COMMON Y2K QUICK-FIX TO LAST ONLY A FEW DECADES

March 19, 1999

Washington, DC — As the Associated Press reported, the most common method employed to fix computers vulnerable to Year 2000 failures is only a short-term remedy, and even proponents of the method acknowledge it will require other expensive repairs or replacements within a generation.

The temporary fix, which uses a twist of logic to trick computers, is highly controversial among insiders because it’s intended to work for only a few decades — typically 30 years. One expert describes computers already fixed with the technique as “little ticking time bombs waiting to go off.”

The Clinton administration and industry insiders estimate the method is being used to patch 80 percent of computers in the worldwide repair effort expected to cost $300 billion.

So why is the technique, referred to as “windowing,” used at all?

Simple: It saves money because it’s quicker and easier, even if it only works for a certain window of time. The permanent fix, called “expansion,” requires a tedious line-by-line repair of all the dates expressed in two-digit years rather than four digits.

Experts hope “windowing” will prove adequate until these computers are replaced — or until programmers can devote enough time and money to effect permanent repairs.

In certain cases, corporate executives and government bureaucrats approved using the method knowing that problems won’t resurface until after they retire or change jobs.

“It’s a Band-Aid, the way building a house out of wood and fiberboard is,” said Jim Duggan, a researcher with the Gartner Group consulting company of Stamford, Conn. “You hope you’ll be somewhere else before it falls down.”

“It gets them off the hook,” agreed Michael P. Harden, president of Century Technology Services Inc. consultants of Fairfax, Va. “I don’t think some people expect to be in those same jobs. Fix it now, get everybody off your back — and in five or 10 years if there’s a problem, you won’t be around to have to deal with it.”

Marvin Thornton led repair efforts inside one of the nation’s largest banks, $40 billion Southtrust Corp. in Birmingham, Ala. He fought hard against using windowing to fix his bank’s computers but complained that some contractors insisted on the technique.

“It’s really aggravating,” said Thornton. “They’ve taken the quick and dirty path and not really fixed the problem.”

The federal government, which expects to spend $6.4 billion and has ordered its most important computers fixed by the end of March, does not officially discourage agencies from using windowing. But it warns of consequences.

“It’s like the Fram oil filter guy: You can pay me now or you can pay me later,” said Keith Rhodes, a technical director at the General Accounting Office, which monitors repair efforts at federal agencies. “It’s not solving your problem. It’s delaying the inevitable.”

Some government agencies, such as the Social Security Administration, have generally shunned the method. The Internal Revenue Service allows it only rarely. The State Department is employing it on roughly half its most important computers, but also plans to replace those systems within five years.

Other agencies, such as the Federal Aviation Administration, freely acknowledge using the technique. The agency’s top Y2K expert, Ray Long, says he doesn’t consider it a problem or even just a short-term solution.

With windowing, programmers instruct software to guess the century for dates that fall within a specific “window” of time, such as the next three decades. The computer interprets the year based on a future so-called hinge date, or pivot, that programmers choose arbitrarily.

For example, a software program with a pivot of “30” will interpret years “00” through “29” as 21st century dates, but will assume years “30” through “99” are during the 1900s. Some programmers use pivots of “50” or “70” to buy even more time, but their choices are limited by a variety of technical factors. A pivot of “70,” for example, might cause problems for computers trying to process birthdates earlier than 1969.

Once the pivot date is past, those computers will need to be replaced or patched again as they begin contaminating data by making wrong assumptions about the century.

Windowing is filled with other risks, too. Different programs assigned different pivots can cause havoc when companies or governments try to share information, unless they take complex precautions.

Testing typically takes longer, too. Windowing problems might not appear until January, when computers start guessing which century to use, said Noah Ross, a consultant and vice president for Cap Gemini Group. In contrast, if the permanent “expansion” fix is done incorrectly, the problem often is immediately obvious.

“It’s an issue of pragmatism,” explained Ed Yourdon, a consultant. “Anybody who had to go through that choice was very much aware of the tradeoffs. We’d like to do it the right way … and we don’t have time, so even though it’s a quick and dirty approach, we have no alternative. Too bad.”

“It’s a compromise,” agreed Duggan. “People with time and money took the high road and did full expansion.”

Most people using windowing realize it’s not a permanent solution, said Jack Gribben, spokesman for President Clinton’s Year 2000 council. “The window closes, so to speak, and you’re back at square one.”

