Y2k Bug 18159 - Essay Example

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SOLUTION FOR THE Y2K BUG

Introduction

The company in which we choose to perform an analysis concerning the Y2K problem is Dell Computer Corporation. We were able to find many outstanding measurements that Dell has taken to make their computer hardware and software compliant for the year 2000. We also found how Dell is helping their employees and most importantly, their customers in dealing with the Y2K problem.

Before we move on, we would like to give you a quick preview of Dell’s background, the type of computers Dells has to offer and how the Y2K bug will affect their production line. We will also discuss the type of software Dell has to offer with each customer’s purchase, and how each software purchase has a chance of being affected by the Y2K bug.

Through this report we will also discuss the five steps which Dell Recommend. These steps will help Dell and its customers prepare for the Y2K millenium, and will help avoid any major downtime within the company.

The Y2K problem is a big issue to Dell and many other small or large business owners, and how the Y2K problem can paralyze the world when the year 2000 arrives. In other words, what needs to be done, and how do we prevent this problem from hurting our economy and our communications technology. The most important question in every ones mind is what to do to solve the Y2K problem. This will be discussed in detail.

Background

Michael S. Dell founded Dell Computer Corporation in 1984. Its main headquarters is located in Round Rock, Texas and is the leading direct computer system company in the United States. Dell’s viewpoint in the computer industry was to bypass the middleman who adds little value to the product. Its main focus is to sell custom-built PCs directly to the end-user. By doing this, Dell can better understand the customer’s needs and provide the most effective computing solutions to meet those needs. This will give customers better assurance towards their computer products. The company is the number two manufacturer in the United States, it’s the leading supplier of personal computers to business customers, government agencies, educational institutions, and consumers.

This innovated direct-marketing strategy made Dell one of the top two vendors of personal computers worldwide. In 14 years that Dell Corporation has been in production, Dell revenues have increased from 6 million to 16.8 Billion in the last four quarters. This has made Dell Corporation one of the Fortune 500 companies in America.

Dell Corporation operates in 33 different countries around the world. With their 23,000 employees on hand, they can serve more than 170 countries and territories around the world. The reason why Dell is so successful is because they are so unique from its competitors and because they offer superior customer service then most other corporations. They establish great relationships with their customers, both home-PC users and many of the world’s largest corporations. One thing that people look for before they purchase any type of appliances is vendor support. This is what Dell is known for; to support and answer any questions the customer may have in mind at all times. Another reason why Dell Corporation is so unique is because they customize each computer to best fit everyone’s owns needs. This means that each computer is manufacture one at a time as ordered. Dell Corporation also offers to its customers the latest in technology, so the customer does not have to worry about being out-dated. Dell also offers its customer’s on-line services which gives customers a preview of Dells product line. This consist of an ordering catalog, inventory tracking and support-team representatives.

Financial Status

Dell has been producing computers since 1984. Most of Dell’s growth revenue has occurred within the last couple of years. Listed below are some of the key points that occurred during 1998 and 1997:

1998

? Dell earnings rise 65% on 51% revenue growth

? Dell earnings rise 72% on 54% revenue growth

? Dell earnings rise 63% on 52% sales gain

? Dell tops $12 billion in annual revenues

1997

? Dell increases limit of stock – repurchase program to 125 million shares

? Dell’s direct model fuels record quarterly performance

? Dell computer shareholders authorize share increases

? Dell board approves two – for – one stock split

? Dell reports industry – leading results and two – for – one stock split

? Dell announces increase in stock repurchase program to 50 million shares

? Dell reports industry – leading performance for fiscal year 1997

Hardware/Software

Dell offers a variety of hardware to its customers. This variety includes home-use, small business and large corporations. It all depends how it bests suites the customers needs. The type of computer hardware Dell Corporation has to offer is listed below.

? Dell Dimension: This computer is a desktop PC, was design for small-business or home users. This PC offers high-speed computing, It comes with a Pentium II processor and ranges from 333 MHz to 450 MHz. The Dimension PC can support all sorts of software programs such as, Word Processor, Graphics, and Spreadsheets.

