The New Daylight Saving Time: A Mini Y2K?

Daylight Saving Time (DST) starts three weeks earlier this year in most parts of the United States and there are fears that the change will cause problems for unprepared computer systems and digital devices.

If you think the scenario sounds familiar to the so-called Y2K problem that gripped the world in the days leading up to Jan. 1, 2000, you’re not alone.

One of the first to sound the alarm about the potential for IT calamity posed by the Y2K situation was Canadian speaker, writer and consultant Peter de Jager. He warned that systems doing date-related processing might be stymied when the calendar suddenly ran out of dates beginning with “19” as 1999 ended.

Large amounts of time and money were spent to prepare for a tech meltdown. When New Years Eve came and went with few glitches, de Jager might have been credited for his foresight. Instead, he was often criticized for being a Chicken Little.

So, now he’s not talking. Various versions of “no comment,” followed by, “You guys crucified me the last time,” is all de Jager had to say when asked by TechNewsWorld about the upcoming DST problem.

No Time for Complacency

However, GridApp Systems, a maker of database automation software and solutions, has called the DST matter a “mini Y2K,” and de Jager’s silence on the subject shouldn’t be mistaken to mean GridApp is wrong.

When it evokes the Y2K fear, GridApp is calling attention to the effect the time change might have on large databases. Database administrators cannot afford to ignore the DST change, Matt Zito, the company’s chief scientist, told TechNewsWorld.

“Every organization should immediately inventory all of their databases, analyze whether they have a Daylight Saving Time issue and roll out patches if necessary,” he said. “Obviously, this is a huge challenge for database administrators everywhere and makes automated database patching more critical than every before.”

While the DST issue may be more important to businesses, the focus has been more on how it will affect our everyday lives. “Clearly the implications for businesses are much more serious than for individuals,” Zito noted. “But a lot of the stories about the DST change have focused on what most people are going to see in their day to day lives — cell phones with the wrong time, and missing appointments because the calendar is an hour off.

“The idea that critical business processes could fail at large companies because one server in a pool is off by an hour is hard to imagine, especially without being alarmist about it. The reality, though, is that this is going to be a lot of work leading up to March 11th, and a lot of work afterwards to validate that indeed, everything is working correctly,” he added.

Being Prepared

Oracle “keeps issuing updated patches” to fix the DST problem, GridApp spokesperson Jeff Pecor told TechNewsWorld. “People are having to go back and re-patch their entire Oracle infrastructure all over again,” he said. Similar scenarios are facing those administering other vendors’ relational databases, creating an “incredible patching headache” for IT departments, according to Pecor.

As do all major IT vendors, IBM has a Web site devoted to the DST issue. “Computers and applications that use local time may be off by one hour for the three weeks in March and one week in November,” explains the IBM site. “For example, transaction receipts and other time-sensitive data may have incorrect times for the affected period.”

It doesn’t sound like too big a deal, but elsewhere on Big Blue’s site, you’ll find that installation of the DST patches is needed not just to avoid “incorrect times” but also “to help reduce the risk of application and system failure.”

Plenty of Warning

The DST change will be here soon — clocks will “spring forward” an hour on March 11 and not “fall behind” an hour until Nov. 4 — but the change wasn’t sprung on the world suddenly. It was authorized in a new Energy Policy Act signed into law by President Bush on Aug. 8, 2005.

Nevertheless, many people forgot about it. One of the first organizations to issue a reminder was Microsoft.

One foreboding line buried deep in Microsoft’s many pages of advice warned: “All users of Microsoft products affected by the time change should give extra attention to meetings and appointments scheduled between March 11, 2007, to April 1, 2007 and Oct. 28, 2007, to Nov. 4, 2007,” suggested the software giant. “Users should view any appointments that fall into these date ranges as suspect until they communicate with all meeting invitees to make sure that the item shows up correctly on everyone’s calendar both internally and externally.”

Microsoft has 25 products that will be needing updates to handle the DST change.

Deja Vu for IU

At the forefront of dealing with the problem is Indiana University. The college has good experience since Indiana, which didn’t change its clocks for 20 years, joined the DST pack last spring.

“At that point, we wrote our own tools,” Sue Workman, director of user support within the university’s IT department, told TechNewsWorld. “That was a huge effort, but it may have gone smoother last year than this year.

“Preparing it has been very difficult because we haven’t had information from Microsoft for very long,” she noted. “And when Microsoft did release patches “some of the tools they released they pulled back.”

Dealing with the DST change “in general [has been] a very large expense to the country” and entailed “a lot of work we could be putting into something else,” Workman said. Businesses and schools looking for information on how Indiana State dealt with the DST problem can visit the knowledge base set up at kb.iu.edu.

Hoping for the Best

Being an hour off on an appointment isn’t good, but if that’s the extent of the DST bug’s impact, it will be little more than an inconvenience. That’s the way Neil Strother, wireless analyst for Jupiter Research, is hoping this all plays out.

“I don’t think this is Y2K redux,” Strother told TechNewsWorld. “If devices are going to be screwed up, they’ll only be off for an hour. I think people get screwed up even with the old Daylight Saving Time, so I think this is just going to be an earlier inconvenience.”

Strother was one of the many who forgot all about the DST change. “I was aware of it when it was enacted,” he said. “I kind of packed it away.”

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