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Welcome to Walter Moore Canada's Blog. These comments are strictly opinion. You can disagree!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Y2K Reviewed

The infamous Year 2000(Y2K). It figures we techies had to come up with an acronym for it. Anyway here was some of my input into the problem at various times.

2038 is already solved

With the mainstream deployment of 64 bit hardware and operating systems ongoing now any issues with 2038 should not occur. This presumes that all 32 bit systems will be replaced in the next 29 years. Of course with our history there will probably be at least a few crtical systems still running software/hardware from 1980.  Dates will not have any problems until at least the year 10,000.  This is my last update on this issue.

The Biggest Non-Event Ever?


Well, we have completed the quarter(almost) with relatively no problems. I have heard of lot’s of reporting problems and a few systems failures but nothing that we as customers will ever notice. Every problem I have seen so far has a fairly simple solution. This has to be the biggest non-event in history of mankind. On the other hand there was an awful lot of fixing going on for years before the event.

Hopefully the Final Update


Whew, we made it. With no major impacts related to Y2K I am not concerned any more. Sure there may be some problems for specific companies but they will work around them. As long as hydro and water works we will go along just fine. I have heard of some trivial problems but nothing that hasn’t been worked around. Have to question our panic in many cases though. It appears that countries that did very little Y2K preparation are not having any major problems. Will have to wait for a few weeks/months to see full results. Also, many computerized systems were shutdown over Y2K just in case. Many systems with problems were just restarted with 1971 date and things went without a hitch. I am amazed how little impact there was on the clock change. I expected at least a few countries with problems. Everyone that thought there would be no problems ended up right. Of course, if no one actually fixed any of  the problems that were there things would have been a mess for sure. A lot of work by many people helped get us by a major hurdle. Now we just have to wait for 2038 and the next major date related hurdle. That is when virtually every program currently built that uses dates will not work. We can’t even start to fix it till we get a 64 bit operating system.

Investing?…Watch Out


The US government has created legislation that allows a company that provided non-compliant Y2K systems 90 days to resolve any problems. Although this will help let’s think about this for a minute……..
Companies like IBM and Microsoft may be forced to give away a lot of free upgrades. In addition they may have extensive costs in assisting implement the upgrades. Let’s take a minor example. Windows95 is not Y2K compliant. Your company invested and put Windows95 on every desktop. You do not upgrade to new versions before Y2K. When Y2K arrives and you have problems. You could easily argue that Microsoft sold you a defective software and they must resolve this issue. Microsoft could then be held responsible to upgrade all your desktops to Y2K compliant systems. Not only provide the software but also absorb the cost of implementing the new software. It could get even worse if your PC’s have to be upgraded to run the new Y2K software. Who is responsible for that? Again you may be able to argue that you do not intend to change all your PC’s so you can run the Y2K software. Microsoft may have a difficult negotiation position. Once this gets out virtually every company with Windows95 would expect the same solution……Think it could get expensive for Microsoft? You bet.
Companies like IBM and Microsoft could go bankrupt just trying to fix this mess. I don’t think an argument that you did not upgrade would be defensible on their part. You paid a lot of money for software that should work.
Apple suddenly looks really good since they have always been Y2K compliant.
So if you are investing you may want to keep this in mind.
As for the Stock Market itself…..Don’t worry….Everything I have seen is that the NYSE and NASDAQ are 100% Y2K compliant already.

The Latest Update….Relax…Sort of..


Has anybody had any problem getting historical data from any businesses they deal with? Have you tried? If you did have problems that company is probably not ready for Y2K at all. Raise a big flag so everyone else knows. The rest of us will not have noticed anything since 1999-09-09.
Overall I think we are in pretty good shape in Canada. Our society will survive the Y2K mess. With most of the Hydro issues covered and the Banks primary systems Y2K compliant I do not expect any major catastrophe to hit us on 2000-01-01. There is still a lot to do but it only affects specific companies and not Canada.
My biggest concern at this time is over public reaction to this problem.  Let’s get real,the sky is not falling. The impact this should have on you will be minimum. There may even be an employment boom for a while. Let’s presume that many major companies had severe problems. They will revert to some form of manual methods(which require lot’s more people). This could create a huge demand for data entry and customer service people. Plus additional people to fix the problem. For that matter most jobs that have become redundant could be in demand. Just think, you got laid off 2 years ago and may be back at 2-3 times the salary.
On a business note…If you had any problems whatsoever with 1999-09-09 tell me(so I can sell your stock). You should have all critical systems fully Y2K compliant by now. Trying to fix those “other” systems is priority. The biggest problem with this whole mess is the unknown. You must have all resources available to resolve any of these unknown issues on 2000-01-01. They can’t be loaded down with tasks already. Most companies I have been involved with have created contingency plans for the loss of various systems.
More business stuff – Reports are going to be interesting in the new year. Make sure you can trust the data. Otherwise you may make some bad decisions. If your systems are true Y2K compliant this is not an issue but if you put band-aids make sure those systems provide valid reports. This is almost always forgotten about by IT. In most developments I have been involved reports are the last thing completed.