? Dell OptiPlex: This computer is design for corporate and institutional customers who need reliable systems within the network environment. The Dell OptiPlex comes with Pentium II processor and ranges from 350 to 450 MHz. The OptiPlex can support the following software, Word Processor, Spreadsheets, CAD/ Graphics, Desktop Publishing, Voice Recognition, and Accounting/Financial software.

? Dell Precision: This computer is design to run complex applications, such as 3-D, digital content creation, software development and financial modeling. The Dell Precision comes with a Pentium II and ranges from 400 to 450MHz. The Dell Precision can support the following software, Word Processors, Spreadsheets, high-speed CAD/Graphics, Accounting/Financial software, Web Tools, and Developer Tools.

? Dell Inspirin: This notebook PC can suite any environment, such as education or business wise. The Dell Inspirin comes with a Pentium or Pentium II processor, and ranges from 233 to 300 MHz. The Dell Inspirin can support the following software, Word Processor, Spreadsheet, Graphics, and Accounting software.

Each computer hardware and software that has been purchased from Dell manufactures from January 1, 1997 to the present can withstand the Y2K bug. If purchased a Dell Computer prior to January 1, 1997, you must upgrade your Basic input/output System (BIOS) in your PC. Dell also manufactures BIOS upgrades so your Dell PC can be compliant with the Y2K bug.

Y2K Analysis

During the past few years, there have been many discussions and concerns about the approach of the year 2000 and how it is going to affect many businesses. The company Dell Computers has been involved in analyzing their potential problems with the upcoming event and how it will affect their computerized systems; like their hardware and software applications. Dell has developed solutions designed to enable Dell branded hardware, under most scenarios, to provide accurate system clock dates to the operating system and software application programs.

The Y2K Problem

The main source of the problem is found in the Real Time Clock (RTC). The Real Time Clock is a chip located on the system board that maintains the date and time even when the system is off. The Real Time Clock system date can be set and retrieved using BIOS calls. Most Real Time Clocks are not designed to change the century portion of the date automatically. For example: a change in the year from 1900 to the next year only the last two digits change without affecting the first two digits. In other words, by the time we reach the millennium all Real Time Clocks within computerized systems will only change the 99 to 00. Therefore, it will take our systems back to the year 1900 instead of taking the systems forward toward the year 2000. If corrective steps are not taken, this can become a major problem for systems running data analysis, and transaction processing systems such as medical, financial, and banking system. For instance, many applications rely on the system date for accurate processing. In addition, many Network Operating Systems and workgroup applications base many automated network functions on the server system date.

Problem in Detail

Most of the attention of this Y2K crisis has centered on the significant problem of identifying and updating business software applications to handle the century rollover. Another aspect of the problem, however, has received less attention. Most of the personal computers (PCs) in operation today will be unable to advance their hardware-based system dates to the year 2000 without intervention through the system BIOS. It is most likely to happen to PCs that are powered off at the time of the century rollover, and then powered up on January 1, 2000 or after. Unlike the larger software applications problem, the system date problem is quite easily remedied. The ramifications of not fixing it, however, can be major. For instance, many applications rely on the system date for accurate processing. Additionally, network operating systems (NOSs) and workgroup applications base many automated network functions on the server system date.

Most PCs maintain two system dates—one in the CMOS real-time clock (RTC), a chip located on the system board that maintains the date and time even when the system is powered off, and one in the operating system (OS) software. The RTC system date can be set and retrieved using BIOS calls. When the OS is booted, it normally initializes the current date from the RTC through BIOS call. Once initialized, the OS maintains the system date as long as the system is powered on. Conversely, under certain conditions, most OSs can update the RTC date while the system is running.

This behavior applies both to standalone PCs and PC-based network servers. In contrast, networked PCs can behave somewhat differently, depending upon the NOS. Many NOSs are configured so that when a PC logs in to the network, the local OS initialize the current date from the NOS so that the server controls the system date on its attached networked PCs.

The system date is maintained correctly as long as the RTC is able to automatically update to the correct date or the OS has an opportunity to update it. However, the century rollover challenges this process because, under certain conditions, the PC RTC will not be updated correctly to the year 2000. This is due to an inherent flaw in most RTCs dating back to the early days of the PC, as well as peculiarities in the system dates of the most common OSs.

