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In the spirit of the question What is your oldest hardware that still works?, I'd like to ask:

What is the oldest hardware you know that is still in production use? And what challenges did you (or someone else) face in keeping it running (scarce documentation, no support, no spare parts available...)?

Most organizations will retire / upgrade software and hardware after 5-10 years, but sometimes old software is kept running on old boxes, because it "just works".

I once worked at a client site that was running a critical piece of (in-house developed) business software on a single server running HP-UX. The server was old (ca. 12-13 years), but fortunately still running without problems; however, getting spares would have been very difficult, and since software installation was undocumented, any significant system changes or even new hardware might have caused significant downtime and data loss. We eventually managed to replace it, but this is not always possible.

I also read that many organizations still run decade-old mainframe hardware, particularly for highly customized systems controlling industrial machines or power plants.

Which old hardware have you encountered? How did you manage these challenges?

Related question:

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The easiest way to keep it running is to not turn it off. – jscott May 19 '10 at 10:44
@jscott: Well, I'd say that is a necessary, but unfortunately not sufficient measure for keeping it running... – sleske May 19 '10 at 11:01
A subjective question like this really should be community wiki. – John Gardeniers May 19 '10 at 11:29

I can't really speak from personal experience, but:

I did read somewhare that some IBM 1130s (a 1960s vintage minicomputer) were still in production as control systems for a nuclear reactor at a few sites.

The main air traffic control system in the U.S. was still using IBM 7090s - the model before the system 360 - until it was decomissioned in the latter part of the 1990s. Towards the end of the system's life the authorities were quite jumpy as it was getting quite hard to find parts for the computers.

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I worked in a place where accountants were keeping some very very old i386 machines for some old research. Never touched those, i was afraid to destroy them :-)
In a very very large company i worked before, they had this mainframe still running. My job was to replace the old infrastructure in the peripheral offices from IBM SNA to Windows NT Domain with 3270 emulator. I have to check if still in use, but i think so :-)
Never worked on it, unluckily

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Just remembered that I was working few years ago with some IBM rs/6000 machines with aix 4.3 or even 3.2. I think that are still in production. – Pier May 19 '10 at 12:46
I know quite a few places still using RS/6000 machines with AIX in production. – Bratch May 19 '10 at 14:47
Do you know if it could be possible to get spare parts? At that time hard disk were almost impossible to find. – Pier May 20 '10 at 18:48

Obvious statement: I think that the old beige box that sits in the corner and must not be touched(!) is becoming less and less commonplace now that virtualisation is so simple to do.

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In data centers, yes, in the back of small businesses, no. – kmarsh May 19 '10 at 12:19
Its days are numbered now that Hyper-v ships with Windows Server though, still I take your point. – Robbo May 19 '10 at 12:49

Never thought it was because it "just works" - always thought it was because "nobody knows how it works" ^^

Stumbled upon an old DOS-based card-writer in a merger that enabled passage to the laundry house for residents in an area. An old PC running Windows 95 with a DOS box opened was directly connected to it and placed on a table in the copier room. I recall us reacting "that thing is not going on our network!" ^^

Somehow we got the specifications for the old card writer from the old manufacturer in another country and, blessed we be, it was a "simple" serial port hardware. So I wrote a .NET application that talked to it and figured out the format of the card data to generate new accurate data (and read it). These cards were also used to identify how much each resident was suppose to pay for laundry each month, a system costing much more to maintain than it ever produced in revenue but some things takes time to change due to legal contracts.

The card writer was hooked up to a thin client and the application installed on the Citrix farm and almost worked as we wanted, with access from anywhere in the organisation (but only one instance at a time as we didn't have the time to write a service layer).

However, in the end, the simple solution was to simply refuse supporting the horrible thing and wait for the legal stuff to come through so it could be thrown away. A local IT consultant was engaged to provide basic support if/when it failed, directly from the user without involving us. The system remained in this state (disconnected from any networks) for a year or more until it could be replaced.

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My workplace (public school) has a server coming up for 8 years. It, as said, just works but the network system is slowing down now. Just as well we're having a whole new school and IT Network for september.

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About 10 years ago I worked in local government coding a 4GL on VAX/VMS clusters running on VAX & Alpha hardware. The machines were easily 10 years old when I worked on them and I know that they are still used in a production environment today.

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I know one bank in Egypt using CICS some IBM mainframe working on OS/290 where they run their in house developed core banking application

not to mention the micro VAX machine where they "used to" run SWIFT on it.

and of course, the 13 years old RS6000 AIX box where they used to run the ATM switch on it.

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What is OS/290? Was it a predecessor to OS/360? – sleske May 25 '10 at 0:47
It was 13 years back, and I recall that OS I never worked on it thou it was programmed mainly in COBOL – A.Rashad May 25 '10 at 12:13

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