Captain's Log: Stardate Y2000
by Robert Small
A little more than a year ago, IBM issued the following press release:
Armonk, New York, October 30, 1995 ... Recognizing that the turn of the century poses a significant challenge for the Information Technology industry, IBM today announced it will provide customers with a comprehensive set of services, tools and support for their Year 2000 transitions. For more than four decades, industry and businesses have written many of their computer programs and databases with dates represented by only two digit years (e.g., 95 versus 1995). However popular this method was, and is, customers' system and application programs may yield incorrect results when the millennium advances, and the date approaches "2000."
This means that customers whose businesses typically rely on applications which make forecasts, projections, comparisons, or arithmetic operations are encouraged to complete their preparations for Year 2000 date changes now. The difficulty for many businesses comes in assessing what applications have date-sensitive programs; how many need to be altered; what it takes to actually make the required changes to source code and data files; and finally, running tests to ensure that all is operating properly. IBM's Year 2000 services, tools, and support will assist customers with this process. "If customers are to be successful in tackling the Year 2000 issue, they need to focus on specific date-change methodologies, processes -- and overall project management," said John Phelps, Gartner Group. "Year 2000 projects need to be expedited by customers so that they can accurately determine their application programs' exposures and can begin corrective measures immediately."
"The problem is large; it's complex, and the IT industry has the skills and resources to take care of it -- providing we give ourselves the time to solve it," said Peter de Jager, Year 2000 consultant and speaker. "IBM is right to encourage and advise businesses, and vendors who support that business, to address this issue today."
Professional, direct, to-the-point, encouraging, even somewhat calming in delivery. But her we are, one year later, and to say the least, the emotional climate has changed to... dare I say it... outright panic and desperation. That's right folks. It's time to grab up the family and make for the hills. Stock the underground shelter, camouflage the cabin in the woods, and get the women and children into the caves. Forget about terrorists. Ignore the possibility of a nuclear attack. Laugh in the face of a biological outbreak. Thumb you nose at the millions of asteroids that could collide with the Earth. We've got bigger problems to deal with. We've got New Year's Eve 1999.
And the obvious flair for the melodramatic hasn't escaped anyone's notice. While supposedly written by technicians and consultants, the growing list of articles and white papers on the Y2000 issue seem to have sprung from the pen of Stephen King. One article intriguingly paints the picture of a military fighter jet on patrol near the international dateline just before midnight (care to guess what the date is?). The fighter pilot requests identification from a fully loaded 747 some 50 miles away. Well as wacky as it seems, the computer on the fighter has just rolled the date to 00 from 99 (somebody didn't do their Y2000 homework!). Since the 747 didn't respond with it's "friendly" recognition code in the prescribed 30 seconds (for some strange reason it took 99 years), the fighter's onboard computer locked on the 747 and launched its missiles.
The rash of blood-curdling scenarios continues to grow on a daily basis, and in some respects has turned into a publishing symposium for frustrated authors¹. Running the spectrum from stock market crashes, to banking shutdowns, to insurance company closures, to billing nightmares (that long distance call that lasted 99 years, or that credit card interest accrued since your last payment - 99 years ago), you can bet that Spielberg is already working on a screenplay.
There are hearings taking place in Congress. There are consulting firms springing up all over the place with Y2000 solutions. There are tool kits on the market, and new ones being developed to identify and "solve" Y2000 problems. Millions of man-hours will be spent along with billions of dollars, and it's still pretty safe to say that in one fashion or another, every one of us is going to be a Y2000 victim. Now it's not my intention to point fingers at anyone, and I too prescribe to the adage that "Hindsight is 20/20", but does it really take a rocket scientist to see that if the powers at large had defined a 4-digit year format instead of a 2-digit year format back in the '60s/'70s, I wouldn't be writing this article right now! For those of us in TPF (and associated products), the burden of responsibility lies in the Applications arena. IBM's efforts provide the TPF community with "operating system" solutions, but it's the application base that is the real time bomb.
IBM initially formed the TPF Year 2000 Task Force in July of 1995. The purpose of the task force was to understand Y2000 problems that TPF customers would face, plan for the resolution of TPF Y2000 problems, and to establish a formal Y2000 technical team. The objectives of the Y2000 team were to ensure Y2000 solutions met the needs of the TPF customer base, and to coordinate TPF Y2000 readiness by year end 1996. For users of the following products, a massive burden has been lifted from your shoulders:
These products will all be designated "Year 2000 Ready" by the end of calendar 1996, which leaves your technicians in a position to focus strictly on the applications running under TPF. Some of the problems you're likely to run up against with the application are:
Fear not however. To assist customers in timely Year 2000 transitions, IBM has assembled a variety of information, services, tools and support. IBM is making available to everyone a comprehensive Year 2000 resource guide, at no charge. The guide explains Year 2000 issues and helps users, vendors and customers successfully plan for -- and implement Year 2000 transitions. The 180-page document, entitled "The Year 2000 and 2-Digit Dates: A Guide for Planning and Introduction," is available on the World Wide Web through the IBM Software Home Page, at http://www.software.ibm.com. Customers can also obtain the guide from their IBM marketing representatives.
In addition to the Customer Guidance Paper, IBM is making available to customers a comprehensive set of fee-based services to help companies develop Year 2000-ready solutions for their applications, system software and hardware.
TRANSFORMATION 2000 services, delivered by Integrated Systems Solutions Corporation, an IBM subsidiary, and are available to IBM and non-IBM clients operating in both centralized and distributed computing environments. These new services seek to balance customers' Year 2000 investment activities -- with their current and planned strategic business initiatives. TRANSFORMATION 2000 solutions make date-field transitions easier by bringing together proven techniques and state-of-the-art technologies to help reduce cost, redundancy and complexity for the customer.
Information on IBM and ISSC's Year 2000 services, tools and support can be obtained on the Internet via IBM's Software Home Page on the Worldwide Web. The Software Home Page is located at http://www.software.ibm.com. Additional questions and concerns can also be directed to Robert (Bob) Small in Poughkeepsie via email at ROSMALL@VNET.IBM.COM, or by calling (914) 433-1260.