An Update….major test about to hit us


Well we are about to hit our first Y2K issue that could affect many businesses. On September 9,1999 some companies may have many of their mainframe files wiped out. Why? Think about it…..99/9/9 was used by many people to specify an indefinite expiry date. The problem with this is even if you fixed the dates to reflect a 4 digit year these files will still get erased since the expiry date is still 1999/9/9. I hope someone in your company adjusted all these dates to 9999/12/31 or at least some time in the future. If not, even your backups might not save you. At the same time you might as well do the 1999/12/31 files as well. Otherwise you will have the same problem again on that date. You have about two months to make sure this is covered. Fortunately it is not that difficult.

An Update….wait for 2038


Very Few Companies are Really Fixing the Problem!
Most are putting band-aids on their programs counting on them(or the program) not being there “later on”. They are being counted as Y2K compliant. This is a technicality. Many of these systems will fail, just not on 2000-01-01. We will see problems for the next 25-50 years because of the limited vision.
You have been warned of this! Will anything be done before 2030+? Not likely. The operating system won’t be here for several more years. Then all the programs have to be adjusted. 2038 will be a real killer…..literally. All programs written for current PC systems will fail. This includes “Y2K Compliant” PC’s like Macintosh. Not just reporting wrong dates, actually crash any program that uses a date routine. It is all to do with how dates are stored(again). Technically the date is stored as a number in milliseconds. Current computers only store a number that is 32 bits. Once we hit earlier 2038 the number gets too big for the system to store. To fix this we need 64 bit systems. You know the ones that “are coming”. Only then will we be able to truly fix this mess(at least for 8,000+ years).
The Rant
Why hasn’t everyone standardized on YYYY-MM-DD date format. It is the ISO standard and has been a standard in many countries for years. No confusion and about half of the 2038 problems could be resolved before we get there. Sorting dates would not require special routines. I guess it is too logical.
If you have standardized on this format you have some vision, great job.
Some companies have stated they are Y2K compliant. Not many though….and we in Canada are better off than most countries. In my more recent evaluations I have come to the conclusion that as long as Hydro keeps working and no nuclear plants(or something of that nature) collapse we as a society will survive just fine. Some companies will be out of luck but that will only be a few large businesses.
There is an awful lot of built up spending coming. The mad dash to upgrade PC’s is here! Now who is going to install all this equipment?

Y2K – Who is Affected?


Actually if you are an individual(or most small business) the impact should be minimum.   Does the date on devices really matter that much to you? I couldn’t care less as long as they still work. Besides you can usually replace devices(PC, software, VCR) pretty quickly. Although on the other hand, I won’t be flying when the clock changes. My recommendation is play it safe when the clock changes. Don’t be using any device that requires computers. These include trains, planes, cars(traffic lights), elevators, escalators, subways, to name a few. Although in most cases things will be fine do you need to take the chance for the sake of 5 minutes?  Your major problem is how the large business problems will affect you. If we get the domino effect of business failures you could be out of a job, consumer goods might not be on the shelves, that kind of thing. If the worst were to happen most governments will step in with assistance(if they can). Now if you are a mid-size to large business this is a whole different issue. Your business depends on this. You can’t go to manual methods and survive. So if  you haven’t covered every base you can think of by now…. PANIC!!!!!

Y2K Status Update


I do my own unofficial poll of Y2K and Euro readiness of many major Canadian companies(and some International) through my associates and reviews. Although Canada as a whole is in good shape compared to most countries(Including the US) we still have a long way to go. I have only met two people that in private discussions truly felt their systems would be ready for Y2K and many go “Huh?” when I mention the Euro. I do not know anyone that is 100% ready. It is just now becoming obvious that you have to look outside your company as well.
A Thought… If you are lucky(rare) and are ready, your major client/supplier is probably not…..maybe you better help….to save your business.

