Recently, I heard an IT manager loudly complaining about the fact that the servers he’d recently purchased came without ISA slots. (ISA stands for Industry Standard Architecture and generally refers to a bus architecture that allows 16 bits at a time to move between the motherboard and an expansion slot card and its associated devices.)

In case you hadn’t heard, the PC99 System Design Guide, published jointly by Intel and Microsoft, calls for the total elimination of ISA interface slots. (You can view or download a copy of that guide on this Intel site .)

ISA all, folks!
If you support systems that depend on components that fit only in ISA slots, you’d be wise to check with your vendors to make sure they’re going to offer replacement components or custom-made boards. If not, you’ll be shopping for another vendor and a better long-term solution.

Companies like ITOX and Dialogic already are offering alternatives to their ISA-based telephony cards and other products. As you plan your equipment budget for fiscal 2001, be sure to include a line item for “upgrading or replacing obsolete technologies.” When your manager asks which technologies will need to be upgraded or replaced, just say, “I’ll let you know in six months.”

Meanwhile, the phasing out of ISA slots provides an excellent reminder for us old-timers and a great lesson for those of you who are new to IT support: The next technology that the industry phases out could be a vital component in your mission-critical systems. So pay attention to the news, and don’t get caught unaware.

Assume obsolescence
The conversation about ISA slots reminded me of my early days as an IT manager. I remember well the first time the only new PCs I could order came with 3.5-inch disk drives—and no 5.25-inch drives were available. I whined about the investment we’d made in those bigger disks and wondered what we would ever do without them.

But, like we always do in IT, we made do. For a while, we kept in service at least one machine that had a 5.25-inch drive, and we eventually copied all the files we’d ever need off the disks. Then the disks took up storage space for a few years until somebody threw them away.

Now the iMac ships without any disk drive at all. I still don’t understand that one.

Been burned by an extinct technology?
The 5.25-inch drives and ISA slots are just drops in the ocean of hot-today-and-obsolete-tomorrow technologies that IT professionals have to deal with. If you support technology that depends on the ISA slot, or if you have a good story about getting burned because you (or your company) invested in obsolescent technology, we want to hear from you.

Drop us a note with your story, and in a future View from Ground Zero column, we’ll publish the most interesting tales, as well as the ones that can help your fellow IT professionals avoid problems in their shops this year.
Each Tuesday, Jeff Davis tells it like he sees it from the trenches of the IT battle. And you can get his report from the frontlines delivered straight to your e-mail front door. Subscribe to Jeff’s View from Ground Zero TechMail, and you’ll get a bonus of Jeff’s picks for the best Web stuff—exclusively for our TechMail subscribers. If you already subscribe, e-mail this column to a friend.