Organizations Waiting to See About Embedded Systems

The issue of embedded systems has long been recognized as one of the potentially dangerous aspects of Y2K, and one that deserves careful attention on the part of project teams. In some cases, the user interface does not make it easy, or even possible, to display what date information is being maintained internally. In many cases, it may be difficult for the end user to modify the date being maintained internally. Meanwhile, documentation about the internal behavior of the embedded system may be missing or nonexistent; the vendor may be having internal problems; and there may not be any tools available to readily manipulate the internal behavior of the system. With all of these difficulties, how are organizations actually going about the process of determining whether their embedded systems are compliant?

The answer was found in a recent Cutter Consortium survey: Less than half of the organizations have been able to "roll over" the embedded system’s date to observe its behavior in a post-Y2K timeframe. Roughly two-thirds are relying on information from the manufacturer of the embedded system, even though the caveats and qualifications associated with such information often raise serious questions about the credibility and usefulness of the information.

Meanwhile, some 6 percent of the organizations say they simply have not determined the vulnerability of their embedded systems, and 23 percent feel that the embedded systems’ are associated with nonessential (or non-mission-critical) systems. But the majority, nearly 94 percent of organizations, are willing to wait and see what happens to their embedded systems after December 31, 1999. This implies that -- notwithstanding whatever testing they may have done, and whatever reassurances they may have received from the vendor -- the majority of organizations are willing to follow some form of "fix on failure" if they do encounter embedded system problems.

Says Ed Yourdon, Cutter Consortium Chairman, "In the best of all worlds, the vendor-supplied information about embedded systems will prove to be accurate, and the problems encountered on or after January 1, 2000 will prove to be minor and easily repaired. But such an outlook has to be based on a certain degree of optimistic faith, and one of the key outcomes of the entire Y2K phenomenon will be the discovery of whether that faith was justified."