Y2k Essay, Research Paper
The Millennium Bug: The Problem of the Century Two seemingly small digits may turn January 1, 2000 from a worldwidecelebration into a universal nightmare. With computers mistaking the year 2000 for 1900,virtually all businesses that use dates will be affected. Not only will the companies beaffected, but they are paying millions upon millions of dollars in order for computers torecognize the difference between the years 2000 and 1900. The year 2000 computer bug isa complex problem that our world must face. In order to explain how to solve the “millennium bug”, it is a good idea to beinformed about exactly what the year 2000 problem is. The year 2000 industry expert,Peter de Jager, described the problem quite well. “We programmed computers to store thedate in the following format: dd/mm/yy. This only allows 2 digits for the year. January 1,2000 would be stored as 01/01/00. But the computer will interpret this as January 1,1900- not 2000″ (de Jager 1). The ‘19′ is “hard-coded” into computer hardware andsoftware. Since there are only 2 physical spaces for the year in this date format, after ‘99′,the only logical choice is to reset the number to ‘00′. The year 2000 problem is unlike any other problem in modern history. WilliamAdams points out some of the most important reasons why. “Time is running out- theYear 2000 is inevitable! The problem will occur simultaneously worldwide, time zoneswithstanding. It affects all languages and platforms, hardware & software. The demand forsolutions will exceed the supply. Survivors will survive big, losers will lose big. There isno ’silver bullet’ that is going to fix things” (Adams 2). “It is too big and too overwhelmingeven for [Bill Gates and] Microsoft” (Widder 3). Separate, any one of these points makesY2K, a common abbreviation for the year 2000 problem, an addition to the obstacle.Combined, they form what seems more like a hideous monster than an insignificant bug. Y2K has an enormous on society, bringing the largest companies in the world totheir knees, pleading for a solution at nearly any cost. “The modern world has come todepend on information as much as it has on electricity and running water. Fixing theproblem is difficult because there are [less than] two years left to correct 40 years ofbehavior” (de Jager 1). Alan Greenspan has warned that being 99 percent ready isn’tenough (Widder 2). Chief Economist Edward Yardeni has said that the chances for aworldwide recession to occur because of Y2K are at 40% (Widder 3). Senator Bob Benett(Republican, Utah) made a good analogy about the potential of the problem. “In the1970’s, oil was the energy that ran our world economy. Today it runs on the energy ofinformation.” He later said, “To cripple the technological flow of information throughoutthe world is to bring it to a virtual standstill” (Widder 3). The potential of the problem in everyday life is alarming. Imagine making a loanpayment in 1999 for a bill that is due in 2000. The company s computers could interpretthe ‘00′ as 1900 and you would then be charged with 99 years of late fees (Moffitt &Sandler 48). If the year 2000 problem isn’t solved, there could be “no air traffic, trafficlights, no lights in your company, companies could not produce goods, no goods deliveredto the stores, stores could not send you bills, you could not send bills to anyone else.Business [could] come to a halt” (de Jager 1). The costs of fixing Y2K are staggering. The Gartner Group estimates that costsper line of code to be between $1.50 and $2.00 (Conner 1). It is not uncommon for asingle company to have 100,000,000 lines of code (de Jager 6). Capers Jones, an expertwho has studied software costs for over ten years, estimates total worldwide costs to be$1,635,000,000,000 (One-trillion, 635 billion dollars) (Jones 58). To put this number intoperspective, if five people were to spend $100 for every second of every day, 24 hours aday, 365 days a year, it would take them about 100 years to finish the task! The year 2000 problem is not only limited to what happens with computersbetween December 31, 1999 and January 1, 2000. There are several other important datesthat are a factor. Last October was considered the last point where a large company couldstart fixing the problem with any hopes to finish before the deadline (DBA 1). Also, allfixes should be done by January 1, 1999. There are two major reasons for having the fixesdone a year early. The first is that there are many “special dates” during 1999 that meanspecial things. For example, September 9, 1999 (09/09/99) has been commonly used asthe “expiration date” for references and data that have no expiration date (Reid 6). Thecomputer required that a date must be entered in, and in many cases, 9/9/99 was it. Also,it has been established that an entire year’s cycle of events should be used to test all of themodifications that have been made to a system. Also, one should be sure to test to seewhich day of the week is 01/01/00. January 1, 1900 was a Monday, but January 1, 2000will be a Saturday. Other possible failure dates: 1/10/2000 (1st 9 character date),2/29/2000 (Leap day- the year 2000 is a leap year), 10/10/2000 (1st 10 character date),and 12-31-2000 (Day 366 of the year 2000) (Martin 15) (GTE Appendix A). With the millennium “bug” coming closer and closer to destroying the “crops” ofthe world’s information every day, experts from around the globe have discovered severalways to deal with or “exterminate” this menace. Five major solutions to the problem willnow be discussed. The most straightforward approach to solving Y2K is to simply change the 2-digitdate fields to 4-digit ones. This is considered to be the only complete solution to theproblem, giving businesses a seemingly endless range of dates for the future. Thisapproach also can make it much easier for the company to reformat the display screenswith a hard-coded format present (IBM 5.2). Unfortunately, expanding the date field from 2 to 4 digits has several downsides toit. The most obvious one is that in order to convert the dates, every program and databasethat references to date data will have to be modified. These modifications are mostlymanual labor- not an automatic process. Also, this requires display screens to be
