Agencies find Year 2000 tools market still growing
- By John Moore
- Jan 05, 1997
Over the last year federal agencies have become acutely aware that the approaching millennium - Year 2000 - may wreak havoc with software programs and cause untold headaches throughout their organizations. As these agencies scramble to fix Year 2000 problems they will find the tools market is either one of surplus or scarcitiy. The Year 2000 problem stems from the two-digit date fields commonly used in all aspects of computer systems. When the calendar flips to Jan. 1 2000 computers with faulty code will display "00" as the year and interpret the result as Jan. 1 1900.
The resulting inaccuracies in date-based calculations comparisons and sorting will generate corrupt data and possibly cause systems to crash. Many vendors have developed tools to automate the process of finding and fixing date-related problems in programs. Unfortunately as agencies are finding the availability of solutions for correcting code in particular languages varies widely.
As might be expected tools have cropped up first in the high-volume markets - in particular for the decades-old Cobol programming language as well as some of the modern easy-to-use fourth-generation programming languages (4GLs). But for agencies seeking to mend programs in other languages - the Defense Department-mandated Ada obscurities such as Conversational Monitor System (CMS) and even client/server standbys such as C and C++ - the options are fairly limited. "You are not going to find much outside of the business information systems and 4GLs " said Carla Von Bernewitz a Defense Information Systems Agency official who is chairwoman of the DOD Year 2000 Working Group.
"The vast majority of toolsets are specific to IBM's MVS Cobol " which was developed for the company's ubiquitous mainframe noted Jim White national director of the Millennium Solution Center at OAO Corp. a Greenbelt Md. integrator. Vendors are simply following the money according to White. "The sheer magnitude of Cobol applications representing about 70 percent of all programs worldwide is such that...Cobol applications are where a majority of the Year 2000 problems reside."
Indeed most Year 2000 tool vendors have focused on the development of Cobol tools because the bulk of the legacy code in need of repair is written in that language. Cobol has been widely used for many years for writing business applications on mainframes or minicomputers.
The Defense Department is among the federal agencies concerned with the non-Cobol tools problem. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is sponsoring a research project at the University of Wisconsin that is exploring the development of a meta language tool able to interpret the syntax of virtually any language.
"It will be very beneficial if in fact it can be done " DOD's Von Bernewitz said.
Yet in the federal market segments of the Internal Revenue Service's tax system the Federal Aviation Administration's air traffic control software and many military command and control systems are written in languages other than Cobol industry executives noted.
Mitre Corp. Bedford Mass. in a study released earlier this year found DOD uses a variety of languages rather than concentrating on a single language such as Cobol. "Most systems are implemented in multiple languages not just in one particular language " said Tom Backman director of Mitre's Software Engineering Center.
Federal scientific applications make up another non-Cobol constituency. Tony Manganello business acquisition manager at Litton/PRC Inc. McLean Va. said a quick review of the community indicated that for many customers Cobol code is in the minority. The National Weather Service for example "has a large holding of legacy applications in C and Fortran."
Manganello said PRC is looking for or evaluating tools in the non-Cobol world anticipating customer demand. But he noted that there is not much out there. "It's a real problem " he said.
Beyond Cobol agencies are faced with two main options: take the time to build their own tools or evaluate the few commercially available products.
The FAA is in just such a position having a mix of business applications - at FAA headquarters for administrative applications - and air traffic control software.
"It is likely we are not going to go with one consolidated approach " said Mary Powers-King the agency's integrated product leader for information technology acquisitions. The agency has been talking with a number of vendors about their tools and "it seems those are most likely to be used for administrative systems " Powers-King said. But the air traffic control system uses older languages - including Ada and Jovial - where few tools exist. The agency is still considering its options including getting contractor support to help fix problems in those systems she said.
Whether custom-made or off-the-shelf Year 2000 solutions generally involve isolating the occurrence of date fields and tracing their path through the program. Once the impact is understood the software will fix the code in any number of ways to understand dates for 2000 and beyond.
Agencies looking for a commercial fix can choose from tools that either concentrate on a single area or focus more broadly on a series of languages. Software Emancipation Technology Inc. Lexington Mass. for example offers a Year 2000 solution for C and C++. A number of other companies are looking to cover more bases however.
OAO's Millennium Solution Center for example uses multilanguage tool-sets from McCabe & Associates Inc. Columbia Md. and Business Information System (BIS) Fort Wayne Ind.
Together McCabe's Visual 2000 Environment and Business Information System's Software Re-Engineering Tool and Data Base Conversion Tool allow OAO to provide code assessment date correction language conversion and testing for multiple languages. The center is offering services to federal agencies through the General Services Administration's Federal Information Systems Support Program's National Capital Zone contract.
McCabe's toolset analyzes and graphically displays source code date problems for more than 26 languages and dialects including Ada 83 and 95 C C++ Fortran Jovial Pascal and Programming Language/1 (PL/1). The BIS tools meanwhile include date correction and language conversion for languages including Assembler C Fortran (for both mainframe and Unix) PL/1 and Report Program Generator (RPG).White said agencies for the most part have not been asking for the non-Cobol tools. He said most agencies are still taking inventory of code and have not moved on to selecting tools. But he said OAO plans to use its toolsets with customers such as the National Institutes of Health the Census Bureau and a Defense agency which he did not identify.
"When [agencies] complete risk analysis and 'triage'...they should be very interested in multilanguage tools " White said.
Tom Stack vice president of business development at McCabe predicted that tools for such languages as PL/1 will see increased demand in government as well as such commercial segments as the petroleum industry. PL/1 which emerged in 1964 as a rival to Cobol and Fortran is used in DOD among other agencies.
