The Dark Side of Moore's Law


Useless machines that nobody knows how to fix anymore are a staple of science fiction -- and a threat to businesses today. "Call it the dark side of Moore's Law: poor planning for parts obsolescence causes companies and militaries to spend progressively more to deal with the effects of aging systems--which leaves even less money for new investment, in effect creating a downward spiral of maintenance costs and delayed upgrades."

That's a quote from " Trapped on Technology's Trailing Edge," an article in IEEE Spectrum by Peter Sandborn, associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Maryland and a member of the university's Center for Advanced Life Cycle Engineering.

The absence of crucial parts now fuels a multibillion-dollar industry of obsolescence forecasting, reverse-engineering outfits, foundries, and unfortunately, a thriving market of counterfeits. Without advance planning, only the most expensive or risky options for dealing with obsolescence tend to remain open.

A lot of the problems center on hardware, but aging software is an issue, too -- not to mention the software that tracks the hardware: "[T]he Federal Logistics Information System databases encode parts made by 3M in 64 different formats. That includes small differences in the way the company's name appears, like 3M versus 3 M or MMM, and so on. And that number doesn't even count the Air Force, Army, and Navy databases, nor all the ways that Lockheed Martin, Boeing, or other contractors might keep track of 3M's parts."

One solution is stockpiling parts like Elaine Benes with her sponges:

Consider one major telecommunications company (which wishes to remain unnamed for competitive reasons) that typically buys enough parts to fulfill its anticipated lifetime needs every time a component becomes obsolete. Currently, the company holds an inventory of more than $100 million in obsolete electronics, some of which will not be used for a decade, if ever. In the meantime, parts can be lost, degrade with age, or get pilfered by another product group--all scenarios that routinely undermine even the best intentions of project managers.

Previously: "And the hot new tech job is...COBOL programmer?"

Another version of the Vint Cerf quote: "[T]he probability of maintaining continuity of the software to interpret the old stuff is probably close to zero. Where would you find a projector for an 8mm film these days? If the new software can't understand, we've lost the information. I call this bit rot. It's a serious problem."

Earlier at CIOI: Product Lifecycle Management.


2 Comments for "The Dark Side of Moore's Law"

  • Walter Deodiaus May 01, 2008 2:26 am

    This is nothing new. Anyone who has tried to fix a house knows this too well. Where do I get a door made in 1961 in Santa Clara, CA?

  • RobV April 30, 2008 12:34 pm

    I still have the family's 8mm Bell & Howell and will gladly rent / lease to "Unka Sugar" for a reasonable compensation fee.. I figure the bulb has at least a few "reels" worth of life left in it.

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