Hit the snooze

Daylight-saving shift won't keep admins up at night, but they will have to adjust

Could the extension of daylight-saving time be the next year 2000 crisis? Doubtful, experts say, though all federal agencies will have to make some adjustments.

Earlier this month, President Bush signed into law the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which provides a smattering of energy-saving mandates, including the extension of daylight-saving time for three weeks each year.

Starting in 2007, daylight-saving time will begin the second Sunday in March and end the first Sunday in November. The Transportation Department once estimated the country saves 10,000 barrels of oil a day during daylight-saving time. 'Moving' daylight hours from the morning to the evening presumably causes less energy to be consumed lighting homes.

As for IT systems, the changes needed 'are still being assessed,' said Bob Cohen, senior vice president for the Information Technology Association of America. 'We don't have a clear picture to offer.'

The Air Transport Association strongly opposed the extension and is now lobbying for its repeal, citing potential conflicts with international flights and possible computer problems.

But the Federal Aviation Administration does not foresee an immediate problem, at least with its own systems. FAA spokesperson Tammy Jones said adjustments could be made during normal working hours.

The impact on computers of extending daylight-saving time could be minimal, because computers pay scant attention to local times anyway. The local time displayed on a desktop screen is a courtesy of the operating system'the computer itself labors within another time zone altogether. But the secondary effects of making a new time change may not be fully known, even by the IT industry.

'One of the challenges is to figure how this will affect business processes and supply chain processes, particularly where you are looking at interactions with overseas trading partners,' Cohen said.

Most computers'at least those on networks'use an international standard time called Coordinated Universal Time, or UTC. UTC is maintained by the Naval Observatory through atomic-clock measurements and is generally the same time as Greenwich Mean Time, or the time in Greenwich, England. All computers need to adhere to one time in order to network. Routers, servers and other network gear around the globe must coordinate data interchanges, so Internet developers decided early on to use UTC as a universal 'Internet' time.

Computers usually fetch the time periodically from centralized time servers, such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Internet Time Service.

So it is the job of the operating system to translate the UTC into whatever time zone its user specifies. And that problem was solved long ago by OS vendors.

Most Unix and Linux vendors use a public-domain time zone, known as the tz or zoneinfo database. Updating their systems should involve incorporating the new database file in their periodic updates. Red Hat Inc. of Raleigh, N.C., will include the new tz file in an upcoming quarterly update, said Leigh Day, spokesperson for the company.

Microsoft Corp. will probably issue an update to its operating systems that will make the change as well, according to Jason Glashow, a spokesman for Microsoft's Public Sector unit.

Windows OSes keep time zone information in the Time Zone Information data structure, according to the Microsoft Developer Network Web site. The company has not determined the release date of the update, nor has it decided which versions of its operating systems would get these updates'or if older versions, such as NT 4, will be supported.

Of course, the date correction still relies on good IT management practices. Administrators must update their systems, or have regular updates scheduled. They also should be running operating systems still current enough to be supported by vendors or have in-house staff capable of making the changes themselves.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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