David Eddy director of marketing at Global Software Inc. Duxbury Mass. reported that agencies have been slow to embrace tools. But "people are starting to realize that if you get away from Cobol there are very very few tools. There is interest in odd languages " he said.
To address these small but crucial markets Global Software and other vendors have managed to adapt their existing programming tools to address the multilanguage environment.
Global Software markets GILES a Cobol tool that the company has adapted to deal with different languages. In addition to Cobol the tool will work with languages such as Assembler PL/1 Natural and Mantis. Eddy said Global Software also is willing to work with customers to develop a version of its tool specific to their requirements. He noted that the Air Force has expressed interest in a Jovial tool. Jovial or Jules' Own Version of the International Algebraic Language was developed in the early 1960s and was used to develop military systems.
Executives noted that much of the non-Cobol support available is coming from small companies. But Platinum Technology Inc. Oakbrook Terrace Ill. offers a suite of tools that identify fix and test problem code. The tools cover Assembler PL/1 Job Control Language and Cobol on the MVS platform said Scott Montavon technical manager for field support integration at Platinum.
And among Cobol tool vendors Peritus Software Services Inc. Billerica Mass. is branching out into other languages. The company plans to support PL/1 by March said Ted Swoyer Peritus' director of marketing. Also the company is talking to product licensees - systems vendors and integrators - about developing different language capabilities. Computer Sciences Corp. is one of Peritus' licensees. "We see people asking for Fortran and [Microsoft Corp.'s] Visual Basic and we see a lot of interest in C and C++ " he said.
Other vendors are seeking language independence within their toolsets.
Government Micro Resources Inc.'s GMR Technologies International Manassas Va. is marketing a Year 2000 product that has "no language dependencies" within the IBM MVS environment according to Royce Goble chief operating officer at GMRTI.
The tool called D2K/ Plus achieves this independence by capturing SVC 11 date routines from MVS. Whenever a program - regardless of language - makes a date/time request the program invokes SVC 11. In that way an analyst can identify the piece of code invoking SVC 11 and thereby track date-dependent processing jobs noted Terry Martin director of product development at GMRTI.
Alydaar Software Corp. Charlotte N.C. markets a tool that the company said can adopt to any programming language dialect or source code with embedded language segments. The company uses artificial-intelligence-based technology to convert code into an intermediate form - SmartCode - for analysis said Robert Gruder president of Alydaar. Customers have used the company's Year 2000 tool with Cobol Assembler Natural and PL/1 code. The company also has created the capability to convert Ada Fortran Jovial and Pascal into SmartCode. The company's technology is available through Science Applications International Corp.'s Chief Information Officer Solutions and Partners contract with NIH.
Kathleen Adams a Social Security Administration IT executive and chairwoman of the Year 2000 Interagency Committee is optimistic that an increasing number of tools capable of moving beyond Cobol will be coming into the market. Adams said SSA in 1994 was able to find a tool from Viasoft Inc. that could handle Cobol and Assembly Language Coding. "As it becomes a bigger market you are starting to see more [tools] coming out " she said.
Systems integrators will play a key role in bringing emerging tools to the federal market said Susan Marshall an analyst with Federal Sources Inc. which is doing a survey of how federal agencies are dealing with Year 2000 problems. CACI CSC Federal Data Corp. and other integrators are throwing their considerable marketing resources behind the smaller tools vendors Marshall said. They will form a number of different partnerships to address the different language requirements she said.
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Is Ada immune?
The highly structured nature of Ada - widely used at DOD and the FAA - has led observers to consider the language "immune" from Year 2000 difficulties.
Some software experts however report that Ada code is subject to the same date snafus as Cobol and other languages. "Even though Ada is strongly typed and designed to support structured software engineering the discipline of the programmer determines the structure of the code " said Jim White national director of OAO Corp.'s Millennium Solution Center. "Year 2000 problems can result from faulty logic regardless of the structure of the programming language that is used to convey that logic to the hardware."
Tom Backman director of the Software Engineering Center at Mitre agreed that despite Ada's strong typing the quality of the code "depends on the programmer."
Both executives however noted that Ada's structured nature alleviates some of the Year 2000 problem. "Ada because of strong typing makes it easier to fix [code] " Backman said.
- John Moore
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A sampling of World Wide Web sites with information on Year 2000 compliance among hardware and software products:
* Defense Information Systems Agency DISA Y2K COTS Compliance Catalog www.mitre.org/research/cots/COMPLIANCE_CAT.html
* Government Information Technology Executive Council Year 2000 Compliance Status for Various Vendor Products www.ssa.gov/year2000/y2klist.htm
* Information Technology Association of America Year 2000 Certification Program (in cooperation with Software Productivity Consortium) www.itaa.org
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A Sampling of Year 2000 Product and Service Vendor Web Sites
* Alydaar Software Corp. (www.alydaar.com)
* Global Software Inc. (www.globsoft.com)
* GMR Technologies International (www.gmrti.com)
* Litton/PRC Inc. (www.prc.com)
* McCabe & Associates Inc. (www.mccabe.com)
* Mitre Corp. (www.mitre.org)
* OAO Corp. (www.oao.com)
* Peritus Software Services Inc. (www.peritus.com)
* Platinum Technology Inc. (www.platinum.com)
* Software Emancipation Technology Inc. (www.setech.com)
* Viasoft Inc. (www.viasoft.com)
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At A Glance
Status: Many vendors offer Year 2000 solutions but most tools are designed for software written in the Cobol programming language. Unfortunately many federal agencies have used a number of other more obscure languages.
Issues: Once agencies assess the extent of the problem in their programs they must decide whether to buy off-the-shelf tools if they meet their requirements or to build their own solutions.
Outlook: Many vendors who started by building tools for Cobol are now developing solutions for other languages including some oddities used in the Defense Department and other agencies.