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

What’s New in HPC Research: Volcanoes, Mobile Games, Proteins & More

July 14, 2020

In this bimonthly feature, HPCwire highlights newly published research in the high-performance computing community and related domains. From parallel programming to exascale to quantum computing, the details are here. Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Joliot-Curie Supercomputer Used to Build First Full, High-Fidelity Aircraft Engine Simulation

July 14, 2020

When industrial designers plan the design of a new element of a vehicle’s propulsion or exterior, they typically use fluid dynamics to optimize airflow and increase the vehicle’s speed and efficiency. These fluid dyn Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

U.S. CTO Michael Kratsios Adds DoD Research & Engineering Title

July 13, 2020

Michael Kratsios, the U.S. Chief Technology Officer, has been appointed acting Undersecretary of Defense for research and engineering. He replaces Mike Griffin, who along with his deputy Lis Porter, stepped down last wee Read more…

By John Russell

Supercomputer Research Reveals Star Cluster Born Outside Our Galaxy

July 11, 2020

The Milky Way is our galactic home, containing our solar system and continuing into a giant band of densely packed stars that stretches across clear night skies around the world – but, it turns out, not all of those st Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Max Planck Society Begins Installation of Liquid-Cooled Supercomputer from Lenovo

July 9, 2020

Lenovo announced today that it is supplying a new high performance computer to the Max Planck Society, one of Germany's premier research organizations. Comprised of Intel Xeon processors and Nvidia A100 GPUs, and featuri Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AWS Solution Channel

INEOS TEAM UK Accelerates Boat Design for America’s Cup Using HPC on AWS

The America’s Cup Dream

The 36th America’s Cup race will be decided in Auckland, New Zealand in 2021. Like all the teams, INEOS TEAM UK will compete in a boat whose design will have followed guidelines set by race organizers to ensure the crew’s sailing skills are fully tested. Read more…

Intel® HPC + AI Pavilion

Supercomputing the Pandemic: Scientific Community Tackles COVID-19 from Multiple Perspectives

Since their inception, supercomputers have taken on the biggest, most complex, and most data-intensive computing challenges—from confirming Einstein’s theories about gravitational waves to predicting the impacts of climate change. Read more…

Xilinx Announces First Adaptive Computing Challenge

July 9, 2020

A new contest is challenging the computing world. Xilinx has announced the first Xilinx Adaptive Computing Challenge, a competition that will task developers and startups with finding creative workload acceleration solutions. Xilinx is running the Adaptive Computing Challenge in partnership with Hackster.io, a developing community... Read more…

By Staff report

Max Planck Society Begins Installation of Liquid-Cooled Supercomputer from Lenovo

July 9, 2020

Lenovo announced today that it is supplying a new high performance computer to the Max Planck Society, one of Germany's premier research organizations. Comprise Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

President’s Council Targets AI, Quantum, STEM; Recommends Spending Growth

July 9, 2020

Last week the President Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) met (webinar) to review policy recommendations around three sub-committee reports: Read more…

By John Russell

Google Cloud Debuts 16-GPU Ampere A100 Instances

July 7, 2020

On the heels of the Nvidia’s Ampere A100 GPU launch in May, Google Cloud is announcing alpha availability of the A100 “Accelerator Optimized” VM A2 instance family on Google Compute Engine. The instances are powered by the HGX A100 16-GPU platform, which combines two HGX A100 8-GPU baseboards using... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Q&A: HLRS’s Bastian Koller Tackles HPC and Industry in Germany and Europe

July 6, 2020

In this exclusive interview for HPCwire – sadly not face to face – Steve Conway, senior advisor for Hyperion Research, talks with Dr.-Ing Bastian Koller about the state of HPC and its collaboration with Industry in Europe. Koller is a familiar figure in HPC. He is the managing director at High Performance Computing Center Stuttgart (HLRS) and also serves... Read more…

By Steve Conway, Hyperion

OpenPOWER Reboot – New Director, New Silicon Partners, Leveraging Linux Foundation Connections

July 2, 2020

Earlier this week the OpenPOWER Foundation announced the contribution of IBM’s A21 Power processor core design to the open source community. Roughly this time Read more…

By John Russell

Hyperion Forecast – Headwinds in 2020 Won’t Stifle Cloud HPC Adoption or Arm’s Rise

June 30, 2020

The semiannual taking of HPC’s pulse by Hyperion Research – late fall at SC and early summer at ISC – is a much-watched indicator of things come. This yea Read more…