When IBM first designed the IBM ® AT, they included an RTC so the user would not have to enter the date every time the system was booted, as was required in most PCs of that era. The user would enter the date and time once during the system installation using a custom setup program, and the RTC would then maintain the time and date, even while the computer was turned off. The original design of the RTC still prevails. The RTC device includes native support for only a 2-digit year field stored in a 1-byte register; therefore, only the lower 2 digits of the year are maintained automatically. The RTC stores the data describing the century elsewhere in on bye (the century byte) of nonvolatile storage. The century byte is not part of the core functionality of the clock feature and is not automatically updated when a century rollover occurs.

Furthermore, as more of the RTC and nonvolatile storage functions have been folded into optimized chip sets, additional data reduction has been applied to further simplify the information. For example, some chip sets would use only 1 bit for the century, use that bit to decide whether to report 19 or 20 (for the 20th or 21st century), and do similar reduction on possible values for day of month, day of week, and month. Despite this re-architecture of the RTC, the year filed still was not extended to include the century, which remains outside the automatic update process. This is the root of the problem today. When the year 1999 rolls over to 2000, the RTC will update the year digits (last two digits of the year) to 00, but the century byte, resulting the year 1900 instead of 2000.

Many OSs are able to update the RTC while the OS is running. The conditions under which this occurs are OS-dependent. For instance, MS-DOS ® (and similar OSs such as PC-DOS) use a fairly simple technique to detect most day, month, or year rollovers and to update the RTC. The OS periodically polls its internally tracked time and when it detects a rollover at midnight, it passes a request to the BIOS to update the RTC time and date. However, MS-DOS polls only when idle, so it may not have the opportunity to update the RTC if programs are continuously executing.

MS-DOS exhibits a further peculiarity dating back to its roots, which compounds the RTC century rollover problem. For MS-DOS, a significant date marks the “beginning of time;” January 1, 1980, is the earliest date recognized by any version of MS-DOS. This is due to a data reduction technique used to stamp files with the current date, expressed as an offset from the base date 1-1-1980. The technique reduced the date stamp from a total of 23 bits of information (5 bit for the day of month [1-31], 4 bits for the month [1-12], and 14 bits for the year [0-9999], down to 16 bits. This was accomplished mainly by limiting the year field to 7 bits, and using it as an offset from the year 1980. Under this scheme, any year from 1980 to 2099 can be expressed using offset values ranging from 0 to 119. For instance, the date 1996 is expressed by 16 (1980+16=1986). This technique optimized scarce system resources and also made file date comparisons much easier to implement.

The inability of MS-DOS to recognize dates prior to 1-1-1980 may produce unusual behavior at the century rollover. The most likely scenario involves a system powered off at the time of the century rollover. For instance, on December 23, 1999, a user powers off his system and leaves for vacation. The user returns on January 3, 2000 and powers on the system. The RTC passes the date 1-3-1900 to OS. Since the earliest date MS-DOS recognizes is 1-1-1980, it interprets 1900 as invalid, and sets the date to its earliest known date, 1-1-1980 (or, in some cases to 1-4-1980). Further, if the PC is networked and the date on the server is likewise incorrect, the local system date will remain out of date.

Possible Solutions

Dell’s operating systems have integral date correction logic that can detect and correct an invalid date at the century roll over. They restrict access to the Real Time Clock or BIOS, so only those application programs can retrieve date information from the operating system. Dell has concluded that the operating systems and software applications obtain information primarily through the BIOS, therefore Dells solution should be implemented primarily in the BIOS. Most major computer manufacturers in the industry support this approach. Dell also concluded that the solution should not significantly impact system cost or reliability.

An obvious solution would be to replace the Real Time Clock. This solution recently became available during the beginning of 1998 when date century compliant Real Time Clocks were available in commercial quantities. Regrettably this brings upon significant drawbacks. First of all, it is not practical or economically feasible to upgrade. Secondly by adding a new Real Time Clock chip will only impact the cost, reliability, and performance of the PC system. Finally, this option would only be necessary to address custom business applications that access the Real Time Clock directly for date information. Dell believes that the majority of commercial operating systems and application programs obtain date information through BIOS calls.

