Y2K brings new players to market

Seeing federal agencies under growing pressure to correct Year 2000 computer problems, three vendors that traditionally have not sought much government business have launched campaigns to bring their solutions to the federal market.

Seeing federal agencies under growing pressure to correct Year 2000 computer problems, three vendors that traditionally have not sought much government business have launched campaigns to bring their solutions to the federal market.

WRQ Inc. believes it is just now beginning to dawn on systems administrators that Year 2000 problems reside not only in server applications but also on the desktop, particularly in a PC's Basic Input/Output System (BIOS), which contains the code that controls many PC components, and in the operating system.

"We made the same assumption that everybody else made, and that was that the problem is on the host," said Erik Giesa, the product marketing manager for WRQ's Express 2000 Suite. "As we got further and further into this, we found there is a lot of exposure on the desktop."

The Seattle-based company has announced a suite of software tools, Express 2000 Suite, which let users discover compliance problems, prioritize hardware and software that needs fixing and control the spread of noncompliant systems.

To find the problems, Express 2000 Suite scans a PC to take an inventory of what hardware and software is on it. Software data is compared against a database of information about Year 2000 PC application compliance. Express 2000 Suite also checks the PC BIOS to determine whether it will handle the date change correctly when the Year 2000 arrives.

To help users prioritize systems for Year 2000 compliance, Express 2000 Suite shows which applications must be upgraded to comply and what BIOSes need fixing. It also identifies in-house applications that might require manual fixes.

Express 2000 Suite generates reports on application use patterns to help users determine which applications are used by the most people and how much time is spent using them. This will show customers which software is the most vulnerable and help them create a master plan for the fixes, Giesa said.

Once a PC environment is free of Year 2000 defects, Express 2000 Suite can detect all application launches and alert users if an unsanctioned application is running on the network. Express 2000 Suite also can lock out specific applications.

WRQ joins PinPoint Software Inc., Viasoft Inc. and BindView Development Corp. in the desktop Year 2000 market. PinPoint's ClickNet Y2K costs $30 per node, Viasoft charges $155 per PC for OnMark 2000, and BindView's Netinventory costs about $3,800 per 100 nodes.

Shipping in May, Express 2000 Suite costs $65 per desktop with a 50-desktop minimum, while the discovery tool alone will cost $50. WRQ, which opened an office in Vienna, Va., in December, is serious about seeking business in the federal market, Giesa said. A number of federal agencies, including the Energy Department, the Transportation Department and the Air Force, are beta testing Express 2000 Suite, according to the company.

Boston-based IST Development Inc. started getting into the Year 2000 solutions market about 18 months ago, said Allen Falcon, executive vice president of business development. "The tools in the marketplace at that time were not comprehensive. They would miss too much and were not designed for use in large environments," Falcon said.

IST Development's IST 2000 Pack is designed to detect date-sensitive problems for network-based and client/server applications. Shipping since February, IST 2000 Pack is made up of three CenturyPacks, which analyze Microsoft Corp. applications, including Access and Excel, Lotus Development Corp.'s Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet and source code problems in Basic, Visual Basic, C and C++, Falcon said.

In addition to scanning the cells of a spreadsheet, IST 2000 Pack also looks at the control structures, reports, forms, queries, macros and modules; this feature differentiates IST 2000 Pack from products that look only at data tables, according to the company.

Falcon said one of the unique functions of IST 2000 Pack is its examination of individual cells for date fields and functions during the analysis of a spreadsheet. The tool scans beyond the explicit data to uncover hidden dates, he said. This has led to the finding that in spreadsheets without Visual Basic, C++ modules or any sort of coding modules, such as complex macros, 92 to 98 percent of spreadsheets need no change. "The trick is to find the 2 to 8 percent of the spreadsheets that need changes," he said. If an organization can narrow down the number of spreadsheets it has to fix, "you're talking about three to five people working for weeks instead of dozens of people working for months."

IST Development recently formed a partnership with The Orkand Corp., a systems integrator that will resell IST Development's solution to the government. "I expect within the next four to six weeks you will see a number of announcements that will really give us broad coverage in the federal government," Falcon said.

Although solutions for clients are becoming the rage, there are still a lot of mainframe products entering the market.

The Phoenix-based software company ConSyGen has developed a toolset that the company says is a fully automated solution for Year 2000 problems on mainframes. ConSyGen 2000 solution identifies, catalogs and corrects problems and can convert a million lines of code overnight, making corrections automatically with no intervention by a programmer and with no other software tools required, ConSyGen said.

ConSyGen charges a fixed price—- 22 cents per line, or about $220,000 for a million lines of code—- and the toolset works on mainframe-class systems from IBM Corp., Digital Equipment Corp., Unisys Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., Groupe Bull and others, ConSyGen said.

Where possible, the toolset applies a standard rule for the transformation of a date field by either full conversion or windowing, whichever the customer prefers.

Windowing changes the date so that the computer understands that a new century has started, rather than expanding two-digit date fields to four digits. This approach involves assigning a century to a date field depending on the year that appears in the field. For example, a programmer could specify that the years 00 and 60 be interpreted as 2000 to 2060, while the years 61 to 99 be interpreted as 1961 to 1999.

Before converting the code, the toolset uses a range of search criteria to determine the magnitude of the problem, including searching for common variable names and testing for implicit characteristics.

ConSyGen 2000 will generate an audit report to validate the completeness and accuracy of the corrections made and, where necessary, will generate a temporary system date override routine. Delivered code will contain the old and the new code for comparison, the company said.

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