Date code crisis spreads
- By Florence Olsen
- Mar 09, 1998
Just 20 months away from 2000, it's dawning on systems managers that client-server
networks might pose even more insidious date code problems than the mainframe systems they
have concentrated on fixing.
Government organizations cannot deal with the client-server crisis until they have
accurate inventories of their networks, said year 2000 consultant William Ulrich,
president of the Tactical Strategy Group Inc. of Soquel, Calif.
"There typically is no centralized inventory and very little understanding of
which departments own which PCs or what software they're running," Ulrich said.
Client-server networks account for at least 50 percent of the software portfolios in
many organizations, and fixing those networks and applications will take much more effort
than anyone realizes, said Mike Smith, product manager for year 2000 tool vendor McCabe
& Associates Inc. of Columbia, Md.
For one thing, high-level languages such as C, C++, Ada, Visual Basic and PowerBuilder
used in client-server applications are inherently more complex than Cobol used for
mainframe apps, Smith said.
"We're finding about 5 percent of the lines of code in client-server applications
will be affected, but almost 20 percent of the logic in those applications will be
affected," he said.
Another reason is the lack of standards for client-server programming, which could lead
to widespread corruption of data that passes among apps.
"Many people think fixing two-digit dates in spreadsheets simply means fixing the
date-formatted cells. It's trickier to spot erroneous calculations caused by the
dates," said Rajeev Arora, a senior product marketing manager for Viasoft Inc. of
When data travels among desktop applications, the problems are every bit as complicated
as on a mainframe, Arora said, especially when incompatible century windows are present.
The Microsoft Windows 95 version of the Microsoft Access database manager, for example,
uses a different default century window from the Access 97 version to interpret two-digit
The inconsistent windowing can cause interpretation errors when the different Access
versions exchange two-digit dates, Arora said.
The same is true for the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet application. Excel 95 interprets
two-digit dates using a century-window default based on the year 19 as the logical cusp
Excel 97 uses the year 29 as its cusp and reads any two-digit date between 00 and 29 as
21st century, whereas Excel 95 assumes two-digit dates between 20 and 29 fall in the 20th
"If you move data from one application to another, you're in danger of coming up
with different answers" for the same calculation, Arora said.
Many users download mainframe data containing two-digit dates and manipulate it in
spreadsheets or databases before sending it out in reports "with very little checking
and cross-checking," Ulrich said.
The data integrity problem is by no means confined to the government's decision-support
systems. An average investment bank, for example, does more than $300 billion in daily
transactions, relying on PCs for correct calculations and processing.
"These computers could fail in generating correct trade models, calculating
interest and processing regulatory logic," said Mike Tiernan, chairman of the
Securities Industry Association Year 2000 Committee.
Client-server managers must be vigilant to keep date problems from creeping back into
databases and spreadsheets after they are fixed.
Viasoft and McCabe & Associates are among a handful of vendors that in recent weeks
delivered Windows and Unix tools to automate client-server year 2000 projects.
McCabe Visual 2000 3.0 is McCabe & Associates' client-server tool suite for
applications written in C, C++, Visual Basic, Ada and Fortran.
The company will add Java support later this year.
Viasoft's OnMark 2000 tool suite assesses, fixes and tests client-server applications.
The suite comprises MainControl inventory software from MainControl Inc. of Vienna, Va.;
EraSoft assessment software from EraSoft Technologies Inc. of Calgary, Alberta, Canada;
Turnkey 2000 workbench tools from Turnkey 2000 Inc. of San Jose, Calif.; and VisualAudit
remediation software from AstraTek Inc. of New York.
Viasoft, which until recently focused on mainframe Cobol, now offers client-server
workbench tools for C, C++, Visual Basic, PowerBuilder and Unix shell scripts as well as
for user-written Excel and Access apps.
Michael Dillon, a software engineer at the Simulation, Training and Instrumentation
Command in Orlando, Fla., said he has used the McCabe client-server tools for Ada to fix
combat training systems.
The tools already have helped him scale down the work on 1.6 million lines of Ada and C
code from 800 modules to a more manageable 179 modules on one of three systems.
In testing the code, which tracks every event by time and date, Dillon has used
McCabe's Visual 2000 testing functions to make sure the fixed applications work exactly as
they did before.
To check PC applications, users can download a trial version of OnMark 2000 Assess from
the World Wide Web at http://onmark.viasoft.com.
The McCabe Web site is at http://www.mccabe.com.
Contact Viasoft at 602-952-0050 and McCabe & Associates at 410-995-1075.