Why Supporting Old Software Isn’t Worth the Cost

Why Supporting Old Software Isn’t Worth the Cost

You may have heard—Microsoft officially ends “extended support” for Windows 7 on January 14, 2020 (mainstream support stopped years ago). However, it’s still in use on 39% of all PCs. So why end its lifespan?  

Well, it’s a decade old, for starters, and as a result, the architecture of the system is less secure than a more modern OS.  Exhibit A: the WannaCry attacks of 2017. Old software simply isn’t worth the time and effort to support beyond a certain point, for a variety of worthy reasons, such as:

Security Risks

The average cost of a data breach in the United States in 2019 is $8.19 million. If your organization uses or maintains software that collects sensitive data, that figure alone should be enough to retire your legacy software.

Outdated software is gradually phased out of support.  This leaves your organization at risk for data breaches as new cyber threats emerge, since the old software is no longer receiving regular security updates.

Diminishing Returns

As outdated software continues to age, the user base will gradually shrink.  This doesn’t, however, make it any faster or easier to patch the old code and create effective security updates.  Eventually, you’re devoting an outsized portion of your time supporting a tiny overall portion of your user base.

On the flip side, you may be the ones using software that’s grown long in the tooth and continue to support it in your organization.  Perhaps the developers still support it—just for customers like you. However, as you continue to become a minority of their customer base, you may see them scale back how frequently they update security or implement critical bug fixes.  This makes you more vulnerable to outages and frustrations when you need low-priority customer support.

Technical Debt

Old software is fragile, difficult to maintain, and expensive to keep—much like an antique car. As old software builds up in your portfolio, you accumulate “technical debt.” Every product that lapses out of compliance, support, or mainstream use creates obstacles you’ll have to troubleshoot.  

If you allow legacy systems to persist without modernizing, these obstacles amass until they’re overwhelming.  It’s crucial that you diffuse technical debt on a rolling basis and always work on upgrading one element of your stack at a time.  Even the federal government has struggled with this, and the 10 government legacy systems most in need of modernization now cost $337 million a year to operate and maintain.

It Holds Back Progress

Computing has advanced a lot in the past decade.  Old, complex, and primitive infrastructure can and should give way to modern, streamlined system architecture.  This is best for efficiency, integrations, stability, and more. However, support for a legacy product that’s favored by your customer base drags out the lifespan of backward technology and reduces the incentive for customers to upgrade.

Humans like the comfort of familiarity, but this is an oft-counterproductive illusion.  Up-to-date software eliminates the problems inherent in previous iterations and offers new solutions that weren’t possible before.