Y2K--First the good news

Some in the cabling industry dismiss the Year 2000 problem as something that information-technology departments need to worry about. While it is true that the physical plant is composed of passive components that do not process dates, the more the network interfaces with other systems, the more vulnerable it is to Y2K malfunctions. And as many companies designate "Y2K managers" to spearhead Y2K-compliance projects, network designers find themselves wearing this new hat.

--Catherine Varmazis

Some in the cabling industry dismiss the Year 2000 problem as something that information-technology departments need to worry about. While it is true that the physical plant is composed of passive components that do not process dates, the more the network interfaces with other systems, the more vulnerable it is to Y2K malfunctions. And as many companies designate "Y2K managers" to spearhead Y2K-compliance projects, network designers find themselves wearing this new hat.

If your organization uses cable- management software (cms), for example, the software may manage not only cable but also crossconnects, telephones, boards, computers, service-support systems, and a variety of other elements. "There is no agreed-upon definition of cms," says Bill Spencer, president of Network & Communication Technology Inc. (Park Ridge, NJ). "The more `hooks` you put into other systems and the more the cms interacts with other applications, the more vulnerable you are."

Taking stock

Organizations are devoting considerable resources to documenting their software and hardware and verifying their Y2K compliance. Many are installing physical network management systems to document all their assets and "get their arms around all of their technology," says Spencer, who cites the reasons for this huge inventorying process as the growth of mission-critical enterprise networks and the Y2K problem.

In addition to internal fact-gathering, Y2K managers should look to suppliers for help. At Seitel Leeds & Associates (Olympia, WA), Gary Thorson, a registered communications distribution designer and senior network engineer involved in Y2K-compliance projects, says, "When you`re talking about network systems, the vast majority of them are off-the-shelf commercial products. We`ve concluded that the best source of information is the vendor. So we inquire with the vendors regarding their Y2K compliance for each model or version of hardware or operating-system software. We also ask vendors to provide us with copies of their test plan and test results." If the vendor`s technical information does not satisfy them, Thorson and his colleagues come up with a contingency plan in case the system fails come January 1, 2000.

Who is liable for Y2K-related system failures, and does a vendor`s assurance of Y2K compliance get the user off the hook? Not necessarily. "We`re finding that virtually every organization that`s making any kind of Y2K-compliance statement has its lawyers check it. The statements are generic enough that the companies are not liable for anything," says Thorson. "That puts the burden back on the owner of the equipment to read what the vendor says and determine how far to trust what he says."

Even companies that believe they are too small to be affected by Y2K could suffer serious setbacks. At the very least, these companies should be sure to have the versions of hardware and software that the vendor says are Y2K-compliant, suggests Thorson. "Where it`s going to kill some of the small companies is if they`re using office automation tools that are not compliant--all of a sudden they can`t process their work orders or their billing," he says.

Spencer recommends, "If you believe you need to document your physical infrastructure for Y2K purposes, take that opportunity also to document your physical cabling and connectivity. You`ve already got an investment there. For a little extra, you can document your entire network."

Meeting the Year 2000 Challenge, a concise booklet written by Michael Jawer and published by boma International (Washington, DC), lists eight key steps to Y2K planning:

- Educate senior management.

- Designate a Year 2000 manager.

- Inventory systems.

- Contact suppliers.

- Prioritize problems.

- Anticipate contingencies.

- Identify solutions.

-Test the solutions.

The clock is ticking. Will your company make it to the other side of 2000?

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