Ever use a single-purpose fax machine? Or have you watched technicians manually checking gauges of old mass printers at a manufacturing plant? 

Both the devices above are legacy systems and play essential roles in every sector of the economy. We cover them in today’s article: what they are, why they persist, and how to connect them to today’s technologies like industrial computers

What are Legacy Systems?

Legacy systems are software, technology, or processes that are no longer produced, updated, or protected by their original vendor. Yet they continue to be used by users as part of their day-to-day operations. 

There are several signs once viable technologies have become legacy:

  • There are no feasible replacements available.
  • Clients state it’s cost-prohibitive to upgrade to a new system. 
  • There are few, if any, professionals knowledgeable to run the systems. 
  • The technology can no longer scale.
  • Repairs are costly and time-consuming.
  • It is incompatible with many modern innovations like network capability, cybersecurity, etc.  

Legacy systems are found in all economic sectors: healthcare, industrial, and enterprise (business). For example:

  • Businesses ranging from medical clinics to manufacturing plants using personal computers with older CPUs like 32-bit architecture (Intel Pentium II). Running on them are operating systems (OS) like Microsoft Windows 7, which officially became a legacy operating system in January 2020 after Microsoft halted security updates and support. Many even continue to run the even older Windows XP and Vista OSs.
  • COBOL: Common Business-Oriented Language or COBOL. Another OS, COBOL, is still being used more than 60 years after its development. Many businesses and government organizations rely heavily on it for their daily operations.
  • A decades-old X-ray machine that the hospital had paid off. 
  • Single-use printers and fax machines. For example, many real estate enterprises dedicate a fax machine to handle all contracts. A medical office may have a similar setup to obtain patient records unavailable through its EMR (e.g., faxes from nursing homes, police stations, etc). 
  • Non-connected lone Human Machine Interface or Programmable Logic Controllers on that vital pump on an oil rig or refinery.  

Telephone landlines, pagers, and consumer devices like PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and older generations of Amazon Echo are also examples of legacy systems. 

Why Do Companies Still Use Legacy Systems?

Simply because they still work. The devices, software, and systems continue to perform their original function, whether printing faxes, moving car parts to a different conveyor, or performing an x-ray on a patient. 

Most, if not all, companies know the disadvantages of their legacy devices and systems. (e.g., little, if any, protection against cyberattacks). They also know the strategies to upgrade them, like legacy system migration and modernization

Reasons why they don’t do so or hesitate vary:

  • No replacement: Hospitals are full of cellular and Wi-Fi “dead zones” where smartphones cannot function. That is one of the reasons why medical staff there continue to use pagers and similar legacy devices. 
  • Too expensive to upgrade: While today’s devices are more powerful and feature-rich than their predecessors, they are also very costly. Replacing a hospital’s current MRI machine with a new one will set a hospital back between $1-$3 million for each one. There may also be additional costs: MRIs must be housed in magnetically sterile clean rooms, which drive up costs by hundreds of thousands of dollars. 
  • Missing / unavailable documentation: The programmers and technicians who initially set up the legacy systems may be long retired, moved on to new jobs, etc. They left little, if any, physical documentation on the systems’ functions and capabilities. Current employees will hesitate to interfere with devices they have no idea how to use. 
  • Incompatibility: Many legacy systems store data in formats incompatible with today’s software, or work only in out-of-date OSs like MS-DOS and the above-mentioned COBOL. This makes the data extremely expensive and time-consuming to port over to modern computers.  
  • Costly training: Employees used to legacy systems will have to be trained on their replacement, which can be expensive financially and in training time. 
  • Danger of downtime: Turning off certain legacy systems for upgrade or replacement can have severe consequences on a business’s operations. Hospitals may have to turn away critically ill patients if their ICUs or NICUs are down more than a day, for example. Oil refineries, which can take days to restart their operations, can lose millions as they switch to modern systems. 

Compatibility with Legacy Systems

Aware of their reliance on legacy systems, many businesses and organizations look to solutions allowing them to continue usage while still enjoying the benefits of modern technologies like digital transformation

Serial Ports 

A significant solution is the ability of a modern PC to connect to legacy systems. This can be accomplished by serial ports common on such systems like parallel or PS/2 ports. 

The setup provides a couple of advantages.

  • Internet of Things (IoT) – Modern PCs can provide the network connectivity the legacy system may lack. This includes connectivity to numerous IoT sensors placed on machinery measuring vibration or temperature. This information can then be piped to the PC directly or online. 
  • Cybersecurity protections – The PC gives modern protection against cyberattacks as well as provides identification features like an RFID badge and Imprivata Single Sign On. 

Customized for Industry

Legacy systems in the various economic sectors operate under different conditions. Many typical off-the-shelf PC brands would not last long. 

So businesses looking for PCs to work with their legacy devices should purchase those specific to the economic sector. Medical grade computers that are certified 60601-1 allow them to be used near patients as well as in operating rooms with legacy anesthesia machines. Industrial tablets withstand shock and vibration thanks to their rugged components, while being IP65 seal makes spray-cleaning the front bezel of an enterprise PC a breeze. 

Fanless designs, which reduces the spread of dust, and built-in barcode readers are other features that have made use of the unique settings where many legacy systems are found. 

Closing Thoughts

Legacy systems are technologies still in use by businesses despite being no longer supported by their original manufacturer. Since many of these systems are critical to companies, computers have been built to still work with them through features like serial posts. 

Are you interested in a PC that can bring modern digital technologies to your legacy systems? Contact an expert at Cybernet Manufacturing to hear about our lineup of compatible PCs for all major business sectors: healthcare, industrial, and enterprise. We’re confident we have the right one you want or can build it to your specifications.

Join the conversation and connect with us on this and other relevant topics – Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin