As the IT industry enters the last two days before daylight savings time, many solution providers are scrambling to help customers avert major impacts from computer hardware and software that have yet to be updated to reflect the U.S. government's change in the starting date for daylight savings time -- and they are directing much of their anger at Microsoft because of it.
"Unlike Y2K, this is not a bust," said Marc Harrison, a professional engineer at Silicon East, a Manalapan, N.J.-based solution provider.
Daylight savings time, or DST, traditionally started on the first Sunday in April, but starting this year it has been moved by the government to the second Sunday in March as an energy-saving measure.
Unfortunately, many computer systems and applications, which automatically update for DST based on the traditional timing, were not updated to reflect the new timing.
Microsoft appears to be the main source of frustration because of the need to update the vast majority of its applications, with Windows Vista, Exchange Server 2007, and SharePoint Services 3.0 being the main exceptions.
Rex Frank, CTO of Alvaka Networks, an Irvine, Calif.-based MSP, said that while DST is a serious issue, many customers were lulled into a false sense of security because of their Y2K experience.
"It was the hype preceding Y2K that made it a non-issue," Frank said. "But this creates the false assumption that DST is a non-issue. So a lot of customers have declined to address it."
They could be in trouble, Harrison said. "They need to get the patches done, or they might have a problem logging in if their server clock is off by an hour," he said.
Solution providers are finding this to be a very busy time as they help customers with the DST issues. However, many of them could be losing money on the deal. "We don't provide flat-rate services," Harrison said. "But those who do are losing their shirts."
Microsoft is taking the heat from the channel for not warning early enough of possible impacts from the change in DST to its operating systems and applications, especially Exchange.
And it has been taking the heat for how it has addressed the snafu as well.
"Microsoft has 14 pages of fine print on how to address DST using the Exchange Calendaring tool," Harrison said. "We're on revision 19 as of March 8. You also have to watch a video on how to do this. It takes 23 minutes. It gives me a headache."
Microsoft provided an Exchange rebasing tool that could be used in one of two ways, Frank said. It can be run from a centralized place for all mailboxes. "We're seeing a 60 percent success rate for correcting the appointments," he said. "Microsoft claims it should be 80 [percent] to 90 percent."
The other way to use the tool is to have each individual user run it, which requires showing them how to do it, but which is successful, he said.
Microsoft is providing patches and tools for its products. However, solution providers are angry that the vendor is charging to patch older products. For instance, it is charging $4,000 for repairs to Exchange 2000, Frank said.
For customers with Windows 2000, there are third-party patches that only update the tables for when DST start and end, Frank said. "We required authorization from customers to apply the patch," he said.
Microsoft was also slammed by Frank for the constant fixing of the fixes. "There were days when Microsoft's tech notes changed three times," he said. "It's been crazy. How can we do remediation when it changes so quickly?"
Harrison said he first became aware of the issue at a Microsoft quarterly partner briefing. "A Microsoft person stood up and said, it's Y2K all over again," he said. "But he oversimplified the problem. He gave us some URLs, and said, here, just patch this. But then there were more and more patches."
One Microsoft systems integrator said the daylight savings time issue is indeed affecting many customers.
To give Microsoft its due, he continued, the company has been warning customers for months to get their patches in order, but many did not do so.
This integrator said the biggest SNAFU comes with Microsoft's Exchange and Outlook e-mail applications. Microsoft built a sequence of patches that must be applied in the correct order or the Outlook Web Access (OWA) browser mail client will not function properly.
In addition, Microsoft also angered customers by charging them for patches for older Exchange 5.0 and 5.5 clients and Windows 2000 clients, which are no longer supported. "That really ticked off people," the integrator said.
He also added that he would not be surprised if the patch kerfuffle might impact anticipated product launches, including Longhorn, the next release of the Windows Server. Longhorn, already much delayed, is now supposed to ship in the second half of this year.
It is not only Microsoft applications that need to be upgraded. Frank said that payroll and time-clock applications almost universally need to be updated. "We have one customer which has a security system that doesn't allow its employees to open the door after 5:00 p.m.," he said. "Now they possibly cant open the door after 4:00 p.m."
Sun Microsystems late Thursday night put out a warning about Java, saying that there might be issues in Java 2 Standard Edition that could break backward compatibility in the Eastern, Mountain and Hawaiian time zones.
Bill Curci, product marketing manager for the Java SE platform at Sun, said this will impact a relatively small number of customer who use Java.
Customers who have upgraded their platforms in the last two years, or who updated their platforms to reflect changes in the terminology describing time zones as defined by international standards bodies, will have no problem, Curci said.
"For such customers, the only issue is, they are not going to get the right time," he said. "They'll be off by an hour. For many people, that's not necessarily a big deal. But it could be. We're erring on the side of caution."
Not everyone in the channel sees this as a major issue.
A partner at one BEA solution provider said that her clients should see no real impact from the daylight savings time change. "Those clients are so large that they have their own internal people to handle them," the partner said.
Harrison said his company will be busy for quite a few days because of the DST issue.
"We've been working exclusively on this issue all week," he said. "We'll be spending this weekend on it, and are setting aside time next week. We're prepared Monday to talk to customer who didn't do the updates, and show them how to go into the BIOS."
While the DST issue is serious, it won't be the end-of-the-world predicted during the Y2K scare, Frank said.
"There's going to be annoyances," he said. "But people will still be driving to work on time on Monday. I'm not taking out $500 in cash like I did last time. Back then, at least I got a pool table with the $500."