Any organization that goes into 2000 without having thoroughly tested its y2k repair is risking a complete disaster. The Federal Aviation Administration's experience this November is indicative of what can happen.
This report appeared in FEDERAL COMPUTER WEEK (Nov. 17).
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T he Federal Aviation Administration, faced with a time and date software problem that threatened this month to bring down one of its air traffic management systems, was forced to manually sift through more than a million lines of code after software tools designed to find code containing times and dates failed to find everything that needed to be fixed.
Earlier this month the FAA had used Year 2000 software packages to try to find the lines of code containing times and dates in its Enhanced Traffic Management System (ETMS), which displays the locations of planes on a national and local scale and alerts air traffic controllers when traffic exceeds a specified limit. The FAA had to upgrade the ETMS software because, for technical reasons, the operating system was unable to process times and dates after 14:49 Greenwich Mean Time on Nov. 2. The FAA's experience illustrates the daunting task federal agencies have in fixing computer systems so that they can properly process dates containing the Year 2000, and it shows how software packages designed to identify lines of code containing times and dates may not be a panacea for these problems. . . .
Hewlett-Packard Co., the ETMS prime vendor, was the first to notify the FAA that the system had a date-dependent problem in HP's Apollo Domain operating system that would render the system inoperable Nov. 2. HP delivered a software upgrade in April that fixed the system's clock and timing services. But when the FAA ran tests using the patch, the system crashed. "If we tried to bring down the machines and then reboot them, ETMS didn't work,'' said Bob Fietkiewicz, test director at the FAA's Hughes Technical Center, Atlantic City, N.J.
The FAA discovered that the problem was with the software code that the agency had written during the past several years. "When we ran [commercial] Year 2000 code-checking software, we discovered that these [references] sometimes didn't show up," said Bob Voss, the integrated product team leader for air traffic management in air traffic systems development at the FAA. "Just running date- and time-checking software isn't enough; you have to do hand analysis of the code.'' . . .
"Tools are only as good as the people who define the date fields,'' said Kathleen Adams, chairwoman of the Year 2000 Interagency Committee. . . .
"Testing is going to be huge,'' Adams said. "You have to run enough test scenarios that can ensure all systems work together right. I can't talk enough about how critical testing will be, especially downstream.''