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Balancing Legacy Systems and New Technology

December 9, 2008

I have a friend that works for a large company as a System Analyst. A week ago he instant messaged me and asked how to find a particular string in a file. He didn’t know what file it was in but he did know what directory. Here is basically how the conversion went:

friend: you use unix right?
me: linux
friend: i am having some problems with grep
friend: i tried $ grep -l “string” .
me: find * | grep string
friend: didn’t work
me: find . -type f -exec grep “string” {} \; -print
friend: did not work
me: ok this is crap, give me the result of $ uname -a
friend: AIX computer_name 2.5 …
me: damn IBMs try this
me: ls -l | grep -v “^d” | awk ‘{print $9}’ | xargs grep string
friend: it worked, thanks man

That was a summary of how the conversion went. It took us about an hour to find the correct command to run. The problem was that the company is still using an old AIX servers from IBM and the administator simply told my friend it was a UNIX machine. This machine is running AIX which is a UNIX based operating system, but seems to be a different flavor or an older version.

I found this documentation site about the OS. Very interesting because I had never heard of this OS and the current commands did not seem to work, but my career is in its infancy.

After all the normal grep commands kept failing I got the OS and kernel version from my friend then after some searching on forums I found a command to get the data that he wanted.

So, for this blog entry I was going to go technical but after doing some thinking and research I thought of a few questions of interest.

1. Why is it so hard to update old systems?

This most likely goes back to how all systems where updated in the early UNIX days. Most systems were most likely update using some media that contains the new source then installing them. This method can still be used today, however, it seems to be fading into the abyss. There are no automatic updates when new packages are available to allow instant updating. Instead all the updates must be found and downloaded onto a separate media (wasting money, resources, and time) then installed onto the system. Compared with today’s updating systems like Ubuntu’s “Update Manager” this is a royal pain in the behind. This pain leads me into my second question.

2. Why are the servers not being updated to the newest versions of tools, services, and packages?

Based on my first question it would that updating is just a pain. There may be other culprits to this problem including the mind set “if it is not broken, do not fix it” and cost. The mind set of “if it is not broke do not fix it”, I think is a dangerous one. Having this mentality hampers innovation. By not updating the system to a newer, faster, and more efficient system there are wasted resources. The most likely reason is cost. Cost includes time spent updating, time to update, server downtime, possibility of hangups, converting to new system, possible training, and the learning curve. All of these contribute to the hindering of updating and becoming a more efficient entity. Again this leads into the third question.

3. How to balance legacy systems and new technology?

The first consideration that comes to mind is security. If there is a security issue then the new technology must be implemented. The second thing to consider is cost. As mentioned above cost entitles a number of different areas. If the cost to update is exceeded by the benefit/savings then it makes sense to stay with the older system. With today’s technology the ease of keeping systems up-to-date is becoming extremely manageable. Since new technology is easy to update the concern becomes migration. Switching to a complete new architecture and/or technology. The learning curve and potential hang ups becomes a major concern. Research should be done to the last script to have a smooth and successful migration.

In conclusion, be aware of your current systems advantages and disadvantages and when the cost of the new technology out weighs the cost of maintaining legacy software the switch should be made.

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