Y2K: The Network Version

Networks are a potential Achilles' heel in organizations' otherwise Herculean Y2K remediation efforts.

This spring, under the auspices of the Securities Industry Association (New York,N.Y.), 400 Wall Street firms, simultaneously turned their clocks ahead to January 3, 2000,to see what would happen as they conducted simulated trades. Y2K-related problems affectedonly two one-hundredths of one percent of 260,000 transactions.

Unfortunately, many networking equipment vendors have handed their customers anothersack of Y2K troubles, even in equipment sold as recently as a year and a half ago. As aresult, the tentacles of Y2K are deeply entangled in just about everyone's networks,particularly in network routers, bridges, hubs and controllers. Related configurationsthat may feel the Y2K bite include network operating systems (such as earlier versions ofWindows NT and Novell NetWare), host access software and groupware/messaging systems.Experts warn that most network products manufactured before 1997 may need replacement.

In most cases, the problems aren't serious enough to bring down an entire network onNew Year's Day. More likely, problems will arise with log data from time/date stampsrunning in the operating systems of network devices. After the century rollover, networkmanagers could be blinded to what's going on in their networks, unable to monitor networkdevices. Logs may be corrupted with data that appears to be 100 years old, if networkmanagement systems can even collect the data at all. Firewalls could expire all passwordsand deny access to legitimate users. Only in a worst-case scenario will the networkbackbone fail altogether, says Ellen Carney, Director and Principal Analyst at Dataquest(San Jose, Calif.).

The good news is that compliance is relatively cheaper for networks than forapplication systems. Forrester Research (Cambridge, Mass.) estimates that most majorcompanies can achieve compliance for about $575,000. However, finding out exactly whatneeds upgrading can be a daunting task. Forrester estimates a typical network in a Fortune1000 company includes 1,000 switches, 400 routers, 250 hubs, 1,000 servers, 20 firewalls,10 remote access servers, three management systems and 10 network service providers."It's not good enough to know you've got IBM routers. You need to know the modelnumber and operating system level for those devices," explains Paul DeBeasi, Directorof Marketing with NetSuite Development Corp. (Concord, Mass.).

Of the 107 routers and switches listed on IBM's Web site, 44 (or 41% of them)"require discovery of the operating system revision level in order to determine Y2Kcompliance," DeBeasi points out. For Cisco Systems' (San Jose, Calif.) high-endrouters, the ratio climbs higher -- 55% may have non-compliant operating systems. Inaddition, 75% of Cisco's LAN switches require operating system knowledge. This numberclimbs to 88% of 3Com Corp.'s (Santa Clara, Calif.) routers and 100% of Nortel Networks(Saint John, News Brunswick) routers.

Another area that bears close watching is messaging systems. Some earlier versions ofLotus Notes/Domino and Microsoft Outlook are not Y2K-compliant, while Novell (Provo, Utah)has announced it will not even test early versions of GroupWise for compliance. Earlierreleases of Lotus Notes/Domino are affected by a date display problem: The Notes serverconsole is unable to display the date/time stamp when a four-digit year is displayed.However, Lotus claims that this glitch "will not result in loss of anyfunctionality," such as replication or mail routing.

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