Here Intel Comes Again

Wayne Rash

Back in the "olden days," as my kids would say (this means about 25 years ago), during the time when I was executive officer of a major Defense Logistics Agency computer facility, we had a term that we used when vendors offered upgrades. Because I was in the Navy, this term naturally became an acronym, BOHICA. Translated into civilian, it means, 'bend over, here it comes again.' I remember it most clearly in reference to a series of upgrades to disk drives that Memorex alleged were compatible with our Amdahl V7C and V8 computers.

While we also used the term in reference to new, usually dumb, ideas perpetrated on us by DLA headquarters and by the Pentagon, our most virulent use of the term referred to vendors who sold stuff and then couldn't support it. Well, it's time to bring BOHICA out of retirement. IT providers these days seem to have decided that supporting products they've sold isn't necessary and, if they don't support their recent products, maybe you'll buy new stuff instead because it's cheaper than trying to make the old stuff work.

A case in point is Intel's support for Windows 7 in some of its higher-end products. One trend that has emerged, for example, is that Intel has abandoned those companies that bought high-end professional workstations by failing to provide the necessary drivers to allow them to work for Windows 7. These are machines that companies use for multimedia production, engineering drawings, and other compute-intensive tasks. Many of them are 64-bit machines with large RAID arrays and lots of memory and multiple Xeon processors. These are expensive machines far different from the $500 commodity PCs that office workers use.

What's happened in this case is that Intel's widely used 82801ER SATA RAID disk controller isn't compatible with Windows 7. There are no drivers. While it worked fine with Vista, that's the end of the line for this device. Since this controller is embedded on the motherboard of these workstations in order to provide the highest performance, you can't simply yank it out and replace it with a new device.

The conversation on Intel's support forums and on Microsoft's Windows 7 forums makes it clear that there aren't any real work-arounds, and the response from Intel is that the company has no intention of supporting this or a number of other legacy chip sets. Basically, if you have such a machine, you're out of luck.

If this were an isolated situation, it would be bad enough, but the orphaned Intel chip sets were used by a number of computer manufacturers. The disk controller in this example was widely used by both Dell and HP in their professional workstation products. Companies with these machines (including my company) are left with a set of unattractive choices. They can scrap expensive, powerful machines that are still productive; they can embark on a risky path of finding replacement components, then testing them to make sure they work; or they can simply be resigned to living in the past as support for their machines diminishes over time. Ultimately, the only real choice is the painful and expensive one, which is to migrate to new machines, which will cost thousands of dollars per machine in downtime, labor and hardware acquisition.

So what can you do in your company? First of all, you must test before you make any widespread moves to adopt a new OS. Despite the fact that Windows 7 is a necessary improvement, you might not be able to go there. And the only way to know for sure is to actually test the upgrade-in this case, the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor doesn't catch the compatibility problem.

If it turns out that you can't perform whatever upgrade you have in mind, then you have to develop a strategy that works for your company. Can you stay with whatever you already have? Do you want to assign a team to finding a way to fix the problem? Do you want to buy new hardware and migrate? These aren't trivial questions, and you could find that the answer to all of them is 'maybe.'

But one thing you can say while you're going through this process is, 'Thanks Intel. BOHICA.'


Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jan 4, 2010 4:01 PM Anonymous Anonymous  says:
In many instances a Linux solution can be used to keep the workstations productive. The issue may just be a couple of managers at Intel and Microsoft with their heads where the sun dows not shine. Reply

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