By John Russell

Racism and HPC: a Special Podcast

June 29, 2020

Promoting greater diversity in HPC is a much-discussed goal and ostensibly a long-sought goal in HPC. Yet it seems clear HPC is far from achieving this goal. Re Read more…

Top500 Trends: Movement on Top, but Record Low Turnover

June 25, 2020

The 55th installment of the Top500 list saw strong activity in the leadership segment with four new systems in the top ten and a crowning achievement from the f Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Supercomputer Modeling Tests How COVID-19 Spreads in Grocery Stores

April 8, 2020

In the COVID-19 era, many people are treating simple activities like getting gas or groceries with caution as they try to heed social distancing mandates and protect their own health. Still, significant uncertainty surrounds the relative risk of different activities, and conflicting information is prevalent. A team of Finnish researchers set out to address some of these uncertainties by... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Turns Its Massive Crowdsourced Computer Network Against COVID-19

March 16, 2020

For gamers, fighting against a global crisis is usually pure fantasy – but now, it’s looking more like a reality. As supercomputers around the world spin up Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Rallies a Legion of Computers Against the Coronavirus

March 24, 2020

Last week, we highlighted [email protected], a massive, crowdsourced computer network that has turned its resources against the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe – but [email protected] isn’t the only game in town. The internet is buzzing with crowdsourced computing... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Supercomputer Simulations Reveal the Fate of the Neanderthals

May 25, 2020

For hundreds of thousands of years, neanderthals roamed the planet, eventually (almost 50,000 years ago) giving way to homo sapiens, which quickly became the do Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

DoE Expands on Role of COVID-19 Supercomputing Consortium

March 25, 2020

After announcing the launch of the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium on Sunday, the Department of Energy yesterday provided more details on its sco Read more…

By John Russell

Neocortex Will Be First-of-Its-Kind 800,000-Core AI Supercomputer

June 9, 2020

Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC - a joint research organization of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh) has won a $5 million award Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Honeywell’s Big Bet on Trapped Ion Quantum Computing

April 7, 2020

Honeywell doesn’t spring to mind when thinking of quantum computing pioneers, but a decade ago the high-tech conglomerate better known for its control systems waded deliberately into the then calmer quantum computing (QC) waters. Fast forward to March when Honeywell announced plans to introduce an ion trap-based quantum computer whose ‘performance’ would... Read more…

By John Russell

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been i Read more…

By Doug Black

Leading Solution Providers

Contributors

Nvidia’s Ampere A100 GPU: Up to 2.5X the HPC, 20X the AI

May 14, 2020

Nvidia's first Ampere-based graphics card, the A100 GPU, packs a whopping 54 billion transistors on 826mm2 of silicon, making it the world's largest seven-nanom Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

‘Billion Molecules Against COVID-19’ Challenge to Launch with Massive Supercomputing Support

April 22, 2020

Around the world, supercomputing centers have spun up and opened their doors for COVID-19 research in what may be the most unified supercomputing effort in hist Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Australian Researchers Break All-Time Internet Speed Record

May 26, 2020

If you’ve been stuck at home for the last few months, you’ve probably become more attuned to the quality (or lack thereof) of your internet connection. Even Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

15 Slides on Programming Aurora and Exascale Systems

May 7, 2020

Sometime in 2021, Aurora, the first planned U.S. exascale system, is scheduled to be fired up at Argonne National Laboratory. Cray (now HPE) and Intel are the k Read more…

By John Russell

Summit Supercomputer is Already Making its Mark on Science

September 20, 2018

Summit, now the fastest supercomputer in the world, is quickly making its mark in science – five of the six finalists just announced for the prestigious 2018 Read more…

By John Russell

TACC Supercomputers Run Simulations Illuminating COVID-19, DNA Replication

March 19, 2020

As supercomputers around the world spin up to combat the coronavirus, the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) is announcing results that may help to illumina Read more…

By Staff report

$100B Plan Submitted for Massive Remake and Expansion of NSF

May 27, 2020

Legislation to reshape, expand - and rename - the National Science Foundation has been submitted in both the U.S. House and Senate. The proposal, which seems to Read more…

By John Russell

John Martinis Reportedly Leaves Google Quantum Effort

April 21, 2020

John Martinis, who led Google’s quantum computing effort since establishing its quantum hardware group in 2014, has left Google after being moved into an advi Read more…

By John Russell

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This