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Opinion: The 'Y2K reboot' revisited

July 1, 1999
Web posted at: 11:50 a.m. EDT (1550 GMT)

by Frank Hayes

(IDG) -- This weekend ends with the Fourth of July, so in the U.S. we'll all get a three-day weekend to eat hot dogs, watch parades and enjoy the fireworks. Six months from now, we'll be facing another kind of fireworks as the clock counts down to Y2K zero hour -- and our companies will have another three-day weekend. But which three days? Will users knock off work on Thursday night, Dec. 30, and come back on Monday, Jan. 3? Or will they finish out the year on Friday, Dec. 31, not to return until the following Tuesday?

You'd think by now that question would have been answered as part of our year 2000 strategy. But it hasn't, at least not consistently.

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Some companies plan to take Dec. 31 off. That's the day current U.S. law specifies as the federal holiday. Others have decided on Jan. 3, the following Monday. In some organizations, each business unit will decide whether to take Friday or Monday -- or both.

As for the federal government itself, a resolution is sitting in a House subcommittee that would shift the official New Year's holiday from Friday to Monday, to give businesses more time to patch up Y2K problems.

But will that really help? Consider this: About the time office workers are arriving in New York and Washington on Dec. 31, Japan and Australia will be minutes away from midnight. As the hours tick by, customers, suppliers and subsidiaries across Asia and Europe will roll over to the year 2000 -- or be rolled over by it.

That could mean wave after wave of year 2000-related problems pounding down on your business. Spurious orders generated by applications that think the warehouses are empty, for example. Transactions corrupted by power outages and telecom failures. Networks clogged by endless attempts to reconnect with crashed systems.

Those problems might not materialize. But if they do, they're the last things we need during our final day to prepare for millennial glitches.

Last September, I suggested Computerworld readers should shut down their computer systems on Dec. 31, as zero hour approached, and restart them after midnight passed. My biggest concern was that widespread year 2000 power failures might cause more damage to your hardware and data than any millennium bugs in your code.

Now, though, it looks like the North American electric power grid will for the most part stay up, or at least recover quickly enough that emergency backup power will be enough to handle any lapse.

So now I'm making a new recommendation: Shut down your whole business on Dec. 31.

If users take Dec. 31 as a holiday, we'll have all of Friday to prepare for zero hour. We can warn business partners that our systems won't be accepting any transactions. We can back up data, turn off PCs and throttle back processing on larger machines to an absolute minimum.

We may even be able to use information about problems encountered by the rest of the world to make last-minute fixes as midnight heads inexorably our way. And we can do it all without worrying about disrupting business.

You may have to lobby your top brass hard to make Dec. 31 the holiday if they've already settled on Jan. 3 or left the option to business units. But shutting down on Dec. 31 will protect the business -- and give you crucial hours for Y2K preparations when you need them. If everything goes well, users can be back at their desks on Monday.

And if unfixed Y2K problems turn out to be a full-blown disaster? Well, then users will just get a four-day weekend.

Hayes, Computerworld's staff columnist, has covered IT for 20 years. His e-mail address is frank_

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