reformatted manually, as well as increasing record lengths in databases (IBM 5.2). Another common method for swatting the millennium bug involves what is termed”date logic”, or “windowing techniques.”(IBM5.2) This procedure involves having aseparate program to determine which millennium certain dates are in. For example, theprogram could determine that if the year ends in numbers between 00 and 20, the date is inthe second millennium. If the year ends in 21 to 99, the date is in the first millennium. Thistechnique avoids some of the massive changes and coordination associated with theexpansion approach (Martin 5). However, there exists problems with date logic routines. The most important oneis that the “time window” (IBM5.5) can never be more than 100 years, and the length ofthe time window cannot change in the future. Also, system performance may slow downwith this extra step for each date to be processed. On top of that, all of the assumptionsand logic must be the same for all of the programs that will use it (IBM 5.7). If and only ifall three of these downsides to windowing techniques are able to be overcome, should abusiness consider this solution. Another way of getting around 2-digit dates involves a bridge program. This typeof solution is used to convert data from one record format to another. This allows asystem to convert 2-digit to 4-digit dates as they are needed. This also allows a business tohave very little down time for year 2000 renovations. Instead of converting all of the dataat one time, it is instead converted gradually. Also, this technique is very cost effective andfairly easy to do (Moffitt & Sandler 5.8). Be aware that a bridge program has the potentialto ruin a computer system. By removing the bridge before all data has been converted, 2-digit dates may become mixed with 4-digit dates, creating a larger problem than in thebeginning. Replacing the systems is probably the most straightforward method of solvingY2K. By simply discarding old, non-compliant systems and purchasing new systems thatare year 2000 ready, a business can eliminate the year 2000 problem altogether (Martin 6).This avoids the hassle of coming up with solutions to the problem, but presents thedifficulties of starting from scratch. This solution should be considered if a company ssystems are too costly to fix, or if there are not very many systems that need to be fixed.Another idea that incorporates the replacement idea is for one company to merge with orbuy another company that has Y2K compliant systems. Then, the old systems can beretired (Martin 6). The last alternative that will be discussed is to do nothing to current computersystems that a business may use. This is not the same as ignoring the millennium bug andhoping that it will go away. Instead, it involves analyzing exactly what will happen to acompany s computer systems and determining that the effect it will have is either none orvery little (Martin 6). If this would be the case, and employees could work around anydamages that may be caused, this selection could work. Carrying out a solution in any business involves careful planning in order to besuccessful. Each of the four steps- awareness, planning, implementation, and testing- arecrucial for a company to successfully get beyond the year 2000.Though the shortest step,the awareness step can be considered to be the most important step. This involves adetailed description of the problem to CEO s and the other decision makers for thecompany. Also, the management must be informed of the impact that Y2K will have if notsolved. Without successfully informing the company executives of the millennium bug,there is no hope of getting funding appropriated and fixes underway (Conner 2). The preparation and planning phase involves finding all applications that use datesand choosing the right combination of solutions to result in a successful endeavor. Also, abusiness must consider any dependencies on outside systems- other companies, forexample. In addition to this, a “priority schedule” should be created, to determine whichsystems are absolutely necessary to the operation of the business, and to fix them inaccordance to their importance (Conner 2). A standard date interface should be agreedupon both within the company and with all other companies which are relied on. Also, thefirst estimate of how costly and how prolonged the fixes should be done (Conner 2). The implementation phase is probably the most tedious phase of year 2000compliance. This involves taking proposed solutions and incorporating them into abusiness computer systems. Depending on which solutions are chosen, and how thesolutions affect everyday business, a company s commerce could be crippled due to theneed for various systems to be down at all times (Moffitt & Sandler 66). In addition, testing the solutions may be seen as an unimportant phase in theconversion process. The rewards seem few, and the costs of are high. However, testingsolutions is the only way to ensure that a business will flow smoothly into the 21stcentury. This procedure involves making sample databases and records to verify that thefixes were made correctly, and that all systems work correctly. During this phase, a fewglitches will most likely be found, and correcting these will be relatively easy. There aretwo common approaches to testing the solutions. The first involves making sure thesystems work correctly in the 20th century, testing the computers for the 21st century, andthen putting the systems back into everyday use. This method has the advantage ofallowing quicker feedback, since all the tests are done at the same time. However, theamount of down time will be fairly high. The other approach reverses the testing order byputting the systems back into production at the beginning of the procedure. Next, testingfor year 2000 compliance is performed while the flow of business continues. This reducesdowntime, although the results will take longer. (Pollner 2-3). As the year 2000 approaches, companies are losing precious time left to swat themillennium bug. The deadline is fixed. The price of survival is high and the only reward isthe hope of continued operation in the worlds of commerce and industry. As a result,businesses that continue into the next millennium will enjoy the happiness of existence.Companies that fail to act now will probably crumble under their own weight. “Thealternative to addressing the year 2000 will be going out of business” (Moffitt & Sandler3).