The Ticking Bomb (Y2k) Essay, Research Paper
T h e Y e a r 2 0 0 0 P r o b l e m Argument for the statement “The Year 2000 bug will have such extensive repercussions that families and individuals should begin planning now for the imminent chaos.” The Ticking BombIntroduction A serious problem called the “Millennium Bug”, and also known as the “Year 2000 Problem” and “Y2K”, is bringing a new century celebration into a daunting nightmare. In the 1860s and 1970s, when computer systems were first built, the computer hardware, especially information storage space, was at a premium. With an effort to minimise storage costs, numeric storage spaces were drained to the smallest possible data type. Ignoring the fact that a software may be run in multiple centuries, programmers started conserving storage spaces by using two digits to specify a year, rather than four. Consequently, on January 1, 2000, unless the software is corrected, most software programs with date or time may malfunction to recognise the entries in the year fields “00″ as the year as “1900″ instead of “2000″ . Year 2000 problem is not restricted only to the above exigency. 20 years ago, everybody understood that a leap year came every 4th year except for every 100th year. However, a piece of algorithm has been forgotten by most people a leap year does exist every 400 years. So, under the first two rules, year 2000 is not a leap year, but with the third rule, it actually is. Computing errors will also occur before Year 2000. Values such as 99 are sometimes used for special purposes not related to the date. The number 99 is used in some systems as an expiration date for data to be archived permanently so some computers may lose the data a year before 2000. Programmers and software developers were surprised to see some of their programs survive for only a few years but failed to anticipate the problems coming by the year 2000. It is sorrowful to find most programs are still in use or have been incorporated into successor systems. Because of the need for new applications to share data in a common format with existing systems, inheriting the six-digit date field that has become a standard over time. The disaster scenario envisaged is that a great number of computer systems around the world will make processing errors and will either crash or produce incorrect outputs . As a result financial institutions, businesses organisations, informational technology and even aeroplane radar communications will all then be in a welter of confusion. In military services, the system meltdown may also worsen the appropriate control of nuclear missiles in silos. It is a ticking time bomb destined to wreak havoc on millions of computer systems in every economy, both commercial and residential, and thus need everyone’s serious attention. However, the bug is likely to affect more staggeringly the business computers which imply an alarming economic problem. Many organisations have not yet started projects to examine the impact of the millennium bug on their systems. By applying The Standish Group s CHAOS research to Year 2000 projects, 73% of Y2K projects will fail according to the pace now taking. The biggest challenge for these companies is convincing top level management of the severity of the year 2000 problem and the amount of time, money and resources needed to fix it. On that account, to ensure this disaster is minimised, none of us should worm out of devoting resources in preventing the potential anarchy.It is a costly Task As simple as the problem sounds, the fix for the Millennium Bug will cost up to US$600 billion world-wide, according to estimates by the Gartner Group, a leading information technology consultancy. The software fixes are very time-consuming, requiring considerable effort to examine millions of lines of source code in order to locate problem date fields and correct them. The costs to apply the fixes will vary from company to company, but research has given the figure of approximately between US$0.50 to $2 per line of source code for modification, with these costs expected to escalate as much as 50 per cent for every year that projects are delayed. Unfortunately, this average excludes date conversions on military weapons systems software, which is expected to be significantly more expensive to convert, and the real figure should even be much larger. One of the first steps an organisation needs to take on the way to ensuring Year 2000 compliance is to determine what they have to be changed. The business will need to prepare an inventory of hardware and software utilised to allow assessment of problem areas. It is hard to address the potential for problems when no clear picture of the problem space is available. Documentation showing the processing steps being performed by the company’s computer system in order to accomplish business functions needs to be available to ensure that all procedures are present and accounted for.There is no “Silver Bullet” The problem looks straightforward, all we need is just to check each line of code, locate the two-digit date fields, expand them to four digit and test the correction. Unfortunately, these modifications are mostly manual labour not an automatic process.Software Dilemma Six-digit date fields are generally scattered throughout practically every level of computing, from operating systems to software applications and databases. Some dates have numeric representation, while other have alphanumeric representations. This adds to the complexity of the problem from a management and technical point of view. The bug contaminates a large area that nearly all of the program codes must be examined to ensure that correction is free from side-effects. A case in point, a typical medium size organisation, a state comptroller’s office in United States, is predicted to spend US$5.6 million to $6.2 million to make the software conversion, that is, nearly a billion lines of code must be repaired. Furthermore, there are computing languages still in use today that only a handful of people are even aware of, let alone proficient enough to be called experts. Skills for some older, more obscure languages and systems will, more than likely, make the Y2K a more serious problem. Some uses of two digit dates may not be obvious. For example, the UK Driving Licence number encodes the holder’s date of birth using a two digit year code. Dates used in this nature will create Year 2000 problems without the obvious use of dates in the program. Some systems use dates fields for non-standard uses, such as special indicators and how your systems have abused the date field is something you can only find out by looking at every line of code, which is a huge costs in time and resources. With the variety of programming languages and platforms in use throughout that past three decades, and the multitude of uses for date fields, and the extensiveness of infected programming area, no single “silver bullet” could exist to correct the problem.
