This summary is quite useful. It appears on a page devoted entirely to the embedded chip problem -- also quite useful.
This report is written by a man in Britain who helps large firms solve their noncompliant embedded chip problem. He points to the widespread use of chips in manufacturing. These chips are everywhere. Worse: they are embedded in old systems. These systems are crucial for existing production. So, they don't get upgraded often. As he says:
"The pressure to keep the production process running is great. As a result, production managers resist changes to embedded systems on the if it ain't broke, don't fix it basis. This means that when the next version of the operating system comes along, it is not automatically installed. If improved functionality could be achieved by upgrading bespoke software, it is not acted upon. Hardware which is no longer supported by the manufacturer remains in use. The result is a bunch of ageing systems, based on languages, packages and processors for which the skills are gradually being lost."
Now these systems must all be checked for defects and upgraded. Not many firms are ready to do this. Hence, this is a big problem, and time is running out.
* * * * * * * *
The simple fact to grab and hold onto is that embedded systems underpin the whole of the world's manufacturing and engineering base. The world's energy supplies (oil, gas, coal, nuclear) depend on embedded systems. Planes fly, and ships sail, based on embedded systems. Pharmaceutical industries use embedded systems to create the world's drug supply. The food we eat, the drink we consume, primarily comes from processes which depend on embedded systems. Not to mention clean water. And, of course, defence of the realm is heavily based on embedded systems. And car manufacture. And railway networks. And broadcast media. And communications. And so on.
So real-time and embedded systems are prime components of global infrastructure. They are also the commercial building blocks of engineering and manufacturing worldwide. So addressing the Year 2000 problems for these systems is at least as important as doing it for banking and financial institutions. Probably more so. And fixing the problems is more complicated. . . .
. . . Real-time systems can be very complex, and they are used to control or monitor very high-value processes. Typically, a large installation (e.g., a petrochemical refinery, oil/gas platform, power station) will have scores of real-time systems. They have been bought for different reasons by different people over the years, usually mirroring the gradual development of the installation. The production processes are now dependent on the successful continuous operation of the real-time systems.
Because the production processes are so valuable, production managers and engineering staff fear the failure of real-time systems. When real-time systems fail, high-value processes shut down, and the costs of unexpected shutdowns can be enormous. For oil platforms, pharmaceutical manufacturers or power stations, the cost of an unexpected shutdown can be hundreds of thousands of pounds. Even for small manufacturing companies, the costs are crucial, because the production process is their only true source of income. The pressure to keep the production process running is great. As a result, production managers resist changes to embedded systems on the if it ain't broke, don't fix it basis.
This means that when the next version of the operating system comes along, it is not automatically installed. If improved functionality could be achieved by upgrading bespoke software, it is not acted upon. Hardware which is no longer supported by the manufacturer remains in use. The result is a bunch of ageing systems, based on languages, packages and processors for which the skills are gradually being lost. Because of this culture, fixing the Year2000 problems is more complicated than for banking or a dministrative applications. The systems are more difficult to audit, because some are so old that the information about them has literally been lost. Systems dating from the late 70s and early 80s are pretty common. Doing the triage is complicated, because there is a risk that taking the system through a mock millennium change will cause the process to fail, with huge cost penalties. Applying the fixes is fraught, again because of the potential to cause a production failure . So to fix the problems, you need people who understand embedded systems technology, the production processes, and the commercial impact of mistakes in a manufacturing environment. These people are very, very thin on the ground. There are not many companies who specialise in real-time and embedded systems.
From what we can see, few manufacturing companies have recognised the scale of the problem yet. Systems are not yet failing, because real-time systems tend to have a lookahead of less than a month. So the failures will come late in 1999. Nonetheless, from our work over the past six months in this area, we know that the likelihood of failure of embedded systems is high. The companies we are working with are in the vanguard. The big organisations might be able to sort themselves out by throwing money at the problem, though resources will be very scarce. The small manufacturers are in trouble -- most of them don't know they have a potential problem, and when they find out, they'll find it very difficult to compete with the big boys for decent skilled staff. . . .
Gerry Docherty, Real Time Engineering Ltd., Academy House, Academy Park, Glasgow G51 1PR, United Kingdom. +44 141 427 4142.