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Legacy Systems Question

I'm doing a bit of research on Legacy Systems for a short story idea, if it's all right with everyone I was hoping I might ask a couple of questions that might help me refine my search.  Thanks in advance:

1. Are there research firms, research facilities, etc. that still use legacy systems?  I'm thinking, mostly, places that use mainframes and COBOL from 30+ years ago.

2. Is there a list of reasons why a company might stay with a legacy system?  I believe I know the basic reasons -- cheaper than upgrading, too time consuming to upgrade, it works fine like it is, etc. -- but I wasn't sure if there were any other reasons for it.

Any and all answers are welcomed and appreciated.  Thanks.

Andrew Burton
Thursday, October 09, 2003

re: 1, check government places.  Mostly state, I would guess.

2, what about no knowledge of how it works.  I would bet that there is at least a few old mainframes out there working, that if they broke people wouldn't be able to fix them, and would be hobbled.


Andrew Hurst
Thursday, October 09, 2003

2. How about "it does what it was designed to do"?


Thursday, October 09, 2003

Without naming names, the main systems of the 3 major financial companies I worked for were all main frames.

You also mentioned: "it works fine as it is", if that is the case what other reason do you need to upgrade?

the artist formerly known as prince
Thursday, October 09, 2003

I would suspect that nearly all major banks still use mainframes, since it takes so long to certify a new system for production.  Customers don't get to happy if the system messes up their accounts and looses their balance, and the bank isn't happy when extra zeros get added to deposits. 

I had an acquaintance that worked in the call center for Wells Fargo in Sac.  They said the bank was made up of many diseperate systems, and IT dept was a mess.  As a customer I can honestly say that their IT problems are a nuisance.  I think the bank looses tons of buisness and money switching people totally seperate systems. 
Call bank number:

I have a mortgage with you.

What is you SSN?


I can't find that.


Is it a 1st or 2nd.


Oh you have the wrong division for that, let me put you through to Texas...

big iron...
Thursday, October 09, 2003

NASA's launch systems run on hardware from 1974 which has defeated several attempts to upgrade, the last one being an attempt to replace real-time systems that must make launch decisions in milliseconds with commodity components running Java.

The current hardware fails hundreds of times during each launch and must be fixed by hand. It was long obsolete in 1980.

rocket scientist
Thursday, October 09, 2003

Here's a fascinating article from the March 1999 issue Wired Magazine, about how many companies (including Fortune 500 companies) are still relying on punch cards:

Obviously, the article's a few years out of date, but I doubt that the situation has changed too much.  The puch card vendor referenced in the article is still in business:

Robert Jacobson
Thursday, October 09, 2003

Many thanks to everyone!  I'm still digging for Legacy stuff, but all the replies have really given me some insight into the what and why of it.  Thank you, all!

Andrew Burton
Friday, October 10, 2003

Yeah, I worked for a major financial, and their push now was to at least get all the reporting from the legacy systems syncrhonised.

Here's a problem, if you have one system where you have 4 address fields, each 30 characters long, and another with 5 address fields, each 25 characters long, how do you normalize the data and integrate them? Yes, for several million customers.

Once upon a time things were done by hand - i.e. on paper, and things are closer to that state than most of us would think in these large organizations, you can't just scrap all the old ways and start from scratch, you have to replace them intelligently.

The example of extra 0's being added to an account isn't that far off. What happens when you have account reporting from a half dozen different sources that aren't integrated, and your paper statement doesn't match what's online and doesn't match what your banker tells you when you call up to find out which is right?

We're not talking about taking one database on a mainframe and dumping it into Oracle, we're talking about several hundred different databases set up - for political reasons, because nobody else was willing to do it, because nobody knew someone had already done it, etc. - at different time and for different purposes.

When you have several hundred thousand employees in several dozen countries in a couple dozen divisions, all put together through several mergers and acquisitions, it's not exactly easy to keep things well coordinated with a vision for the future.

Mark T A W .com
Friday, October 10, 2003

A couple of years ago I met a guy who was working as a part-tiem English teacher in Bangkok, and married to a much younger Thai wife.

for twenty years he had worked in the data center of a large bank. His job was to take out all the data from the banks central computer system, and put it into another computer system (or maybe the other way round - I can't remember and it doesn't matter) because they bank had paid tens of millions of dollars for a new computer system that nobody understood how it worked, and the management was too afraid of letting anybody know because they'd have to carry the can.

Stephen Jones
Friday, October 10, 2003


Nice article about the punch card machines.  Thanks!

Joe Blandy
Friday, October 10, 2003

Why do they keep talking about ASCII text on punch cards. Wasn't it EBSDIC?

Any think about the Florida elections - those were punch cards too, though of a different form.

Friday, October 10, 2003

I'm sure you mean EBCDIC - for extended binary coded decimal interchange code.

The code used for punched cards was neither.  I believe it was Hollerith.  A zone punch of 12-11, and numeric punches of zero through 9.  It is not a binary based code.

Joe AA
Friday, October 10, 2003

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