Dell implemented three solutions. Two of these solutions are implemented in the BIOS. The third solution is a program that is installed within the config.sys file. This program runs at boot time and operates on the Real Time Clock through the BIOS calls. These options were based on a comprehensive technical analysis and consultation with industry experts and customers. All three of these solutions update the Real Time Clock to the year 2000 permanently and each solution addresses a specific scenario. The first solution is the modification to the Power-on Self-test, which is implemented in the BIOS. These modifications are designed to make sure that the correct date is passed to operating systems that retrieve the date at BOOT time and maintain it internally after that. The second solution is to make modifications to the BIOS. These modifications address those application programs that by pass the operation system to retrieve the date information from the BIOS. The last solution would be to implement an MS-DOS “Patch” program. This program would run each time the system is booted and addresses older systems equipped with a non-flash BIOS that cannot be upgraded economically. This would be implemented primarily on systems based on Intel 486 and earlier microprocessors. The MS-DOS “Patch” program corrects the Real Time Clock date through BIOS calls. Since this program runs at boot-time, the system must be rebooted after the century rollover so that the correct date would be implemented. This software utility should be used when running any of the following operating systems:

? MS-DOS (all versions)

? PC-DOS

? Windows 3.x

? Windows for Workgroups

Dell’s Implemented Solutions

To avoid the need for manual intervention by Dell customers, Dell has modified the BIOS code on Dell ® systems so that the RTC will automatically update correctly at the century rollover. The Dell modifications consist of corrections to two BIOS functions, once when asked for the date (Read RTC Date function) and once when told to set the date (Set RTC Date function). When either of the modified BIOS set or read functions are performed after December 31, 1999, the century byte will be updated and stored permanently in the nonvolatile portions of the RTC, correct for another 100 years. Both BIOS modifications ensure that the system date will be correct after the century rollover.

These BIOS modifications will also correct another error than can occur at the century rollover. On some systems, if the user runs the System Setup program before the OS boots for the first time after January 1, 2000, the ROM setup program embedded in the system, using BIOS calls, will detect the invalid RTC date, 1-1-1900.

There are a few different tests that can be done, but all of them have a specific scenario. The first one is the Power-on self test (POST), which is implemented in the BIOS, are designed to assure that the correct date is passed to operating systems that retrieve the date at boot time and maintain it internally after that. The second test is the modifications to the BIOS address those application programs that bypass the operating system to retrieve date information from the BIOS. Another one is an MS-DOS “patch” program, run each time the system is booted, addresses older systems equipped with a non-flash BIOS that cannot be upgraded economically—primarily systems based on intel486 ™ and earlier microprocessors. The MS-DOS patch program corrects the RTC date through BIOS calls. Because it runs at boot-time, the system must be rebooted after the century rollover for the correct date to be implemented.

Dell and SBA encourage small businesses to take 3 steps to address the Y2K problem:

1)Self-assessment: Check your computers, as well as any electronic equipment that uses time-sensitive embedded electronic chips.

1) Take Action Now: Don’t wait. Fix any problem you uncover and test your results. Ask your vendors for assistance. Verify your partners and suppliers are Y2K compliant.

2) Stay Informed: Logging onto various Y2K sites on the Internet is an excellent way to stay current on these issues.

HOW TO PREPARE FOR THE Y2K BUG

STEP ONE: INVENTORY

? Inventory your communications system. Try to keep a record of each component which can influence the ability of your system to work. You should break your system down as follows:

? Communications: communications systems or components that directly affect communications transmissions or reception. Including equipment directly integrated into your system such as personal computers.

? Support: support operations and administrative systems such as maintenance, billing, parts and ordering, and etc.

? Auxiliary: auxiliary systems or components such as payroll, human resources, security and alarm control systems, and air conditioning.

Another area that should be considerd is the suppliers, business partners, and utilities. While doing your inventory, make sure to collect all of the part numbers from your equipment. The reason for that is because different versions of the same component can experience different levels of problems. Having the part numbers can help specify whether your equipment will or will not experience difficulties.

