Switches present new challenge to year 2000 teams

Think your company is safe from the millennium problem if your software is year 2000-compliant? Wrong, says a report under way by Gartner Group Australia. Not having year 2000-compliant network and telecommunications switches could also be devastating. And most companies are about 12 months behind where they should be in addressing the problem.

Think your company is safe from the millennium problem if your software is year 2000-compliant? Wrong, says a report under way by Gartner Group Australia.

Not having year 2000-compliant network and telecommunications switches could also be devastating, says Gartner Group researcher John Shea. And most companies are about 12 months behind where they should be in addressing the problem, he says.

“We’re very much saying ‘what are you guys doing to show that you can be year 2000-compliant?’”

Although the Gartner Group believes that the probability of major switch failures is relatively low, it emphasises that it is still an important issue that must be addressed. Shea says the severity of the problem would depend on how the infrastructure was being used. The further up the infrastructure, the worse the impact would be. For example, with telecommunications switches a PABX might affect an office only, a local exchange switch might affect the domestic backbone, and international gateway switches might have even wider effects.

The telcos say switches are being checked as a routine part of their year 2000 investigations. Telecom New Zealand says it is checking switches as part of its compliance plan, while Clear Communications, which has Nortel switches, says Nortel has been working on year 2000 compliance for a number of years. Nortel has undertaken to provide a software upgrade to Clear within the next two years which will make it year 2000-compliant. Clear also has its own year 2000 project team.

Switch vendors say they are well aware of the problem. Digital says its switches will be year 2000-compliant by the end of 1997. Bay Networks says its switches will be compliant by next year. Both say they have advised customers. Cisco says its switches are already compliant. Its technology is based around its product-wide IOS software which it says has been tested and is compliant. Nevertheless, Cisco says the number of queries it is receiving about compliance is increasing rather than decreasing.

Shea says Gartner views the problem like any potential disaster, and should be planned for in the same way.

He says Gartner uses an example of a major airline which had a fire in its main computer room to illustrate what sort of impact there could be. It took the airline 17 hours to get online again, but it would have taken just another four hours before it would have been out of business.

“People say ‘how can that possibly happen?’ But you’re talking technical bankruptcy in terms of cash-flows … the impact could be devastating.”

“That puts more pressure on your people who are required to put the fix together, in terms of their project schedule and resources being made tighter.”

He says the core advice from Gartner is that organisations aim to mandate a year 2000 clause in their purchasing contracts with telecommunications carriers and switching vendors.

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