CIOs spring forward on daylight-saving fix

A 2005 law that changed daylight-saving requires major effort to patch computers

Agencies must shift clocks on computer systems forward one hour March 11 and back one hour Nov. 4 because of a new law that has them busily preparing for the leap.

Some people are comparing the situation to the global Year 2000 rollover that forced everyone to reprogram or upgrade their computer systems. But computer experts say the big difference is that Congress created the present problem.

Congress changed daylight-saving time in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The purpose of the change was to create net energy savings by realigning daylight time with the hour at which studies show
that most people go to bed. The energy-saving provision, which updates the Uniform Time Act of 1966, lengthens the national daylight-saving period by four weeks.

To comply with the law, federal agencies must update all computer equipment that federal workers use on a daily basis, including most computers and portable devices, such as BlackBerrys, smart phones and personal digital assistants.

Computer applications that run operating systems with internal clocks must be patched to reflect the new time, or they will have problems with scheduling and creating accurate time and date stamps. Industry experts say the daylight-saving shift is similar to the Year 2000 rollover problem because a massive amount of computer equipment must now be patched to account for the change in daylight-saving time.

Some agencies began preparing months ago. When Office of Management and Budget officials asked federal CIOs how prepared they were for the shift, they found most CIOs were well under way or had completed the task.

“Agencies reporting any notable mission and institutional infrastructure impact are actively implementing plans for applying patches and adjustments to affected systems as necessary to mitigate any risks,” said Andrea Wuebker, an OMB spokeswoman.

The Agriculture Department moved early to tackle the problem by beginning its patching efforts in mid-January. It has completed patching its BlackBerry servers and Microsoft Outlook calendars and Windows platforms.

“We immediately knew what we needed to do and prodded those folks who needed to get it done, and they did it,” said Dave Combs, USDA’s CIO. “We feel we’ve got it covered,” he added.

But preparations haven’t gone smoothly for everyone.

Bob Mitchell, GTSI’s CIO, said many companies have wrestled with problems in updating their voice mail systems and computers running outdated operating systems such as Microsoft Windows 2000.

Microsoft’s initial response to the patching effort was slow, Mitchell said. The company didn’t release updates for the Windows XP and Vista operating systems until early February, he said.

Combs said USDA’s efforts to prepare for the new daylight-saving time are nothing compared with what it went through to prepare for the Year 2000 rollover because the department did not have an automated patching process in place then. This time, technicians have relied on automated systems to update mobile devices and other computer systems.

The department did not wait on industry solutions to patch its older systems, he added. Technicians created in-house patches or workarounds for them.

“We were able to obtain all the patches that we need, and for those that were not available we wrote scripts or developed workarounds,” he said.
Is daylight-saving time the new Y2K?Some industry officials have dubbed the shift in daylight-saving time that begins March 11 as Y2K7, a reference to the Year 2000 rollover that led to a big increase in spending to upgrade or replace older computer systems and application software. Important differences, however, set the two events apart.

Y2K

  • Issue visibility: High visibility on a worldwide scale.
  • How agencies prepared: Handled over several years.
  • Scope of problem: Had potentially catastrophic results that included system shutdowns and loss of data.
  • Degree of difficulty to fix: Required manual coding in old programming languages, such as Fortran.
  • Reason for upgrades: Problem was built into computers and applications.

Daylight-saving time change

  • Issue visibility: Low visibility in media.
  • How agencies prepared: Handled within a short period.
  • Scope of problem: Most prevalent effects will be inconvenience, with calendars displaying the wrong time.
  • Degree of difficulty to fix: Automated patching systems allow for simpler, faster patching across the enterprise.
  • Reason for upgrades: Purposeful change in law.

Source: GTSI

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