Gearing Up for the Millennium

For the next 16 months, it appears the AS/400 world will be consumed with Year 2000 testing. This promises to be a tedious and expensive time, since entire application sets need to be brought into production mode, then taken off-line again for follow-up work. Some companies are even buying separate processors for testing.

"Year 2000 testing is a difficult task on the AS/400," says Brahm Om Sharma, president of Miami-based Antrix Corp., which makes and markets Gear/2000, a Year 2000 toolset. "You have to completely shut down your operations if you want to change the system date," Sharma says. "Everyone has to then use the same system date." Gear/2000 enables testing and production on the same machine, he claims. In addition, an intelligent utility can catch or compensate for erroneous or inconsistent date fields.

Gear/2000 includes a "date simulator," which enables developers and testers to "simulate their own system date, with no down time," Sharma says. "You don't have to buy a new box for testing -- you can run your tests on the same box as production."

In addition, the tool will help migrate production data into Year 2000-compliant form to run with the converted applications, Sharma adds. The challenge is "that you cannot use the same input for the converted application if you have expanded the date fields," he explains. "The computer will read 01/01/98 and 01/01/1998 as separate dates." Gear/2000 has utilities to create a similar input for the converted application.

In addition, in a highly integrated environment such as the AS/400, a date field isn't limited to one application -- it can flow to almost every other application in the system. Antrix's Gear/2000 will track and manage date codes across an entire system by storing information about all date fields in a central DB2/400-based "knowledge base," says Sharma. "You don't have to necessarily identify all dates. If you know it in a few places, it will track that down the date in all places."

Another challenge testers and developers face is mistakes made in the initial assessment and conversion -- "false positives" and "false negatives" made in scanned or converted code. "You want to ensure you did not introduce any bugs by doing the changes, and break a system that was already working," Sharma points out. Gear/2000 employs an agent utility -- called a "data sniffer"-- to seek out false positives and negatives. For example, he explains, a false negative may occur in the assessment process when "a field may be identified as a date, but in reality is not a real date, but an 'ending date balance.'" Conversely, Data Sniffer will look for false positives, such as a date field not named as such, and therefore passed over by previous tools.

Additional features in the latest release of Gear/2000 include support for sliding window techniques, enhanced ILE COBOL support, additional reporting, handling of date formats with separators, improved command and error logging, and support for archive files.