The persistence of outdated technology in critical systems is not a new phenomenon. However, it is alarming to discover that San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation Agency still relies on three 5.25-inch floppy disks to operate the central servers for its Muni Metro light rail line. This reliance on decades-old technology raises concerns about the safety and efficiency of the transportation system.

Jeffery Tumlin, the director of transportation for the SFMTA, highlights the potential risks associated with using floppy disks in a modern-day system. He warns that as the years progress, the risk of data degradation on the floppy disks increases, eventually leading to a catastrophic failure. Given that the system was expected to last 20 to 25 years and has surpassed that timeframe, the urgency to update the technology is evident.

Despite recognizing the flaws in its current system, the SFMTA’s efforts to update its technology have been slow and hindered by various obstacles, including covid-related delays. The initial planning for updating the system took place in 2018, with a projected completion date of 2029-2030. This timeline highlights the prolonged process of transitioning from obsolete technology to modern solutions.

The SFMTA’s reliance on floppy disks is not an isolated case. Other critical systems, such as Boeing’s 747 fleet and the US nuclear arsenal, have also been found to use outdated technology in recent years. These examples serve as a reminder of the importance of regularly updating technology to avoid potential disasters caused by system failures.

Despite being considered obsolete by most standards, floppy disks continue to survive in unexpected places. Their ability to persist in critical systems like transportation infrastructure is a testament to the durability of this technology. As we witness the continued use of floppy disks in vital operations, it prompts us to question the effectiveness of current technological advancements.

In a rapidly evolving digital landscape, the reliance on outdated technology poses significant risks to the functioning of critical systems. The SFMTA’s experience with floppy disks serves as a cautionary tale for organizations that overlook the importance of timely technology updates. The imminent need for modernization in critical infrastructure cannot be understated.

The survival of floppy disks in critical systems highlights the challenges faced by organizations in keeping pace with technological advancements. As we move towards a more digital future, the importance of updating outdated technology becomes increasingly crucial. The SFMTA’s journey towards replacing floppy disks with modern solutions is a step in the right direction, emphasizing the necessity of embracing change in the face of obsolescence.


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