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Time running out for PCs at big companies

June 30, 1998
Web posted at: 12:30 PM EDT

by Ephraim Schwartz and Dan Briody

(IDG) -- As the clock ticks down to the millennium, IT managers face the Herculean task of identifying and fixing their year-2000 noncompliant desktop and notebook systems.

The chief problem is in discovery of which systems are compliant or not.

Because system vendors did not deal with the year-2000 problem until recently, estimates of noncompliant year-2000 desktop systems still in use reach into the millions. Dell desktops were only fully compliant in January 1997 and Compaq desktops became compliant in the third quarter of the same year.

International Data Corp., in Framingham, Mass., estimates there are more than 16 million noncompliant 486 and Pentium systems in use today.

"If you tell me that systems bought in '97 are not compliant, I have to say that we are likely to keep those around, and upgrading them is a major pain," said an IT manager at a Fortune 500 company.

There are solutions coming, such as Award Software's testing and hardware solution set that allow users to find out which systems are year-2000 compliant, but none really addresses the cost associated with just diagnosing the problem.

"The information we are getting with Microsoft's System Management Software [SMS] does not correlate with the information from our vendor [Dell]. It is difficult to automate discovery of which machines need to be updated," said the year-2000 project manager at a Fortune 50 oil company.

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One Dell representative owned up to the problem.

"Nasdaq is having the problem of visiting each system to identify compliant systems," said Dave Cunningham, program manager of year-2000 projects at Dell Computer, in Austin, Texas.

The inability to automate BIOS upgrades over the LAN or for mobile systems is another concern.

"It's not like there is one BIOS flash that is universal," said Brian Jaffe, director of client and networking services at Bantam Doubleday Dell, in New York.

Compaq advises its customers to use its Insight Manager software to discover the revision date of the BIOS of each desktop across the network. Once the revision date is discovered, Compaq has a year-2000 Web site with tables of product models to coordinate the model with BIOS revision date.

IT managers at the largest corporations are in a quandary as to whether to spend the time upgrading or to just buy new systems.

"The cost of trying to track down in a large corporate environment which systems are compliant or not may end up being more expensive than replacing them," said Dennis Parker, director of the telecommunications division at UTSI International, in Friendswood, Texas.

Officials at Award Software think that they have part of the solution. The company's subsidiary, Unicore, will unveil a test kit on July 27, called Millennium Pro Check, that will check any manufacturers' BIOS for year-2000 compliance. Should the BIOS fail the test, the company will offer a $79.95 ISA card, called Millennium Pro, that will convert any BIOS to year-2000 compliance.

Whether upgrading or buying new systems, the problem is forcing IT managers to consider broader issues.

"The unresolved issue is data migration off existing machines or applications conversions from old to new," said one IT manager at a large New York agency.

Ephraim Schwartz is an editor at large and Dan Briody is a senior writer for InfoWorld.

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