Y2K testing anyone?


There is only one way to truly ensure your company is Y2K compliant. Set ALL clocks to 11:55pm 1999-12-31(not just that old mainframe),  wait for the clock to change to 2000 then run ALL batch processing streams including daily, weekly, monthly…., test all applications, software, hardware, customizations, environment(like elevators),CHECK YOUR DATA, pray you have covered everything, set the clock back….and wait.
Now as the CIO, do you have the manpower to even prepare for test like this? Not likely.
Why “ALL” clocks? Unless you can guarantee that every PC, mini, micro, LAN, mainframe…. system is configured exactly the same for anything related to dates you don’t have much choice. It is easy for someone to configure different date formats.

Y2K ain’t over at 00:01


This caught me off guard. There are some people that believe this problem is over the moment the clock changes. WRONG! This problem will be ongoing for years. There are so many bypasses being put into systems you will wonder if anything ever really got fixed. The most common bypass currently being done is assuming any two digit year earlier than some year is later than 2000. If later it is 1900.
Example:  If the year is 25 assume it is 2025 but if it is 26 it is 1926.
This may actually work for  a few systems but the  mentality that got us here in the first place is still going on………”This system will be replaced in 5 years”!    Maybe somebody should go Hmmmmmmmmmm(or actually replace the system).

Y2K is it simple?


It could be if you have systems that are all built within the last couple of years. But even if your business is 100% Y2K compliant are your business partners? For most companies it is going to be much larger than most people think. It affects all computing systems from PC’s to mainframes. It is a worldwide problem.
At one time disk storage was extremely expensive($60,000+/meg). At that time the computer people informed the clients that due to additional space required to store a four digit year it would cost an additional $240,000+(in 1960’s). Plus the client would have to enter the additional two digits for dates. Guess what decision was made? You guessed it….save cost now, fix it later. Now we have the two digit year. Continue this concept with all programs, built for any computers over the last 40+ years and presto you have a major mess.
The Issues:
First myth….The information(data) is a big problem. Wrong! It is simple to convert. It does take extensive processing but can be coded very easily.
Second myth….We have till 2000-01-01 to fix all these problems. Wrong! The problem is already here and will be here after 2000-01-01. Some systems have had to handle this already(like mortgages). As we get closer to Y2K more systems are going to show errors. Not all problems are going to happen on 2000-01-01 at 00:01. Some may take a year or more before they show up. Already many temporary fixes are being employed that give an additional 10-20 years before they have problems.
Physical hardware is a problem for many old computers. The vendor may not even be in business anymore. Most PC’s previous to Pentium’s are not Y2K compliant and will not work properly on 2000-01-01.
The biggest problem is all those systems that were built to access the data. There are billions of lines of code. Again, some vendors may not be in business anymore. Through the years the source code may have been lost so the program will have to be totally rewritten. Even trying to determine which systems are affected is daunting.
The Impact:
I expect every large company will come out of this with some problems. The best prepared will not have much impact that costs the company revenue. The worst will be bankrupt very quickly. Lawsuits are going to be everywhere when damage control takes hold. Everyone will be pointing at others for their problems.
What to Do:
As of 1998-01-01 if you haven’t completed 80%+ of your conversion you are in trouble.
Get Y2K compliance contracts with all business affiliates that are critical for your business. No matter what, keep staff that have experience with your systems(you are going to need all of them)! Hire as many support and development staff as you can(you will find it isn’t easy to find good staff right now). Contract out as much as possible but keep control of the project within the company. Target critical systems first, including all associated programs. Extensive contingency planning. Plan for the unplanned. Panic!
Just a Thought:
If humanity survives past the year 9999(I think it will) think how much will have to change. It will make our current problems seem trivial.
Think of the savings that occurred because of the two digit year. Storage space, processing power, even paper was saved. Sure it is costing a fortune now but I think it did return value.
Most computing systems working today were built with the intention that they would be scrapped within five years of their installation. Many have been running for over thirty years. If a business had any other equipment that performed this way they would be thrilled. Computer software systems are just like any machinery. If they are not kept up they fall apart. They eventually need replacement even though at the moment they are working fine.

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