Compaq's 'exterminator' hunts Y2K bugs

John Murphy must have been an exterminator in a previous life. These days the critter he hunts is the Y2K bug and his choice of weapon has changed from a shotgun to a sniper's rifle. 'Two years ago you could use the shotgun approach and just work on whatever area you wanted. Now there's not enough time left, so you have to be precise.'

John Murphy must have been an exterminator in a previous life. These days the critter he hunts is the Y2K bug and his choice of weapon has changed from a shotgun to a sniper's rifle.

"Two years ago you could use the shotgun approach and just work on whatever area you wanted. Now there's not enough time left, so you have to be precise."

Murphy is the Y2K manager for Compaq's Application Development Centre's year 2000 division based in Christchurch, and he's been hunting the bug for some time. His team has even developed its own suite of tools to better spot Y2K-laden code.

"We did some work for the Australian Stock Exchange and they have around 2.6 million lines of code, so we built some tools to help us with that." Murphy's team now uses those tools on projects for other Compaq customers in Australia and New Zealand. "We targeted our own customers to start off, because if something goes wrong they'll come to us anyway. We also did work for Southpower, because the ADC maintains their system as well, so it made sense for us to look at their Y2K project."

While he believes corporations are well on track, Murphy is worried about the small to medium-sized enterprise (SME) market. He says their vulnerability, combined with the government's lack of leadership on Y2K matters, has the makings of a disaster.

"Nobody is pushing these guys forward. The Readiness Commission is starting to, but that should all have been done this time last year, surely?"

Another aspect of Y2K that worries Murphy is embedded systems. He's concerned there are a large number of embedded chips that are overpowered: that is, they have more functions built into them than they need for the job they're doing. It's a matter of economy of scale, says Murphy. "It's cheaper to buy thousands of chips that have, say, 15 functions than some that have 15, some that have 10 and others that have three." This means there are chips out there that don't need to know the date, but do.

Murphy thinks the bug is a fantastic opportunity for anyone in business. "You're forced to go through your business plan and work out how you make your money."

Murphy says the lack of time to finish Y2K work on everything means companies have to focus on what's important to their continued existence. After the bug has passed, Murphy says companies will have an excellent springboard into the future.

That's something Murphy believes is almost worth the headache of Y2K, so long as you start now. Otherwise, he says, selling any IT upgrade work to your board could be tricky, especially given how much money companies will have spent on Y2K.

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