Y2K preparations at HC successful
By biconews On 1 Feb, 2000 At 05:00 AM | Categorized As Archives | With 0 Comments

By Ariel Hansen

In the fall of 1998, Haverford College formed a committee to deal with what was beginning to look like a potential problem the possibility that computers might react disastrously to a series of dates in 1999 and 2000.

Though some of these dates are still in the future, testing and careful coordination with service providers have made the Y2K bug into what committee head G. Richard Wynn, who is also Vice President for Finance and Administration and Treasurer, called a “non-event.”

The Y2K Committee also included Director of Administrative Computing Mary Ellen Luongo, Director of Academic Computing Jan Richard, Director of Physical Plant Norm Ricker, and Controller and Assistant Treasurer Stephen Tessino, each of whom coordinated preparations in their area of responsibility.

At the beginning of September 1998. Tessino sent letters to all of the institutions providing financial services to the college, including banks, investment managers, payroll services, and the student loan payment program, AMS. Since Jan. 3, 2000, was the first scheduled payroll payment of the new year, the payroll system was especially important in this process. In the event that a problem arose at the company managing payroll, an in-house system was set up for both payroll functions and other financial and accounting maintenance.

However, all of the financial institutions “were compliant well in advance,” said Tessino, and there were no problems. Interestingly, Tessino did receive letters from service suppliers asking if the college was Y2K compliant. He attributes this to a legal checking of bases by many corporations in case a problem arose. Tessino was also in charge of the toll-free telephone number set up to notify students in case there were Y2K complications.

“We thought students might he curious, but they realized there wasn’t any need to call in,” said Tessino, referring to the extremely low volume of calls the phone number received. He estimates this number at six.

The Physical Plant began checking with service suppliers in May or June of 1999, including PECO and Philadelphia Suburban Water, all of which acknowledged that steps were being taken to assure there would he no problems on Jan. 1. Similarly, the manufacturers of elevators, air-conditioning equipment, monitoring for underground fuel storage, emergency generators and other campus systems provided assurances their equipment would function properly through the date change. The energy monitoring control system, however, needed replacement, which took place in November 1999. Ricker also made sure there would be a crew on hand New Year’s live to handle any problems, but was confident there would be none.

“We talked out the different areas that needed attention, paid attention to them, and it all turned out fine,” said Ricker. “We planned for the worst and hoped for the best.”

In the Academic Computing Center (ACC), Y2K preparations began earlier, in the summer of 1997. Letters were sent to all the manufacturers of hardware and software, including the authors of a code either originating or remaining in the public domain. This information was maintained on the college’s Y2K website not only for students and staff with the program, but so that in the event of a problem, the college would have a copy of the Y2K statement about that piece of software.

Faculty, staff and students were also informed on the website, in the ACC newsletter, and in campus-wide emails about possible problems with their personal or lab software and equipment, and were provided with information about patches or replacement software.

Applications and operating systems in 1998 and early 1999 included computers running on Mac OS, UNIX and Microsoft NT, the combination of which make up the campus network, and applications that control the email server, the webservers, and Internet Protocol addresses. Between 30-35 packages of software were checked, and the entire system was put through a rigorous set of simulations for dates including Sept. 9. 1999, Dec. 31, 1999, Jan. 1, 2000. Feb. 2, 2000, March 3, 2000 and Dec. 31, 2000, as well as some dates that are important in the hacker community.

ACC then made the decision to remain operational and on the network over New Year’s Eve, though both Swarthmore College and the tri-college community library network TRIPOD decided to shut down. The decision as partly due to the confidence ACC had in its testing and partly due to risks associated with the shutdown and restart of the campus network. In addition, since students weren’t coming back from winter break until January 17, there would he plenty of time to fix any problem that might occur. However, there is some sentiment that the time of the Computing staff might have been better used.

“Y2K interfered with other special projects that would benefit the campus,” said Matthew Nocifore, Assistant Director for Networking and Systems, who cited some burnout in employees who had to work on Y2K preparation issues in addition to the regular problems and issues that arise in the Computing Center every day.

“It was the right approach for Haverford,” said Richard. “If there had been a huge problem, we might have been unprepared, but we didn’t believe it was really that big of an issue.” The regular maintenance of Haverford’s computer systems was good preparation for any eventualities, she continued, saying that 1999-2000 was the least eventful winter break in the last five years.

This sentiment was echoed by Wynn, who said that having the students absent over winter break was “the great advantage we had over other companies and institutions,” since Haverford didn’t have to lay in supplies to sustain a population in the event of a problem.

“We exercised what they call ‘due diligence,’” said Wynn. “We took it seriously, we prepared, we didn’t over-prepare, and we didn’t waste a lot of time.”

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