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Summary and Comments

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Category: 

Noncompliant_Chips

Date: 

1997-12-27 20:04:55

Subject: 

The Impossible Task: Replacing All the Bad Chips

Comment: 

Up to 5% of embedded systems are not 2000-compliant. There is no easy way to identify which 5% these are. Systems managers must now identify the bad ones one by one, replace them one by one (including upgraded ones that, sadly, do not exist), and test the upgraded system. That is to say, this will not be done. We will go into 2000 not knowing. Think, "public utilities." Think, "power grid."

If you say this out loud, you will be dismissed as a doomsayer.

We are literally headed into what could be the collapse of this civilization -- if the power grid goes down, count on it -- without being able to verify the extent of the risk of systemic failure. We are being asked to sit tight: "Wait and see." But the stakes are total. "Wait and see."

This story appeared in ELECTRONIC ENGINEERING TIMES (December 8, 1997). There is no Web link.

* * * * * * * * *

Year 2000 may hold embedded time bomb

By Ron Wilson

PRUDHOE BAY, ALA. - It is January 1, 2000. Far to the south in the Lower 48, information systems managers are shaking off the effects of the New Year's Eve party of the century, and checking in to verify that their data-processing systems survived the change of calendar. But here on the North Slope, there is a somewhat more pressing problem. Somewhere down the pipeline, a pumping station has shut down and refuses to answer. Minute by Minute, a cylinder of crude oil reaching halfway across the tundra is getting colder, turning to sludge. Once frozen, it will not thaw until spring.

The scenario, according to an increasing array of embedded-systems experts, is possible. . . .

There have been no major reports of Year 2000 problems in control systems, but experts say some may be infected by Year 2000 bugs. These bugs will prove resistant to most of the tools that have been developed to deal with the problem in the data-processing world.

"The bottom line is, we simply don't know how many embedded control systems will be affected," said Ray Alderman of the Embedded Software Association.

Estimates by industry analysts suggest that the number is not large. Perhaps 5 percent of embedded systems will misbehave when their real-time clock ticks zero two years from now. But a wide range of organizations, from automated manufacturing lines to public utilities to the operators of the Alaska pipeline, are chilled by one thought: They don't know which 5 percent. . . .

. . . Often a system won't have date calculations in its control loops but will timestamp log or backup files for later use. An error in a date calculation will cause misfiring of that data, leading to potential problems later. . . .

Even more insidious problems can occur if control systems have been networked to other systems. "You may have a controller that is perfectly free of problems, but that will be brought down by the crash of an old data-logging system on the other side of the shop -- or the other side of the country," suggested Jaffer Hussain, vice president of marketing at B-Tree Verification Systems (Minnetonka, Minn.).

None of these bugs will submit easily to the tools developed for the data-processing arena.

"In the corporate world, there are very smart scanning tools that can traverse code, identify references to the date and virtually re-engineer the code to avoid Y2k problems," Owen explained. "In the embedded world, you can't do that. The last thing you want to do is take down every control system in the industrial world and scrub it with some sort of software tool. There are too many systems, and too much variety, and there is often no access to the source code."

"I've been receiving calls from a number of members of the VMEbus Association who have been asked to certify their equipment for Year 2000 compliance, Alderman said. "Sometimes customers are asking these guys to guarantee that a board they built three years ago will work in the year 2000 with somebody else's software and system. I don't see how a vendor could possibly give that assurance." . . .

The Embedded Software Association has set up a reflector site to promote an exchange of ideas. It may be reached at www.esofta.com.


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