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There are cases where old, barely supported or possibly unsupported server-class systems (be it software or hardware) are still being used professionally; for instance:

  • Low-budget operations (still commercial, just not big);

  • The system can still perform well for its intended purpose, and downtime is not catastrophic given the use so vendor support is not as critical;

  • Existing in-house-developed systems that would not be cost-effective to change make use of it.

What would be good guideline(s) on the threshold where such a system can still be considered on-topic here?

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    I don't think there can be any guidelines really. People should just ask questions and be prepared to be told and accept 'Nope you can't to that so don't waste any more time trying'. – user9517 supports GoFundMonica Apr 19 '13 at 9:37
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    I have to take exception with your first bullet. I've found non-profits/"low budget" operations clinging to ancient hardware are usually ignoring Total Cost of Ownership. They shun away from even the smallest Capital Expenditure while wasting Operational Expenditures on slow systems; or even when those people aren't paid they marginalize their community contribution. This certainly isn't every case, but most I've encountered. Business have the saying "you have to spend money to make money"; non-profits need "you have to expend resource to help the community" and sometimes that's money. – Chris S Apr 19 '13 at 12:58
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    quick answer: they are always on-topic. However, there might not be any answers out there, so the question might languish. – mdpc Apr 19 '13 at 20:32
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    @ChrisS Good point. In some cases a note that the asker would likely be better served by a newer system would be warranted. – Kevin Apr 20 '13 at 1:10
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As far as I can see, all of those cases are on-topic at ServerFault. The main requirements are that the questions should be about a professional setting, and from the perspective of the person in charge of keeping the systems running.

However, given that many of us have used bleach to scour clean the parts of our brains where we used to store information about e.g. Windows 3.11, we may not be able to help. In other words - ask away, but the responses won't necessary be what the asker wants to hear. So that's pretty much business as usual.

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    +1 - The questions are fine. The answers however may be nonexistent (because the technology is so ancient nobody remembers it), or not what the asker wants to hear ("You can't do IPv6 with Windows 3.1"). As long as someone asking about legacy systems isn't going to pitch a fit if their question falls into one of those two categories they're more than welcome to ask it here. – voretaq7 Apr 19 '13 at 21:19
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    Wow... Windows 3.11.. wasn't even thinking of anything quite that old! :) – Kevin Apr 20 '13 at 1:11
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    @Kevin we have some questions of that vintage... – voretaq7 Apr 20 '13 at 2:54
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    @Kevin Windows 3.11 is barely out of nappies/diapers. We manage some of these which are still used in production for a customer of ours and they are still going strong. They are still in use for the the reason explained in your third bullet point. – Bryan Apr 20 '13 at 11:56
  • Diapers? You mean Depends? – Jenny D says Reinstate Monica Apr 20 '13 at 13:34
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    @Bryan - I think my old HP-48 had an emulator for those systems. You could run a whole farm of them off a single calculator, but you have to put in delay loops to slow the emulator down to keep the timing in sync. – tylerl Apr 21 '13 at 5:53
  • Sounds good to me. I do think that, being a forum for professionals, questioning someone's choice (or lack of choice) of platform is missing the point. If a question is asked here and it's framed in a professional manner, I think we need to assume that the questioner has a good reason for being where he is and go from there. – Flup May 2 '13 at 11:14
  • I don't quite agree - there are times when choosing a different system would solve a lot of problems, regardless of how old the system is. But it can and should be done with reasonable courtesy. – Jenny D says Reinstate Monica May 2 '13 at 11:27
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I don't think there are enough of this type of question to worry about.

If someone is trying to make a legacy system do the impossible (I can't find it, there was a recent question about getting Windows 3.1 recognized by a modern domain), that's pretty much "Not a real question" and the question will get closed.

OTOH, we've had questions about obsolete technology that have gotten decent answers because people do sometimes remember obscure details.

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    The fact that its old doesn't make it NARQ imho, I've dredged up some old AS/400 memories to help people on here before now. I agree with Jenny - people with old systems can feel free to ask away... but they have to expect that answers might be few and far between. – Rob Moir Apr 19 '13 at 20:04
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    Just for amusement, as I found in my a consulting gig, one of my clients was using software compiled in Microsoft Xenix executable format running on an old version of SCO UNIX (which supported this executable type). So there might be some questions out there that somebody might need involving what we all consider ancient software or hardware. Oh, about the software, the original vendor went out of business but still the software was critical to the company operation and they refused to eat a large change. – mdpc Apr 19 '13 at 20:35
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Questions on legacy and unsupported systems must in fact be encouraged. The asker doesn't have any other place to go. The company that sold him the system won't help him, not even for money. There's hardly anyone around him who knows how to help him out. The internet and places like serverfault are his final pieces of hope.

Isn't it the case?

Serverfault is for nice people helping other nice people. It's not a support portal for some "official" software/hardware. Legacy and unsupported systems must be as welcome here as anything else.

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