The risk of embedded systems crashing because of Y2K is based on ill informed and over hyped information, analyst company Gartner Group warned this week, encouraging users into unnecessary remediation work.
New research by Gartner shows that many embedded systems need not be fixed ? they will not have a problem. Large scale systems are at serious risk, but your fridge, fax and other everyday devices are safe.
Gartner research director and leading Y2K expert Andy Kyte said companies should focus time on embedded systems that are safety critical.
?Embedded systems cannot pose Year 2000 risks unless they have access to a source of persistent date information,? he said.
Kyte relates discussions with users who have replaced all their faxes because they were told they were non compliant. The sum total of non compliance Kyte noted dryly was the clock that prints the time of sending.
?If any of the audience can find me a fax that won?t transmit because of the tick over from December 31st to January 1st 2000, then I will eat it,? he promised.
There are an estimated 50 billion embedded ?chips? in the world. The research breaks down embedded systems into three categories.
Microcontrollers are small devices, common in almost all electronics, that have their instructions burnt in at time of manufacture and cannot be reprogrammed like software. They may have some spare addressable memory that can have a date field added but a mere one in 10,000 of these will fail and these will be impossible to identify.
?Most of these devices don?t even know what planet they are on, let alone the date,? said Kyte.
The second category is microprocessors, programmable devices that execute code. These can be at risk if they have a real time clock mounted or communicate with a clock. Less than one quarter of a per cent without clocks are at risk, but around seven per cent with some time dependency will have problems as the clock ticks over into the next century. Only two per cent will continue to have problems once reset.
Finally, large scale embedded systems are most at risk, with more than 35 per cent expected to be non compliant. Typically found in manufacturing, oil and healthcare environments, but can even encompass things like traffic light controllers or aircraft systems. They typically include common PC components although often run proprietary or even site specific applications.
On the embedded systems side, a capital expenditure, Kyte advises users of one get around.
?Talk to your chief financial officer. If it costs $1,000 to replace a device, how much should be spent on investigation? Replacement may be more tax efficient,? he said.
James Duggan, research director at Gartner said he believed the three areas likely to be worst affected by problems in embedded systems are the oil industry, telecommunications and power grids. He said things such as aircraft were well used to protecting against a single point of failure and were in good shape, though that did not apply equally to the systems that maintained aircraft fleets.
There is one final alternative ? unless the embedded system does predictive or retrospective calculations, simply leaving a device or system turned off through the tick over into 2000 may well mean it carries on regardless, blissfully unaware of the starting of a new age.
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