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UConn Advance

It's the Year 2000. Do you know what your computer will do?
April 11, 1997
Mark J. Roy

It's hard to believe that two digits can cause so much trouble. But believe it.

Computer programmers and users face more than a headache when the march of time passes into the next century.

At issue is the ability of computers and information systems to function properly after 1999 - all because computer systems for the past 40 years have used two digits to express the year. But when the second hand sweeps past midnight on December 31, 1999, those computers will think it is 1900, not 2000.

Big problem. Big task. Very nervous. Those are the words Rick Ellis of the University Computer Center uses to sum up the situation. Ellis is the UCC's director of computer and information systems.

The University has a dozen major systems and dozens of minor systems that will be affected by the year change. There are 6,000 to 7,000 tape data sets to be fixed. There are about 5,000 FOCUS execs to be checked and fixed. Add to that about 200 software products from outside vendors.

"There is a huge inventory of software and data, all of which has to be reviewed to be sure it is Year 2000 compliant," Ellis says. For most, the task is not difficult, he says, but each will require time - and routine "grunge" work by UConn programmers.

"They have to figure out how to insert two characters for each program, then they have make the change, and they have to test it. And this will have to be done thousands of times," Ellis says.

And it's not as simple as it sounds. There are programs that run in concert with other, and programmers have to be sure that the fix in one will be compatible with each of them.

That is why for the next two years, the UCC has put a moratorium on service requests which call for changes to existing UCC-supported information systems.

"Until this issue is resolved, the UCC will be unable to accommodate any significant programming changes, changes which are generally communicated to us through written service requests," Ellis wrote in a memo to deans, directors and department heads.

"We will be using 1997 and 1998 to do this work and in 1999 we will do final testing and any necessary clean-up work," Ellis says. Some of the systems used by UConn will be fixed by the vendors who support them, and the UCC will have to wait for those vendors to deliver Year 2000-compliant code to update those systems.

And the problem is not restricted to software. All of the PCs and Macs, all of the laptops, must be checked. They may have two-digit dates embedded in their systems - come the witching hour on that late December day in 1999, desktop computers may reboot to 1980, or 1900 - or not at all, Ellis says.

The problem is so big that Ellis has assigned Elaine David of the UCC to manage the project during the next two years. UConn also will coordinate its efforts with that of a state Year 2000 project office.

Ellis urges every campus unit that uses computers and information systems to check their own computers and software to be certain it is Year 2000 compliant. He says archived data which use two-digit dates as a calculation or comparison will be a problem for researchers. The UCC will be offering briefings for departments on the problem, and will establish an email discussion group on the topic. Also, tools will be made available for locating potential problems in departmental and faculty computer files.

A Year 2000 Web site has been established to keep the University community up to date on the project, and to offer help with departmental and individual efforts. (The website is no longer active).

"We really have no choice in the matter," Ellis says of the Year 2000 problem.

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