It’s a pretty common occurrence among today’s contemporary industry to have antiquated (Legacy) machines still in service. You may have a computer that functions as an appliance for your business that drives machinery over Serial or has a piece of software that only operates on an old, no longer supported Operating System.
Generally, the reason businesses have these machines around despite the rest of the network being updated on a regular basis is that such transitions are problematic. Newer machines lack appropriate device interfaces, necessary OS for software packages to run, set up may be laborious/cost intensive and/or you simply never got around to it. Unfortunately, this style of non-proactive maintenance of critical systems greatly increases your exposure to loss. If the machine goes down and you can’t fix it, what’s your contingency plan? How will business be impacted and for how long?
One of the easiest ways to bring these machines up to 21st century standards without having to start over is to virtualize the machine. Essentially, virtualization (which we’ve discussed before for other applications) is a computer within a computer. Aside from offering decreased cost, easier backup, administration, maintenance, transition of systems and less energy use it can also be used to get these legacy system roles working on contemporary hardware. This can greatly increase your business’s plasticity in the event of a failure and reduce the chances of failure occurring at all.
You can essentially ‘Copy’ an old computer and put it on a Host machine; a computer that ‘houses’ the virtual (Guest) computer. The availability of modern software solutions such as VMWare, VirtualBox and Microsoft’s Hyper-V mean there’s likely a solution available to suits your specific needs. Virtualization technology such Intel’s VT-D, features such as USB Passthrough, the ability to emulate Serial/Parallel commands, customizable virtual devices, etc. means that there are few environments that this doesn’t work. However, you MUST make the evaluation and transition while the current legacy solution still works, not after.
Of course there are some drawbacks. Generally, the abstraction involved in virtualization also means that there’s overhead for computations; you won’t be able to use the Host’s hardware’s performance to its full capacity. However, the host machine is typically many times faster than the machine you’re virtualizing for this purpose and the line between physical and virtual is diminishing at an exponential rate. There are also some instances such as the need for proprietary device/driver support that this solution won’t work due a limitation of hardware/software compatibility or other limitation.
Employing the use of Virtualization if it fits the bill can save money and a lot of future headaches. Be sure to let us know if you’d like to discuss its applicability to your environment.