If your boss or the CEO is asking for this - great. Go do it. That's your job. (The RFID comments seem in the right ballpark.)
If a mid-level manager or you is taking this on as a pet project, then you need to do some soul searching. This doesn't seem to have much immediate benefit to the bottom line of the company. This doesn't drive revenue creation and it doesn't drive product development. Almost every time I hear someone say, "We need to track X", I rarely ever hear someone else say, "Get me the statistics on X". Tracking shit is easy, crunching the numbers to calculate metrics isn't. If this is simply compliance tracking, listen to the guy who says to install cameras and then dump it to a crapload of drives. If there's an audit, hand over the video and let the auditors sort it out.
There is a whole lot of not-your-job in here and very little hero making to be done.
My early years on a computer were spent cracking the DRM (I think we just called it copy protection back then) on Commodore video games and sharing them with friends. It was fun and a good learning experience.
What would have likely landed me in juvey today or possibly jail though was when we discovered the Anarchist Cookbook. We had an AP chemistry teacher who was really cool and we used to try to work out some of the formulas for some of the explosives found in there... so we could "improve" them. I distinctly remember one night being out in the middle of a farmer's field with something consisting of cotton balls soaked in something, stuffed inside newspaper and diesel fuel. A curious sheriff showed up and some how believed we were doing a science experiment for class. (Probably because most people building bombs don't pull out sheets of chemical equations to show off.) We also used to buy black powder, ground it, build into various kinds of pipe bombs along with custom fuses.
In college I fell in love with Sun workstations and loved using in the engineering labs. Workstations all in use? Compile a fork bomb and crash SunOS. Need to start your own business? Acquire some university server space for hosting. Need some fake ID's? Get access to the lab with the Tektronix dye sub color printer.
1. You don't seem to be the one in control of this project. So, you are stuck on this path. Or, do you have the political capital and will to fight to get your way? You're seriously going to piss in someone's Wheaties and when you're standing in the shower in the morning, you better have a smile on your face knowing it's worth it.
2. You work for a major HVAC manufacturer. That's the most exciting thing you can do with your life? It would make me want to slit my wrists every day with a spoon.
3. You have to re-do these applications and make the data integrity robust. That means seriously looking at things like where you can get the most benefit for least amount of cost and/or where the data integrity is shit. "Oh, Jim manages our entire Northwest supply chain and inventory using that Excel spreadsheet he keeps on his desktop." I don't care if you use and Oracle product to get there or a cloud-based, super-redundant shade of the color blue. The only thing your boss's boss cares about is whether you a) prevent the company from losing money or b) make the company more money.
4. Speaking about data center room makes you sound like a systems or support person. This is an application and developer thing.
5. I'm not sure I understand where your pain points are. Customer relationship management? Supply chain? Inventory? Quality control? Payroll/HR? Quantify.
6. Do they pay you enough to worry about this? That might seem flippant, but it's very valid.
I find it a bit ironic that Microsoft has helped usher in this huge digital age where none of us really want to "own" digital content any more. We don't rush out to buy CD's any more, we subscribe to music services or stream Pandora. We don't go out and purchase DVD's, we subscribe to Netflix or rent some viewing via iTunes.
Yet, despite some little things like Office 365, Microsoft still makes its bread and butter via selling software to OEM's and volume customers that runs on hardware, both of which many of us are increasingly not wanting to own. I f*cking hate installing an OS on a server and then making sure the damn thing stays running. I'd much rather rent the VM in the cloud. Even better, just let me subscribe to your web service.
I live in Montana and I'm rather looking forward to global warming. This place is gonna be even more amazing when it gets warmer. I might even have to buy a summer home in the Yukon.
On a slightly more serious note, as Winston Churchill once said, "You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else."
Obviously architecture is the biggest hindrance to what you proposed.
You could get away with some modern hardware, as long as it's x86 based. Or, maybe what you really want to consider is virtualizing an old distro on other modern hardware along with a modern distro, assuming the other modern hardware supports it.
There is some novelty in running old stuff, and I suppose everyone goes through that phase (along with the "I'm going to build a massive home network with multiple servers and run my own email" phase). But, I suspect you'll tire of it so you're just better off keeping it at a small budget and use hardware you can repurpose when you get bored with that little experiment.
First off, be sure to read that post higher up about the guy who had a similar condition due to a ski accident - heed his advice - get a brain stem specialist contacted ASAP.
Down the road, you may want to consider looking at some software that was put together and found at suecenter.org. The fella who developed it is very enthusiastic about it and willing to help out. It doesn't sound like she has enough motor movement yet for the tracker to work, but conceivably you could attach the tracker to her lip to let her control the mouse in the application.
Prayers to ya.
What about some kind of DIY thing? Get a Raspberry Pi, use the GPIO pins to run some wires from the cases of each device (something thing like telco cross-connect), drive it and if the circuit breaks then send out an email or something. Bonus points for integrating a camera and snapping photos at the same time the wires break. Similarly, if the device is an always on kind of thing, just use some kind of network monitoring.
Seriously, at some point managing operations has to come second to company growth. Put your strategic vision goggles on when you leave the house every morning.
Now, as someone who has also very recently transitioned from the world of IT to money stuff, I will say you need to be very careful about it. Right now I have very few resources at my disposal to turn to when things get mucky. And, sometimes you need some accounting magic to get that balance sheet to balance (find an asset, depreciate it! have the company loan itself money!) Now, I've found it to be ridiculously easy compared to IT - oh, sure, I have a vast amount to learn, but I've found I absorb the knowledge quite fast. My recommendation to you is to begin building that safety net - find some friends who are amazing accountants (controllers) you can discuss things like P&L's and balance sheets with. Find finance friends who can give you sage advice on everything you don't know - are there tax ramifications if you make that purchase this quarter?
Then, just remember, always make sure the decision you're making isn't going to affect making payroll. If it does, what's your plan?
I remember when I was younger and management would send out employee opinion surveys. I'd answer them, be truthful and feel like my opinion actually mattered. I felt it was proper to express exactly how happy or unhappy I was and that the survey was some mechanism for improving things.
Then I became part of management and I realized how completely wrong I was.
The employee opinion survey mostly serves as a crutch for manager's to pat themselves on the back and the do a very good job curve fitting the results to their preconceived notions of how things are. It also serves to weed out people with bad attitudes - I've overheard more than one discussion of trying to locate an employee based on the comment they made on the survey.
So, if you say you're happy with the wage you're getting, you won't be getting a raise. In fact, it's even seen as a sign that pay cuts should be happening. Likewise, if you feel like you're a valued employee, good luck getting any more benefits. It's more likely management will use that as an excuse to strip away that one little perk, like free soda or something, just because they'll decrease the amount of HR budget dedicated to keeping employees happy. Don't ever be happy on paper.
Unfortunately, it's not enough for just you to express your desire for a raise. If 40% of your colleagues think they get paid enough, that's probably enough for management to little to no wage increase. You really want less than 5 - 10% say they're happy - in other words, 90% of the employees in your department need to express displeasure with their wages in order for the survey to have any meaningful effect on wages. (There's plenty of other ways to get a raise though - an employee survey is probably one of the least likely ways for it to happen.)
PS. If you think your company is one of those awesome companies that cares, you're probably wrong. If you sat in the room with the CEO, COO, and HR Director and heard that private conversation about the survey, you'd be horrified.