STEP TWO: ASSESSMENT

? Define the problem. Select or draft a standard for the operational goal. Review the standards developed by other organizations within the field.

? Determine the nature and the extent of the problem.

? Consult with manufacturers. Many manufacturers now have web sites providing detailed information for the equipment in which the produce.

? Determine the nature of the risk. Figure out those components and systems that pose the risk of critical failure and those that pose the risk of annoying failure. Remember that some failures will be critical loss to users.

? Identify the anticipated date of problems for each component. For some systems, the problem can be experienced before year 2000. Do the calculation of such data as the expiration dates. Some systems may experience problems after January 1, 2000.

STEP THREE: REMEDIATION

? Redemption may include any method of addressing the Y2K date conversion problem, including repair, replacement, retirement, or avoidance.

? Develop a plan to respond to the problem, with a strict time line for when each phase must be completed. Be sure to make sufficient time for testing and for unexpected events.

? The remaining time for redemption is a significant factor. The plan may need to incorporate a priority of action, responding to critical systems first and dealing with lessor risks later. If not every problem can be fixed in time, alternative plans for how to survive the date conversion may need to be considered. Be aware that as we approach January 1, 2000, the resources available to respond will be in ever-greater demand and possibly shorter supply.

? Consider the necessity of synchronized solutions. Generally communications equipment exist as a part of networks or larger systems. Fixes implemented in one component or system must successfully work with other connected components or systems. Efforts between business partners, competitors, peers, and consumers may need to be coordinated.

? Deploy your plan

STEP FOUR: UNIT TESTING

? Testing is done in two steps. Unite testing occurs when individual components in isolation are tested. Integrated testing occurs when components are carefully reintroduced into their systems in order to ensure compatibility.

? Testing is vital to the implementation of the Y2K strategy. Experts suggest devoting 50 percent of your overall effort to testing. Testing permits you to uncover overlooked areas of difficulty. Testing should be considered for all companies.

? Be aware that a fix implemented in one part of the system can have ramifications throughout the rest of the system.

? If testing cannot be completed on all systems, an order or priority should be developed with the most critical systems being tested first.

? Testing should be done with care to ensure that the testing itself results in no harm to the system or individuals.

STEP FIVE: INTEGRATION & SYSTEM TESTING

? Once you have completed the first four steps, equipment must be carefully be integrated back into a system. You must make sure that equipment that works in isolation also works when plugged back in. The new equipment must be able to understand the new format.

? Integration also involves “synchronized implementation.” This means that where two systems work together and exchange data, a change in data format in one system must occur that the same time as a change in data format in the other. This may mean working with the companies with whom interconnect to ensure that upgrades are conducted at the same time and will be compatible.

? Once preparations are complete, maintain a “clean” environment. Don’t integrate any untested components, hardware, or software into your system.

CONCLUSION:

In conclusion the approach of the year 2000 presents a challenge to every company, business, and personal computer in the world. The Y2K problem will affect many computer users in many different ways. Computers, software and other equipment utilizing microprocessors that use only two digits to identify a year in a date field may be unable to process accurately certain date-based information at or after the year 2000.

As discussed previously, computer companies believe that the main problem lies in the Real Time Clock (RTC) and the Basic input/output System. The RTC maintains the date and the time whether the system is off or on, and the BIOS is where the operating systems and software applications obtain primarily information. Most computer hardware products purchased before the end of 1996 can be made year 2000 compliant through BIOS upgrades or software patches. Therefore, one solution is implemented primarily in the BIOS, by modifying the Power-on Self Test designed to make sure the correct date is passed to operating system when retrieving the date information from the BIOS. Another solution is implementing a “Patch” program that corrects the RTC date through BIOS calls.

Achieving the Year 2000 compliance is dependent on many factors, some of which are not completely within the computer company’s control. Various computer firms have broken their process into various steps, which are the following; Awareness, Assessment, Renovation, Validation, and Implementation for IT Applications End User Supported Applications, Infrastructure, Business Partners and Embedded Devices. Up to this point all of these steps have been successfully completed and it has been through testing from December 1998 thru 1999.

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