Nothing lasts forever, and that includes your IT hardware and software. Eventually, everything will need to be replaced and with the pace at which business technology is evolving, these systems may need it more often than expected. It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that because something has been running reliably for many years that there’s no need or urgency to consider upgrading. But, that only considers the overall reliability, and we now must consider security, compliance, integration and support costs as well. What may initially seem like a cost savings, could develop into something more expensive than you anticipated. Today, we are going to explore some of the reasons that you may want to consider discarding your legacy software and investing in a more modern system.
This reason is the easiest and most simple to understand. The need for up to date security is omnipresent due to the constant barrage of phishing and malware that we see every day and with the frequent news that yet another company that’s supposed to be protecting our information has been hacked. Security standards evolve at a rapid rate. We’ve only recently seen older versions of SSL (Secure Sockets Layer), a long time standard for encrypting traffic across the internet, be deprecated and replaced with a newer standard because it simply wasn’t secure enough. If you’re running a legacy internet facing application, it may not be capable of supporting these new standards. This is very common with financial processing and point of sale systems. You could also run into issues with various communications systems that begin to have problems communicating with more modern systems because they lack support for modern standards. On a more basic level, legacy operating systems such as Microsoft Windows 2008 may no longer be receiving basic security updates to fix long standing security flaws. All of these things can combine to create a huge potential problem for your business.
Compliance is another area that we hear a lot about today. Whether it’s things like SOX compliance or HIPAA, it’s something of which everyone is becoming more and more familiar. So, what do your legacy systems have to do with compliance? In the same way that security can be impacted by legacy systems, so can your overall compliance. By not upgrading systems, you could be setting your business up for hefty fines in the event of a data breach.
This area is one that may confuse many people. It’s not uncommon to hear business stakeholders proclaim that a particular legacy system or application, and one that is critical to their business function, has been running reliably for years and doesn’t need to be replaced. This is a dangerous mindset because in the world of ever-evolving security standards and forced software updates, you could find yourself locked out of a system that is critical to you. For instance, a web application could use an older version of SSL (as mentioned above) to make encrypted connections. But, as web browser’s evolve they often drop support for these standards and you may find yourself unable to connect. Furthermore, a desktop application that has successfully run across numerous versions of Microsoft Windows could receive an update that breaks support for legacy software. This could be very costly and time consuming and possibly not allow these updates to roll back.
Hardware reliability is easier to understand, but surprisingly it still falls victim to the same ideas. In the case of most IT systems, it’s generally recommended to budget for replacement every three to five years. This is done for a variety of reasons, but mainly for overall stability and reliability. Yet, it’s not uncommon to see servers and other hardware that have been running well beyond their reliable and recommended lifespans, to sit locked away in a hot and dirty closet. While many hardware systems have some redundancy built in power, cooling or storage, it’s often overlooked that most of these components were manufactured and put into service at the same time. So, while one immediate failure might not bring down the entire system, it should be seen as a warning that those other components could suffer the same fate very soon.
Businesses often want to take advantage of new technology, but frequently overlook how those new applications and systems can integrate with existing systems and services. You may have just purchased a new ERP system to help streamline business operations, only to learn that your legacy email system, legacy financial database system or custom application simply isn’t supported due to its legacy status. This can be a very costly oversight that can lead to delayed deployment, cancelled implementations or costly, unplanned upgrades.
Lastly, you could run into issues when you upgrade an application without noticing that it requires a newer version of Windows Server or Microsoft SQL, and this could result in significant unplanned costs or downtime.
Support for legacy systems can often become a multi-pronged problem, whether it’s having support for an application be dropped completely or the difficulties and costs associated with finding someone to support your legacy system. These issues can be felt across your whole business. While it’s easy to understand how a software developer can drop support for a particular version of a product, it’s often overlooked how they may actually drop support for some of the other systems on which your application depends. For instance, a CRM or accounting application may still be supported, but the version of Microsoft Windows or Microsoft SQL Server that you are using may not be supported any longer. So, you could encounter issues and be denied support because you’ve neglected to keep your systems up to date. In addition, you could have a heavily customized application built on a legacy technology or language and be unable to find someone who could support it in the event of a failure. Routinely, if you are able find someone, they charge hefty premiums when it comes to actual engagement of their support.
What we’ve listed above are just some examples of the dangers and risks of depending on legacy systems. Each of these examples could easily be independent topics. If you find yourself depending on legacy systems and unsure of where to go, we are here to help you. Whether it’s helping to plan a path to more modern business processes or to direct migrations to more modern platforms, Abel Solutions is here to help.
This tip written by Abel Solutions IT Services Manager, Jason Casteel.