2000 Poses No Future Shock
By Carla Garnett
On the Front Page...
The Sky Is Not Falling at NIH
As might be expected, the year 2000 problem is being cursed as everything from an impending disaster of monumental proportions to a ticking time bomb. Without question, it will be a most expensive and inconvenient computer bug. Businesses that can correct faulty year 2000 programming and help avert catastrophe are already raking in the money.
NIH, however, has been preparing for this since about 1991, and OIRM officials are relying on more than an ounce of prevention. According to its "Y2K" management plan, the problem "is neither a crisis waiting to happen nor a situation with easy fixes."
Explains Jaren Doherty, director of OIRM's Division of Security Standards, Policy, and Planning, "It's not technically difficult to correct noncompliant computers. We're looking at it as an NIH-wide management issue due to the interconnections between computer systems via networks. We simply want employees to be aware of the possibilities and of the resources we have put in place to help with solutions."
Under the leadership of Tony Itteilag, NIH's interim chief information officer, and Dona Lenkin, acting director, OIRM, a five-phase strategy has been developed for seeing the agency safely through and beyond New Year's Day 2000. The first phase is awareness -- communicating with employees, followed in due time by phases 2 through 5: assessment -- determining which hardware and software are affected; renovation -- fixing or replacing the affected ones; validation -- putting the fixes to the test; and finally by Dec. 31, 1998, implementation -- using the reprogrammed resources. Representatives from each ICD comprise a Y2K work group; members are available to answer individual questions about personal workstations and networks. In addition, a special Web site (http://wwwoirm.nih.gov/y2000/) on OIRM's home page has been activated to give status reports and other information on the project.
Microchips Off an Old Block
To many folks, Y2K may appear to be a tremendous oversight. How could the computer industry not have foreseen such a universal programming gaffe? A short history lesson puts it in perspective. Way (way!) back when every byte of computer storage was precious, a space-saving programming trick -- dropping the first two numbers of the date, abbreviating, say, the year 1951 to "51" -- was used. With computer advances occurring at the speed of light, who would have thought the same basic practice would be in use nearly 50 years later?
Since the olden days, computers have progressed to much faster and higher capacity magnetic media -- no longer is there a need to conserve field space. Left most vulnerable are large scale systems with older applications and DOS-based machines of the 486 ilk and older; the majority of Macintosh computers will not need conversion. Indeed, many nineties generation machines already use 4-digit date technology, but many -- those equipped with older microchips, but still among retail stock -- do not. The Y2K challenge is to upgrade computers with old microchip technology and old applications -- called "legacy systems" -- in time to avoid a crisis.
Let the Buyer Beware
Doherty recommends employees do a couple of things to safeguard their computer resources and information. The first is become acquainted with your individual ICD work group representative (see sidebar). If you have concerns about a particular device's Y2K compliance status, don't try to test it yourself -- you could wreak havoc with your data, or your network connections. Instead, notify your ICD rep, who'll know whom to contact for testing, and subsequent followup, if needed.
Also, if a computer purchase is imminent for your organization, make sure all new merchandise -- not only computer hardware and software, but also printers, fax machines, certain cameras, automatic animal feeders and any other equipment that uses microchips to process dates -- and their warranties are compliant. Specific language and guidelines for federal computers and contracts can be found online at the OIRM Web site above.
Party Like It's 1999
Finally, Doherty advises, keep informed, but relax. Neither NIH nor any other organization of comparable size and complexity is going to be ready for 2000 overnight. "It is OIRM's intention to coordinate the ICD work group and share information on this issue through every phase. The work group will help each ICD identify and correct possible problems. Our strategy is to prevent year 2000 problems before they can harm the NIH mission."
Year 2000 Work Group On the Job
The following employees serve on NIH's year 2000 work group and are available to answer questions on testing and upgrading workstations and other electronic devices.
ICD Contact Phone
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