A couple of years ago, the U.S. Congress passed a law making the period of “daylight savings time” each year longer, the Energy Policy Act of 2005, and thus moved the customary dates for “springing forward” and “falling back.” For many companies and individuals, this means obtaining a software patch for computer systems and computer-based products.
For some companies, though, just as with the Year 2000 change, their systems are too old for normal support by the manufacturer. Many of these systems are stuck in a time-warp due to regulatory or other reliability issues – the systems may be part of a complex system such as a medical imaging device or a military weapons system, and require extensive recertification if the software system is changed. Reports in tech professionals’ online discussions say that companies such as Microsoft may charge as much as $40,000 or more to provide patch assistance to those “legacy” systems, such as Windows 2000 servers. The companies are, in effect, paying an unexpected fee for our increased energy efficiency, estimated at saving 300,000 barrels of oil per year.
In Year 2000 preparation, companies had many years to prepare for the upcoming event. Analyses of software systems could be done over time and, though a more complex problem, a company’s risk exposure and costs could be estimated, and plans made. In the case of this government-made problem, companies have had to act quickly, understanding their exposure and the extent to which they and their customers might be affected. Since operating system providers such as Microsoft had the same time frame as their customers in which to react, available options for solving the problem have not been known until more recently.
Actions required to respond vary. In the case of medical equipment, expensive downtime must be scheduled, and in the case of ships at sea and other military implementations, changes can sometimes not be effected until the crew returns to the U.S., or other port where changes can be made. In some cases, a technician may be helicoptered in to perform the upgrade, if necessary. Fortunately, for the military, the use of standard or “Zulu” time may put them beyond the reach of the artificial changes.
Although the U.S. change was not terrorism related, in 1999 Israel was saved from a Palestinian time bomb by Daylight Saving Time, according to NPR. The terrorists did not realize that the bus they were planning to blow up was an hour later than expected due to Israel’s previous change back to Standard time before their own country’s.
Many people realize from the Year 2000 event that computers that process date and time information are in many unexpected places, many of which are called “embedded” systems. Ticket systems for public transit would be one example. A ticket system may still be running, with periodic fare upgrades, on a so-called “legacy” system, and these systems are sometimes produced by companies which have closed their doors, are overseas, or are otherwise unavailable to make major changes. Even if the software has been properly archived for another company to take over, the knowledge required to do so may not be available, thus requiring additional time and expense to bring the systems up to date. Software such as trading or travel-related systems which may be tracking U.S. time on an overseas system may also need updating.
While the Daylight Savings “bug” may not affect every company in major ways, for some it could be a significant cost, and headache, to support the U.S. quest for increased energy efficiency. According to an article on Zdnet.com, the cost of not preparing could be much higher.