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Avoiding the Post-Millennium Sting

OK, the dreaded millennium bug did not have much of a bite. But IT departments should now take stock and make infrastructure issues top priority to elude the "post-millennium sting".


July 1, 2000  


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So, that was that. Millennium eve went off with a bang. We saw the tickertape in New York, the fireworks in Sydney and the big wheel in London. But very few of us spotted the bug.

The expected fallout from unstable computer systems just did not happen. Fewer than 100 bug-related problems were reported worldwide in the two weeks following — nothing near the Armageddon that some were predicting.

With our egos still glowing, dare anybody now ask why we spent so much time preparing for a problem that perhaps never was? Was it all smoke and mirrors? Was it worth putting off other, more progressive, projects for?

Hindsight is a convenient thing, but seeing events before they happen is not an option open to most of us. Preparing for the bug was therefore a gamble which, on the whole, the world played well. After all, nothing happened (but wasn’t that the point?) Essentially, you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.

But what you can do now — something that is critical to all IT departments — is examine where the investment (or lack thereof) has left you, and where you go from here. Doing so may help you eliminate any chance of post-millennium fallout.

THREE SCENARIOS

As we lifted our heads out of our underground bunkers, and wondered what to do with all of our stored cans of corned beef and bottled water, we found it was time to take stock. Most companies (provided they are not among the previously mentioned 100) found themselves in one of the following scenarios:

Scenario One: Those who prepared by stripping out the old and bringing in the new: new systems, new software and new ways of doing business. This meant taking out what may not work and putting in what definitely would.

Scenario Two: Those who played business roulette, placing their companies on black and waiting — only for the gamble to pay off.

Scenario Three: Those who took their money from elsewhere and placed it into changing and testing code (and then changing and testing it some more) — an effective defense for the cautious corporate outfit.

The fact is that of the three, companies in Scenario One are clearly in the best position — and one which will allow companies to hit the 21st century running. They have reaped the ‘millennium dividend’ by using the bug as an excuse to upgrade systems and software. The underlying logic here is that they would be virtually bug-free and would have a top-notch infrastructure to show for it. (Progressive fire-fighting if you like).

From research that Cablesoft Inc. conducted before the big date, however, most companies did not have the luxury to take the first option. Budgets simply did not allow. Scenario two and three, or a combination of both, seemed the popular courses of action, but these may have left some issues that still need resolving.

GETTING BACK ON TRACK

Businesses have spent time waiting for Y2K to pass. In many instances, development has not happened or has been put on hold. In short, many companies had no choice but to stand still, but time, of course, did not.

The year 2000 is, in business terms, all about getting back on track: doing the things you put off to focus on the millennium.

Moves, adds and changes (MACs) are often one of the first things to be put on hold when the pressure is on. They can be time-consuming, costly, hard to document and labor intensive. Any company that has generated a MAC backlog in the months preceding Millennium-Day can testify to this and point out how they now have to re-double the work and effort in this area.

Companies also need to re-evaluate what they have in relation to their infrastructure strategy — and soon. If they do not, they may find that they are caught with an additional (and large) investment when they least expect or need it.

Of course, cabling systems do come with lengthy guarantees — 15 years in many cases. But examine the small print. If they are based on supporting anything other than 21st century demands, they will not be worth the paper they are printed on.

Bandwidth is what it is all about; without it, networks will perform as if they have a permanent dose of the flu. Knowledge will be power — knowing what type of cable is where, what is running over it, and whom it is going to.

Accurate network administrator is key. A well-judged upgrade (or a decision that one is not needed) can save a company a huge amount of money. A mistimed one can work to the opposite extreme.

This means that the administrator does not just administrate. The administrator has to monitor, evaluate and know the signs of good and bad performance, topology and infrastructure. This is not easy — but it can make a lot of difference to the smoothness of operations, as well as the bottom line. It all boils down to asset management — keeping track of what you have and where you have it, and using this information to make informed business decisions.

TECHNOLOGY TO EASE THE PAIN

Enough about what needs to be done. The question is: “What technology is out there that will give greater assistance to cabling and network administrators everywhere?” The good news is that there is new technology that will appear this year and make the administration easier and more effective than ever before.

For the first time, the industry will see cabling management tools, hardware and software, which work in real time over the Internet. These tools will revolutionize the way structured cabling systems are managed, by making any patch panel intelligent. The technology will automatically discover and monitor connectivity at data centers and wiring closets, and provide a watchful eye over unauthorized changes — a 21st century guardian angel for administrators.

This will increase the productivity of any operator ten-fold. Features to look forward to include online/remote management and troubleshooting via the Internet — alerts, including photos, alarms, email sent and pagers bleeped when changes are detected, non proprietary architecture, and the ability to be implemented as retrofit or a new installation.

It is clear that in the scale of things, Y2K will be looked back on as merely a moment in time. The real issue at hand — managing your network well into the 21st century — will not disappear in the same way.

Constant investment, change and improvements will challenge administrators day-in and day-out. On the bright side, there are IT systems out there that will help everyone involved in cable management achieve their goals in the most efficient ways possible. CS

Pete Pela is president and CEO of Cablesoft, Inc. of Tempe, Arizona, a company he founded in 1992. The company — a developer of IT infrastructure-modelling software — is a spin-off of Pela’s earlier start-up, Cableship Inc., the largest privately held cabling and networking company in the United Kingdom.


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