Time machine tests 2000 code
- By Florence Olsen
- Oct 13, 1997
Blue is the color code for systems certified to run properly before and after the
century rollover. The time machine is a Defense Department-owned Unisys Corp. mainframe
whose system clock is set forward. The time machine shows whether Air Force applications
will fail when 2000 arrives.
Nothing about this Air Force Standard Systems Group project is secret. SSG officials at
Gunter Annex know the status of every automated information system at Maxwell Air Force
Base, Ala. But as of this date, oversight officials have assigned a blue code to only six
small systems out of 67 systems representing 20 million lines of code.
The SSG programmers and managers face a DOD deadline in December 1998 for completing
their year 2000 code fixes in time for a full year of operational testing in 1999.
"It would have been wise for all of us to have started this in 1990," said
Howard Stubblefield, SSG's year 2000 program manager. He's not ready to panic, but he is
worried about the interfaces between those 67 systems and the 300 external systems to
which they connect but over which SSG has no control.
"They pose threats to us," he said.
Before the live operational tests get under way in 1999, program managers will conduct
"stub" tests to validate and certify system interfaces, he said.
So far, SSG's plan for centralized oversight and decentralized execution seems to be
working, Stubblefield said. Program managers for each of SSG's automated information
systems are responsible for getting their systems fixed and tested.
The oversight group certifies the systems under the signature of Robert Frye, SSG
executive director, only after they have passed integration tests.
The SSG systems that have earned certification are mostly PC systems with relatively
few lines of code, said Lt. Greg Banfield, deputy year 2000 project officer for SSG. The
Facility Circuit Information Tracking System received certification after six months of
conversion and testing at a cost of $8,000, Banfield said.
The five other systems certified as year 2000-ready include two AUTODIN systems:
Standard Automated Remote to AUTODIN Host Lite for Windows and the MS-DOS version, SARAH
SSG also has certified its Weather Information Display System II, Weather Intercept
Control Unit-Replacement and Automated Communications Implementation Management System.
Stubblefield's oversight group gives program managers four test scenarios to help them
achieve certification. Applications are future-tested to see whether they will operate
properly through Jan. 1, 2000, the leap-year month of February 2000 and day 366 of year
A fourth scenario tests whether each application will still run properly in the current
calendar year, "because we're going to release it before the year 2000," said
Ardis Hearn, an SSG computer engineer.
Initially, SSG officials had identified six systems they believed were at high risk of
not being completed by December 1998.
Since then, three systems have been taken off the risk list, Stubblefield said.
SSG is moving 14 of its systems to new hardware and operating systems and
decommissioning 10 others that are no longer needed.
Right now, Stubblefield doesn't think SSG will decommission any more systems if the
cost of fixing them turns out to be higher than expected, but he doesn't rule it out.
SSG program managers must pay out of their budgets to renovate the applications they
Making their systems 2000-ready is their top budget priority, Banfield said.
Year 2000 readiness will likely cost SSG less than the $1.70 per line of code it
"We should come in under $20 million," Stubblefield said, or less than $1 per
line of code. A majority of the systems are maintained by contractors, he said.
The pace of year 2000 work at SSG differs little from the pace of routine software
maintenance, Hearn said. But this maintenance could take unexpected turns before it's
"We don't know yet if we'll get to the end without anybody working overtime,"
Hearn said. "That's highly unlikely."