Upgrade Strategy

Future proofing

This concerns finding ways of making sure that a system has a reasonable life and does not need to be totally replaced too soon. ‘Too soon’ are the operative words, as any computer will have to be replaced eventually.  Look at the systems at GCHQ now compared to the Enigma Code Cracker of 1944.  That computer worked but eventually would not run programs that the management wanted to run, and was far too slow.

Computers have developed so rapidly that machines which are four or five years old seem slow and their operating systems cannot cope with recent versions of the application software. It is usually the operating system which cannot run updated software (Windows ME will not run the latest software written for XP).  The older hardware will not accept the upgraded operating system so you are into a cycle and the only option is to upgrade.  It is not possible to predict the future other than to say it is unpredictable.

Future proofing hardware is a bit of a wish and really means that you try and buy a computer that has more features than you actually need.  You try and buy a more advanced and faster processor, the maximum amount of RAM that you can and the biggest hard disk you can fit into the computer.  In a year or so then the super new future-proofed computer will be the standard that everyone else is buying.

Software is a slightly different story as there is software that has been running for several years and works perfectly well and does not need upgraded.  On the other hand some software needs to be upgraded almost immediately and is always in a state of flux.  There is a happy medium and this is probably where most software is. Software is either written by a software house for a client’s needs (call-centre, bank, telephone ordering system, etc.) or is an application (like Microsoft Office).  A software house will generally respond to individual customers’ requests for upgrades, while an application developer will always try and improve the product to keep it ahead of the competition.

When upgrading an information system two main areas of hardware and software updating need to be investigated thoroughly. This investigation is called integration testing, and it ensures that any new hardware or software can work with all the other parts of the information system.

Integration testing – there are several inter-connected elements that need to be tested to ensure that new developments in the information system work with the old. When considering the information system you need to ensure that all its elements are compatible. Here are some of the questions that need to be considered:

Over the lifetime of the information system various elements will be updated as new technology is purchased.

Legacy systems – Old information systems running on out-of-date hardware and operating systems are often referred to as ‘legacy systems’. These were originally characterised by old mainframe systems but now often refer to very old micros whose specification is less than the minimum specified by the company. The reasons companies and organisations continue to use legacy systems are that the cost of buying new hardware and re-writing the application software for the new hardware is so costly that it does not make financial sense to move to the new system. Problems then arise because the old hardware companies stop building and supporting their information systems. This means that if any problems arise, or if the hardware breaks down, there are no specialists available to fix the problem; however, when a central computer system is upgraded it is necessary to try to maintain the legacy systems.

These problems with legacy systems led to many computer companies developing software that conformed to Open Standards. This meant that applications would be developed for non-proprietary systems. An application running on one manufacturer’s hardware could easily be moved to another (portable) because it was designed to work with open systems. Open Standards are exemplified in Linux OS, various Communications software programs, and languages like Java.

Emulation – A problem occurs when changing to a new hardware platform if the use of the old system is still required. If a change to incompatible new hardware is made, it may be possible to run old software using a software emulator. This is system software that acts as an interface between the hardware of a system and any applications running on that system in order that the application software can run on a hardware platform other than the one for which it was designed. Thus the original software can be run. The computer gives the appearance of being a different platform.

Using software emulation allows access to a greater range of applications that might not be available on the given hardware platform. The use of an emulator allows data to be transferred between platforms.

However, software emulation may not provide full functionality of the software and will not exploit all the facilities of the new hardware. As an extra layer of software is in place this will often cause the application software to run slowly.



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