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The Humane Society of the United States

"Space race: The search for 25-year-old spare parts"

September 14, 2011 By Anonymous | InfoWorld

A Comment...

In 1998 I was hired by a state agency rebuilding its computing infrastructure for Y2K. I was part of a team of in-house programmers, database managers and networking gurus, along with consultants expert in our new software, to completely replace a 1970 mainframe system with one running Unix on DEC Alphas.

This was a large, mature, public safety IT operation where "downtime was not an option". Every system alteration was planned meticulously with usually multiple "plateaus", points where we could stop and reassess if necessary. Ideally, a no-go decision at a plateau still left us with some improved functionality. Everything was double and triple-checked and everyone looked over everyone else's shoulder to avoid what could be catastrophic, blurry-eyed bungles (And we liked it that way!).

It was one of those plateaus when we realized there was not going to be time before January 1, 2000 to rewrite the millions of lines of COBOL in the batch programs. (Believe it or not, in 2000 most of the vital data processing done in the world was still done by COBOL batch programs -- and still is!)

So for many years (maybe still?) a lone, black IBM mainframe running MVS and COBOL sat next to 6 new cream-colored DEC Alphas running Unix.

What was the mighty mainframe doing?

It was being an application server running COBOL batch programs that got their data from Oracle on the DEC Alphas.

There are good business/government reasons to stay with 100% reliable old software if it does what you need, instead of upgrading to the latest and greatest, but unavoidably buggy and unreliable. And old software usually requires us to keep old hardware going.

Maybe computers should be more like automobiles. Most cars don't get "upgraded". They are used pretty much as they came from the factory until they no longer do the job and then you buy a new one (or at least, new to you). You can even continue to use the old one in some reduced capacity if you want.

Today, I still love getting new life out of last decade's -- or last century's -- hardware.

(So naturally I run Linux.)

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