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1998-05-23 17:35:11


PC's in Large Companies' Distributed Systems



PC's are used by most large organizations. They interface with the mainframes. Very few companies have devoted the resources to solve their y2k PC problems that they have devoted to their mainframes.

This means that the systems will remain vulnerable even if every mainframe is fixed. The millions of PC's and software must be checked and made compliant. But 40% of all large companies are not yet beyond the the inventory stage for their PC's. About 95% have not inventored their embedded chips.

This is from INFORMATIONWEEK (May 25).

* * * * * * *

Just when you thought the year 2000 problem couldn't get worse, it's extending beyond the mainframe. PCs, servers, and other pieces of distributed computing systems are vulnerable, too. Worse, readying these beyond-the-mainframe systems for 2000 could be even more expensive than fixing the big iron. Worse yet, vendors have been slow to introduce tools that can help IT managers inventory their at-risk distributed systems.

With the 2000 deadline closing in, slow vendor response has many IS managers worried. "If the tools had been available a year ago, we could have taken care of it then," says Irene Dec, VP of IS and year 2000 program director at Prudential Insurance Co. of America.

Of course, most distributed systems don't run Cobol applications-the heart of the 2000 problem on mainframes. But the programmers of many distributed applications used the same "YYMMDD" date format developed by Cobol programmers decades ago to save on what was then expensive data storage. Also, most PC hardware and software built before 1997-when the 2000 problem first became widely understood-is not year 2000 compliant, and many of those systems are still being used. Even the cutting-edge JavaScript v.1.1 does not consistently handle 20th- and 21st-century dates in its "getYear" function, according to Gartner Group Inc.

Overall, readying a distributed environment for 2000 may not require as great an effort as readying a mainframe environment, but in a few areas, it may require even more effort. Inventory and assessment is more time-consuming than in the mainframe world. There are fewer tools for all phases of a year 2000 project, and those that exist are too young to be tried-and-true. Dependence on vendors is much greater for distributed systems than in the mainframe world, where most of the 2000-compliance effort involves proprietary Cobol code. . . .

Few companies are ready to fix the 2000 problems on distributed systems. According to the Cap Gemini survey, only 60% of the respondents have completed inventories of their distributed computing. Even at this late date, only 86% have completed their mainframe inventories. . . .

One problem is that distributed computing is not just about PCs and servers. Gartner says there are 50 million embedded devices with year 2000 problems, and only 5% of all companies have begun researching these problems. . . .

Dependence upon vendors is especially high with embedded technology on the plant floor, Gottlieb points out, and documentation as well as testing and development tools are virtually nonexistent. In addition, some technology is locked up and inaccessible to anyone but the vendor. Worse, some vendors have gone out of business. "The majority of large organizations out there have not exerted meaningful remediation efforts at the distributed level, especially with some of these esoteric systems," says Gottlieb. (Remediation is the act of modifying code so it can handle the year 2000 and other problematic dates.) "By the latter half of this year, we will see many organizations in a world of hurt." . . .

Surprisingly, a company's own trusted vendors won't necessarily provide the needed help. Only 20% of all distributed-computing vendors bother to fill out and return compliance questionnaires sent by their IS customers, according to Gartner Group. Of these, only 3% of all responses are accurate. Gartner's advice: Don't waste time surveying vendors. That time can be put to better use in testing. . . .

Also looming are the great unknowns, such as the embedded technology in telecom switches and in the robots on plant floors. Beyond the enterprise, PCs used by consumers, corporate customers, and suppliers-and the networks that support electronic data interchange, extranets, and the Internet-may be vulnerable, too.


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