500 Days to Go: Y2K PC Solutions Surface

Ever since the year 2000 crisis came front and center, the Y2K industry has paid scant attention to PC server environments. However, in recent months, there's been a flurry of announcements aimed at the client/server and Windows NT world, ranging from hardware checks to code-auditing services.

Corporate managers are finally getting the message about year 2000 and PC networks, confirms a recent survey conducted by the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and Tangram Enterprise Solutions (Cary, N.C., www.tangram.com). The survey finds that 65 percent of 449 executives surveyed say fixing the distributed year 2000 desktop problem is "critically important" to their organizations. However, most have not identified the extent of the problem or calculated the cost of correcting errant desktops. Of those who have, 40 percent have not factored PC memory and hard disk upgrades and labor into their Y2K budget.

Many companies are also learning that fixing far-flung PC-based networks isn't necessarily any easier than fixing mainframes. Most organizations with distributed computing environments "face enormous efforts in locating year 2000 impacts and tracking them as they are remediated," says Shawn Bohner, program director at Meta Group (Stamford, Conn.). If anything, they have been "frustrated with the lack of effective tools support."

The client/server distributed environment "is a very difficult environment for Y2K remediation," agrees Pat Clarke, vice president of Primeon Inc. (Burlington, Mass., www.primeon.com), which provides code inspection services. "It's difficult to find the errors, and difficult to do the remediation."

Some vendors are now offering a combination of tools and services that assist Y2K project management. Dallas-based MigraTec Inc. (www.migratec.com), for example, offers a toolset for analysis and remediation, as well as impact assessment, remediation and code inspection services for Windows NT, OS/2 and Unix systems.

Another class of products provides reporting tools to inventory needed year 2000 fixes. PinPoint Software Corp. (San Jose, Calif., www.clicknet.com) recently introduced ClickNet VeriDate, a tool that continually scans data files for date fields in much the same manner as a virus checker. "VeriDate helps you find all of your spreadsheet and database files on your network, and look inside those files, and identify any date representations that represent potential year 2000-compliance issues," says John Kiger, vice president of PinPoint.

ClickNet Y2K, announced earlier this year, reviews PC software and hardware inventory on the network and places the information in a database of compliance information from software and hardware vendors.

IST Year 2000 Management Suite from IST Development Inc. (Boston, www.istdevelopment.com) offers the same kind of functionality. IST Year 2000 marks, tracks and reports the compliance status of spreadsheet and database application files on networked desktop PCs.

OnMark 2000 from Viasoft (Phoenix, www.viasoft.com) is designed to address each phase of the year 2000 conversion on PC desktops and client/server applications. Components will enable companies to inventory PC hardware and software assets, conduct a risk assessment of hardware and software, and help to remediate Y2K problems in client/server applications written in C/C++, Visual Basic, PowerBuilder and Unix shell scripts.

The type of solution required for Y2K compliance depends on the age and type of systems a company is running. Companies with recently developed code are less likely to have Y2K issues, but still should have it verified as date-compliant. "If you have developed within the last 3 to 5 years, and you believe it to be compliant, you probably just need to go the inspection route, without the initial impact assessment," says Lance Johnston, vice president of MigraTec. "If it's been migrated from another system, you ought to take a look at it, because that usually implies it's old, and it may have come from someplace weird."

Any company with software code that is more than a few years old faces the daunting task of converting and testing the code for year 2000 compliance. Another new breed of Y2K tool, inspection software, helps cut down the testing time in the face of the fast-approaching deadline. "Like any other coding process, in the remediation process, new errors can occur. In year 2000 work, the best programmer alive will typically make three errors for every 100 modifications that he or she makes to the code," says Steve Angelo, vice president of worldwide marketing for Reasoning Inc. (Mountain View, Calif. www.reasoning.com).

Analysts agree that inspection is an important phase of the process, where a great deal of time and money can be saved. "Pretest Y2K audits have become an essential element in the Y2K compliance process, dramatically reducing testing time and costs, but such services have not been available for distributed or client/server systems," says Andy Bochman, senior analyst at Aberdeen Group (Boston). Y2K code inspection and auditing services "will become increasingly attractive to large users in 1998 and 1999, with numerous competitors entering the market by mid-1998," agrees a report from Meta Group. The benefits of such tools include the opportunity to review code converted offshore, and verification of internal conversion efforts.

Reasoning’s Reasoning/2000 for Inspection will audit applications that have already been remediated to correct year 2000 defects. While the tool runs on a Sun Solaris system, it will check code from Windows NT applications, Reasoning’s Angelo says. The major advantage of such a tool is that it helps to reduce testing time, "enabling compliance checks to be done much faster at one-tenth the cost of traditional testing," says Angelo.

Primeon’s Y2K Audit is not a tool, but a service designed to analyze Y2K-remediated distributed code, available for more than 30 languages and platforms, including C, C++, Visual Basic and Power Builder. The value of Primeon's service is the professionals that eye clients' remediated code, Clarke says.

However, even tools and services such as those offered by Reasoning and Primeon will "never completely address" Y2K code certification requirements, Meta Group warns. "No third-party can assume the liability risks of proclaiming 100 percent compliance. The closest that users will come to certification will be via independent inspection services and sharing of auditor reports."

Other new tools examine the date-readiness of hardware. Yes2K from Safetynet Inc. (Springfield, N.J., www.safetynet.com) analyzes a PC's real-time clock, CMOS and BIOS, and checks for potential year 2000 failures. Yes2K can be used as a standalone utility or be deployed and managed centrally from a network, rather than your having an IT manager physically visit and test each PC. More than 60 percent of PCs currently deployed do not have Y2K-compliant hardware.

Microsoft Corp. also is addressing concerns over hardware compliance at an operating systems level. The company has posted information on a "workaround" of date problems with the BIOS in PC hardware. Windows 98 and servers and workstations for NT 3.51 (with Service Pack 5 installed), NT 4.0 and NT 5.0 "all have logic built into them that recognize 1900 as an error case and will automatically compensate by setting the date to 2000."

Microsoft has also announced that all recent versions of Exchange (4.0, 5.0 and 5.5) are fully year 2000-compliant, meaning they operate in the "minimum range" of January 1, 1970, through February 5, 2036. When the site was first introduced last spring, Windows NT Server 4.0 was revealed to have "minor" date issues that need fixing with Service Pack 3 and hot fixes from Microsoft's Web site. Information is still not available on Windows NT Server version 3.51.