications risk losing support, can the IT team really make a business case for investing in new hardware? Even demands for greater energy efficiency can actually be realised by changes in data centre design that are less expensive and incur minimal business risk; while the use of emulator software can deliver energy efficiency and performance improvements without the need to modify the application in any way.

As Mark Hodge, Technical Director at Maindec explains, unless organisations understand the options and the performance, energy and reliability figures associated with each solution, it will be impossible to make a valid business case, leading to unnecessary expenditure and significant business risk.

Compelling Argument

Organisations are under ever greater pressure to replace legacy equipment. Faster processors promise greater productivity, reduced energy costs, smaller data centres and a contribution towards reducing the carbon footprint. Sounds compelling. But do the figures really add up? Is the existing equipment unreliable? Are users experiencing unacceptable performance? Or is the IT team simply folding under pressure from vendor salesmen, or a boardroom looking to meet its CSR pledges, and/or, the fallacious perception that old equals unreliable?

The temptation to swap out old equipment is clear. But the decision should not be a given. There are very real business risks and costs associated with replacing tried and tested software; with migrating users to a new platform; and adopting up to date operating systems that are, to be frank, often far less reliable and robust than many earlier alternatives.

Some organisations need to be far better informed before making such a significant decision. They need to understand the alternatives to full blown replacement and, where possible, get some real insight into the true cost/performance/energy consumption equations. Making such a decision on a best guess model is high risk. Without effective monitoring tools that can provide accurate insight into day to day figures on cost, performance and energy consumption over a period of time – including month and quarter ends, or other performance spikes – and a measured comparison with a number of alternative approaches, organisations risk an expensive investment that may achieve minimal improvements.


So what are the options? Of course, there are cases when legacy migration is essential: if the company is dependent upon critical business software that the vendor will not support unless it is a recent version running on up-to-date hardware, then migration is essential. However, there are alternatives that can address issues of performance and energy consumption without incurring the risk and cost associated with major software redevelopment and migration.

One option is to use emulator software which replicates the legacy hardware environment on current software such as Windows 2008, enabling organisations to run an application developed for a DEC Alpha or VAX platform, for example, on a new machine. This option not only removes the need to re-develop software but can also deliver significant improvement in performance – with companies experiencing up to 300 times improvement in batch processing for some solutions, whilst also providing the greater energy efficiency associated with new equipment.

Alternatively, organisations do have the option to do absolutely nothing to the hardware. If it is reliable and user performance is adequate, why change? Even those organisations under pressure to reduce energy emissions and carbon footprint do not necessarily need to replace aging equipment. There are very valid options for improving data centre design, using innovative air cooling techniques, for example, to attain significant energy reduction without incurring the cost or business risk associated with replacing core hardware platforms.

Furthermore, vendor assertions that equipment is ‘end of life’ or ‘end of service life’ are not automatic green lights for replacement. ‘End of life’ simply means the organisation is no longer making that equipment – it will continue to offer maintenance for some time. Even when the equipment is ‘end of service life’ and will not be supported by the vendor, there are a number of highly experienced organisations that will extend the life of that equipment for at least five years, perhaps much longer, enabling organisations to safely continue running proven business software in a reliable environment.

Understanding Choices

Consider these options pragmatically. Yes, equipment may be approaching ‘end of life’. And new equipment will be faster and more energy efficient. But unless it is essential to retain support for key software solutions, migration is not always necessary and not always the best business decision, despite vendor ‘spin’. Upgrading is not straightforward: this is a decision that needs quantifiable justification. It requires a real insight into the business choices, costs and risks. Organisations need to understand existing performance and energy consumption; they need to assess the alternatives such as the use of emulator software and more efficient data centre design. And they need to understand the cost and business risk associated with the hardware exchange.

It is those organisations that look to attain baseline performance statistics, measure user performance, system reliability and energy consumption options for upgrading, using emulators or retaining the status quo, that will be best placed to make the right decision at the right time and avoid the risk of unnecessary, expensive mistakes.

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