Daylight-saving time a nuisance, but no Y2K

Enterprises are taking the earlier time switch in stride

Timed stock market trades will go awry. Manufacturing lines will grind to a halt. Perplexed executives will hold court before empty conference rooms. These are just a few of the doomsday scenarios that have been tossed out in advance of daylight-saving time, which has been bumped up by two weeks this year by order of the U.S. Congress.

The warnings recall the Year 2000, or Y2K, hysteria that reigned at the turn of the Millennium, when some worried that the computer systems that were programmed to recognize two digit years and that were used to run just about everything would suddenly stop working. But executives and enterprise IT professionals contacted by InfoWorld say that the daylight-saving time (DST) change, while a nuisance, is no Y2K, and they expect few disruptions to their businesses come Monday.

The new, accelerated time change is the result of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which lengthened daylight-saving time in an effort to curb U.S. fuel consumption. IT vendors and industry groups recognized the potential for confusion, with many operating systems and applications programmed to use the old daylight-saving time date, and started warning about potential disruptions from DST just after the New Year.

In a February alert to its members, the IT ISAC (Information Sharing and Analysis Center) said that the new daylight-saving time could "affect all consumers from home users to large enterprises," with problems ranging from missed appointments to system failures where correct time stamps are needed to store, monitor, or operate critical infrastructures. IT-ISAC members were encouraged to identify any systems that were time dependent and request patches for affected systems.

Large platform vendors like Microsoft have also been sounding the alarm on DST in recent months, especially about the impact of the change on older versions of Windows and Microsoft Office. Windows Vista and Office 2007, released in January, are programmed to use the new DST schedule.

"We've heard a wide spectrum of comments from customers," said M3 Sweatt, chief of staff for the Windows Core Operating System Development Group. Some companies have been working on the problem since last November, when Microsoft first issued patches for Windows to address the time change. However, other firms have waited until just recently to tackle the DST change, he said.

"Some companies look at this as an extraordinary situation, whereas some have just incorporated it into their regular maintenance windows," Sweatt said.

One of the companies treating it as an extraordinary event is Microsoft, where administrators designated a whole weekend to roll out DST patches across the company's infrastructure, he said.

More recently, Microsoft set up a Web site for customers with information on the implications of the time change and links to product patches and other advice for consumers, as well as IT professionals.

Despite two years of lead time, however, the daylight-saving time issue only made it onto the radar at many enterprises in the last week or so, after the press began covering the issue more closely, said Patrick Foxhoven, CIO of CentraComm Communications, a managed security services provider in Findlay, Ohio.

"The biggest headache has just been clients contacting us who are concerned because of all the hype," Foxhoven said.

Centracomm said that it was initially concerned about the impact of the daylight savings time change on security event correlation tools that it uses, but has since then received patches from the necessary vendors, as well as infrastructure vendors it depends on like Juniper Networks. Centracomm is ready to go for the DST change, as are the systems it manages for its customers, he said.

But over at Ce De Candy, in Union, N.J., daylight-saving time may result in the burning of some midnight oil before Sunday, said IT manager Rick DePinto.

"It's a big pain in the neck," said DePinto, who said changes to the company's payroll system and a matrix of Microsoft patches still need to be implemented.

Ce De pays its workers hourly and bases the time worked on a time clock system that takes the information from the clocks and uploads the data to the program on a PC, which in turn uploads it to the ERP system on the back end.

"All of these time-related payroll issues have to adjust when daylight savings goes into effect," said DePinto. Unfortunately the instructions Ce De got from the payroll vendor are not clear on what needs to be done. "We've been spending a lot of man hours on this," DePinto said.

Scheduling anything in Outlook is also a problem. Shift schedules and appointments are all done in Outlook and there isn’t one simple patch from Microsoft.

"They have a multitude of different patches that you have to download and it is very involved," DePinto said.

For now, changes to Outlook are being done manually at Ce De. Although there is a patch that will push out a change to all the desktops, installing it so complex that DePinto prefers to let his team update the PCs one desktop at a time. 

Still, most enterprises are taking the change in stride and betting that disruptions, if they occur, will be minor, according to those interviewed by InfoWorld.

"It is not on a Y2K scale," said Ray Repic chief technical architect at Coca-Cola Enterprises. "The only item that is a bit of a pain is with our calendaring capabilities for people who have scheduled meetings out beyond March 11."

"To be honest, I've been so busy, I haven't even thought about it," said Sean Marsh, CEO of One Mortgage Network. Marsh said that outsourcing much of One Mortgage's IT operations and using service-based software like Salesforce.com has spared him some worry about the DST issue, but he's betting the downside won't be catastrophic even if he's caught unprepared.

"The reality is, a one-hour difference is not going to cripple our company," said Marsh. In a worst case scenario, IT staff can manually update systems that can't be patched, then turn off the daylight-saving time feature so that clocks are changed again when the old DST date comes around, he said.

Ultimately, scheduling will be the biggest problem for companies that haven't addressed the DST issue, so enterprises should make workers aware of the change at the very least and scrutinize appointments and meetings in the weeks in between the new March 11 daylight-saving time change and the old DST change in April.

"The Boy Scout's model is to be prepared, and I think that's a good model for this: Plan ahead and be prepared," Sweatt said.

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