Ensuring Y2K Compliance for Windows NT 4.0

Microsoft Corp.'s Year 2000 (Y2K) compliance policy is confusing enough for Windows NT administrators, but for AS/400 managers - many of whom have only grudgingly deployed NT in the first place - it can be downright bewildering. In recent months, the software giant has even taken to championing a newer service pack release - which itself has known Y2K issues -- as its Y2K compliant code base. So how is an AS/400 administrator to make sense of Y2K compliance issues in the befuddling Windows NT world?

Amid uncertainties surrounding the stability of its Service Pack 4 (SP4) release in late October, Microsoft indicated initially that its SP3 update was certified Y2K compliant. Organizations that wanted to wait until SP4 proved robust and stable could ostensibly do so without compromising the Y2K integrity of their Windows NT-based information systems. But Microsoft later backed away from its earlier position, instead acknowledging that SP3 was Y2K compliant "with exceptions" and in turn positioning SP4 as its unequivocal service pack update to ensure full Y2K compliance.

In the aftermath of that announcement, several Y2K compliance issues have surfaced even in systems updated with SP4, leaving IT managers confused as to the viability of Microsoft's Y2K compliance claims.

First of all, a Windows NT 4.0 Server system updated with SP4 is not necessarily Y2K compliant. If an NT Server has Microsoft's Active Directory Services Interface 1.0, FrontPage 97, Internet Locator Service 1.0 or Transaction Server 1.0 installed, Microsoft has made separate updates available that bring these services up to full Y2K compliance. AS/400 managers should download the appropriate updates for each of these services from Microsoft's Y2K Web site (www.microsoft.com/Y2K).

The latest SP4 Y2K problem was discovered by Ilya Slavin, a system administrator with Tudor Investments in New York, while he was testing an SP4-updated Windows NT system for Y2K compliance. According to Slavin, he initiated a file copy after setting the system time to several seconds before 12:00 AM on January 1, 2000, the rationale being that the file copy procedure would carry over into the new year. The copied file should then bear a time-stamp reflecting the millennium change.

"What I discovered is that on several occasions the system clock went backward during the file copy procedure, so that instead of falling into 12:00 AM on January 1, 2000, it went to 12:00 PM on December 31, 1999," Slavin indicates.

Many Windows NT managers are understandably frustrated with the ostensibly bewildering state of Microsoft's Windows NT Server 4.0 Y2K policy, but Russ Cooper, president of R.C. Consulting (Ontario) and moderator of the Windows NT Bugtraq mailing list (www.ntbugtraq.com), takes a more pragmatic approach.

"I think that you just have to look at Microsoft's compliance statements to understand the reality, which is that the service pack versions are compliant as to what they know today, and if and when anything is discovered that makes it non-compliant, they promise to fix it in some versions," Cooper indicates. "Today, SP3 is compliant with exceptions, and SP4 is compliant and there will be no exceptions, anything that is uncovered will be fixed."

And that's the point, says Karan Khanna, lead product manager for Windows NT Server with Microsoft. "What we've been saying consistently is that we will maintain SP4 and future service packs to be compliant," Khanna explains. "We've gone through the code-base and looked for Y2K issues before we released SP4. Over time if any issue does come to our attention we will fix it for SP4 and for future service pack releases."

According to Khanna, Microsoft's policy is to patch Y2K- and security-related problems by means of a hotfix update, while other issues will be addressed by means of future service pack releases. Microsoft has not yet posted a patch for the latest discovered SP4 Y2K exploit.

Khanna also reiterated Microsoft's position that SP4 will be maintained as Microsoft's Year 2000 compliant Windows NT update through 2001. If and when SP5 for Windows NT ships, Khanna avers, SP4 will still be officially maintained as Microsoft's Year 2000 compliant platform, although SP5 and all future service packs will be certified for compliance as well. "Customers can comfortably deploy SP4 to keep their networks compliant, and we will maintain SP4 as the compliant platform through 2001," he maintains.