Moreover, the problem cannot be solved individually. Y2K is a universal problem which will bring a chain effect among industries and firms. No business is immune, every firm is affected either directly in its own operation, or indirectly, by the action or inaction of others. A Year 2000 compliant computer system may fail to process, produce error messages or generate incorrect data even if it receives contaminated programs or data from a third party that is not Year 2000 compliant. With all these issues involved, and with remaining time ever decreasing, management awareness must focus on these problems. The Hardware Dilemma If the computer hardware cannot handle dates past 31/12/99 then no software solution can fix it. Some applications request the system date directly from the hardware and cannot be trapped by the operating system, which obviates a software resolution. For instance, the PC hardware problem can be explained as follows. The standard PC computer system maintains two system dates: one is in the CMOS Real Time Clock chip, a hardware component normally located on the machine s motherboard that stores time, date and system information such as drive types; and the other one is in the operating system software, these two dates are represented differently, influencing one another. When the computer boots, it normally initialises its current date by reading the date in the CMOS Real Time Clock and converting it to days since January 1, 1980. The PC maintains its date as long as the system is running; the CMOS Real Time Clock hardware maintains its date whether the system is running or not, but it does not maintain the century. So, the standard flaw lurks in the CMOS Real Time Clock date when Year 2000 is reached as it reads an out-of-range date. Moreover, a few specific Basic Input/Output Systems cause behaviour other than the standard flaw. Importantly, the Award v4.50 series BIOS will not allow any date after 1999 and can not be corrected by any software. Dates are integrated in computer hardware, from mainframe, mid-range machines, all the way down to network infrastructure. Date fields are used in some of the most basic computer functions such as calculating and sorting and will affect a large majority of systems. If year fields are expanded to 4 digits, this will automatically give rise to the need for additional storage space. In due course, the original reasons for the introduction of 6 digit dates will resurface. Any computer application that accepts or displays dates on the screen or produces a report with date fields will need to be redesigned. On-line transaction databases will need to be converted and the new expanded database will need to be kept in sync with the old active database during the conversion process. In some cases there will be insufficient space available to accept or display additional data, forcing a major revision. If paper forms are used for input, these will also need to be redesigned. Screen, report and form redesign appear to be a minor issue in the context of the Millennium Bug, but the design of screen and reports are important from a usability perspective, and the redesign process cannot be automated. Any changes to the way dates are handled in an organisation will need to be coupled with staff training to ensure that all staff are aware of any new standards. Other Dilemma ImpliedHowever, to ensure that the corrected work runs free of errors after January 1, 2000 midnight, testing of the changed code must be performed. There is no way around this. As testing is around 50% of all programming tasks, the actual programming tasks are just one small cog in the wheel used to resolve the Millennium Bug. With the rigidly fixed deadline, and the ever decreasing amount of time, this will require a large investment in resources, to ensure a smooth run from the development to production phases.Less seriously discussed in the Year 2000 issue by the public, as the Year 2000 deadline approaches and the time remaining for corrective work shrinks, companies may choose, or be forced into, outsourcing the resolution of their Millennium Bug to a Year 2000 service provider. The ’service provider’ would have to load a copy of the software onto its computer system to perform the bug fixes, and this raises the issue of software licensing. Many licences contain restrictions barring licensees from providing a copy of the software to any third party without the consent of the licenser, and this could present problems in the event of a dispute between vendor and client. ConclusionThe year 2000 challenge is inescapable and omnipresent, affecting every businesses and individuals, regardless of age or platform. As discussed, there are many aspects of the Millennium Bug problem that are not immediately obvious, ranging from legal issues such as copyright and licensing, to issues of available resources and existing bugs. Carrying out a solution in any business involves careful planning in order to be successful. The four steps awareness, planning, implementation, and testing are crucial for a company to run successfully beyond the year 2000.Unlike most other IT projects there is a definite, fixed and immovable deadline for implementation. If there is not enough time to complete the programming and testing, or if unexpected delays occur, the deadline remains fixed and cannot be moved. Only if companies start corrective action soon enough and devote sufficient resources to the effort can minimise the effect of this universal nightmare.