How was Y2K for you?

Last month we asked readers to send us tales of their experiences at the Y2K frontline. A few of the replies we received are...

Last month we asked readers to send us tales of their experiences at the Y2K frontline. A few of the replies we received are printed below. The irony of the picture they paint is that it was not the Y2K problem itself that caused the headaches but the comedy of errors involved in solving the problem Accounting for incompatibility

Our Unix accounting server was not Y2K-compatible. The simple solution was to pull in supplier experts to move to NT. Piece of cake. So, in early December, an engineer turned up to configure a new machine and translate the data. The engineer was instructed to make sure he backed up first. 'Not a problem,' he said. 'You've got last night's back-up.' We explained that what we had meant to say was to 'check the back-up worked and then get on with the job'.

'Oh, sorry, I didn't do that,' came the response, 'and, by the way, I've accidentally wiped a large chunk of your data. Never mind, we've got daily back-ups for the last two weeks.' Unfortunately, at this point the engineer discovered that the previous night's back-up had failed, and that he couldn't recover anything from our tapes.

By this time the ashen-faced engineer and our appalled finance director were not speaking. Back-up tapes were sent to an overnight data recovery service which, for a large and undisclosed amount of money, handed back recovered data for two nights prior the next morning. After sleepless nights on all sides, our finance director gritted his teeth and re-input a day's transactions. At last, Y2K was no longer an issue."

Training headache

Was Y2K worth worrying about, I wonder? For myself, as an owner of a small business that uses just three PCs, my particular headache involved having to go on the government-funded training courses, wading through the countless piles of books and pamphlets I had been given, visiting Web site after Web site to check on incompatibility issues, and so on, only to find that the millennium bug would not affect us one bit and that come midnight and beyond nothing would cause us a problem."

Y2K or Web-2K?

Y2K caused me no real headaches, although we had to install Microsoft Systems Management Server (version 2.0) in October in order to roll out Windows NT 4.0 Workstation Service Pack 5 to all of the 1,200 PCs on our campus. The system was thrown in so quickly, with no training at all, that it wasn't until March 2000 that we realised we had serious problems with duplicate SMS UIDs in the database. It has taken several weeks to iron out these duplicates. Time could have been better spent, shall we say.

We are now looking at a pilot installation of Windows 2000 Professional and Windows 2000 Server-Terminal Services component. One of the senior managers made a Freudian slip the other day when he sent an e-mail to his staff asking if the Y2K server was installed yet. He had meant the W2K server, and 'W' is so close to 'Y' on the keyboard, isn't it?

Our internal time recording system threw a wobbly on Monday 2 October. Ah ha, we thought. A Y2K glitch? In fact, it later transpired that it was a simple typo in the date where some system administrator had typed in 06/10/99 instead of 06/10/00 for the end of this week. The Y2K haunting continuesÉ"

Forms, forms and yet more forms

The thing I remember most about this time last year is all the bloody forms: forms that we sent to customers and suppliers asking if they were compliant; multi-page forms they sent us asking if we were compliant. I especially liked the ones that started, 'What do we buy from you?' Some companies were so over-zealous that follow-up forms arrived while you were still working out what the original form meant. Others even said things like, 'Please sign below to say that if you do have any problems it's all your fault and you'll pay us loads of money.' One day I opened a reply from a guy who'd done a bit of joinery for us: 'I do not have a computer,' it said. And the PCs and servers themselves? They were no problem at all. I just came in 10 minutes early to make sure the network was live.

PS: One old PC was overlooked in the back of the maintenance rooms. It took the guy using it until July to notice his 'dates had gone funny'."

The nightmare continues

My Y2K nightmare was not at work (we use Macs here), nor confined to pre-Y2K. It is ongoing and will continue for as long as people don't understand. From my point of view, the biggest nightmare of Y2K was - and is - the fact that we still haven't learnt our lesson. Modern society is highly interconnected and based on just-in-time deliveries. The Y2K fear was that either or both lots of computers would go down, or lots of people would panic-buy. In the event, the computer people were clever enough to prevent enough computers failing and the public were stupid enough not to stockpile. My point is this: the more modern a society is, the easier it is to bring it to a standstill. The fuel blockade proved this beyond doubt. If you want to do the same to Tibet, you'd have to kill every yak, block every footpath and still it would be months before anyone outside Lhasa knew there was a protest on."

Safety first

We had endless weekends backing up onto all sorts of different media. One that sticks in the mind was a 2Gbyte parallel tape drive; it took all of one weekend then crashed and knackered the tape about 10 minutes before finishing. It was at this point we decided we wouldn't have time to use it on 31 December.

Planning the midnight rollover itself was also tricky. We were told we couldn't access the building on 1 January until it was 'safe'. The images of electricity outages, random fires and lifts plummeting that this announcement brought to mind seemed a little excessive, until one Saturday in October when they decided to try out Y2K compliance of the burglar alarms, only to discover that it didn't like 01/01/00. It took the alarm company almost three hours to get us all back inside again, and it was raining.

As for the day itself, preparations went well and we switched everything off at 5pm on 31 December. When we were finally assured the building was safe and entered the office on 1 January 2000 - as with everyone else on the planet - everything was fine. Apart from the failure of the hard drive in our ageing AS/400, which decided it didn't like being switched off. However, it made IBM's Christmas, it was ecstatic to first-foot us that new year."

Taking the job home

I'm the network manager for my company, so all of our Y2K upgrade fell on my shoulders. When, in June 1999, I commenced checking the system, one of the problems that confronted me was with the manufacturing software. Although the dates all read year 2000 OK, the aged debt analysis and management information screens were showing all debts as over three months old. Many hours of code-checking and telephone calls to our programmers in Eire elicited no solution. Arriving home from work late several days in a row, getting more stressed, didn't help. I ended up snapping at my daughter, who did as any well-adjusted three-year-old would and burst into tears. My wife then had a 'don't bring your problems home' conversation with me, eliciting the well-thought-out response, 'What would you know about it?'

The conversation degenerated into full-blown marital warfare. Then, several hours of sulking later, my wife asked if she could help me at all. I made several sarcastic remarks about having gone through all known combinations. But my wife, who used to work in the accounts department of a cosmetics company, got beautifully to the point: 'If you're using June's data, and clocking forward to January, of course all of the debts are going to be over three months old!' Whoops! Consumption of much humble pie promptly followed."

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