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Wake up! Patch needed for 2007 DST change

Next year, daylight-saving time will start in March instead of April. As a result, a patch to update your OS will likely be required.

This weekend, Americans across the country will be turning the clocks ahead one hour. Other than denying us 60 precious minutes of sleep, the event comes and goes without much fanfare. But when the Energy Policy Act goes into effect in 2007, extending daylight-saving time (DST) by four weeks -- beginning three weeks earlier and ending one weeks later -- the event will likely trigger a few Y2K flashbacks.

Although experts doubt it will come close to the hype and headache of Y2K, this seemingly harmless adjustment to DST means IT managers will have to plan for operating system upgrades and patches. Already some OS vendors, such as IBM, are targeting midsized companies with products to help stave off any pending doom.

In general, patch and update management is a big issue everywhere, but midsized companies are less likely to have formal patch plans in place, making this update problematic if ignored.

"Midsized [businesses] don't typically have a lot of resources, so any kind of mandatory patch or update tends to be more of an issue," said Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H. Any operating system that figures out by itself what time it is needs to be patched in order to be correct. A DST patch is no different than a critical security patch and businesses need to take it seriously, he said. Of course, how seriously depends on the application.

"Having the right time is often kind of important," he said.

Haff added that in many cases, a patch is something that can be done manually, but he suggests that in the case of DST, it's better to have it automated. Doing it manually can be risky if the work is inconsistent, he said.

When clocks are moved forward an hour on the second Sunday in March 2007 -- instead of the first Sunday in April, as they have been for more than 20 years -- companies will have to change their fleets of laptops and PCs, as well as systems that are heavily dependent on schedules, such as payroll and applications that manage and track transactions. Computers and applications are programmed to automatically handle DST based on the current schedule mandated by U.S. lawmakers since 1987.

In an attempt to conserve energy, the federal government passed the Energy Policy Act in August 2005. The act will create more hours of daylight, saving the equivalent of 100,000 barrels of oil a day, according to legislators who backed the change.

Having the right time is often kind of important.

Gordon Haff, analyst, Illuminata

But like Y2K, nobody really knows what will happen if businesses fail to adjust their servers to meet the DST requirement.

Although some vendors have suggested that compliance regulations could be put in jeopardy if the clocks are not updated, compliance expert French Caldwell at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn., said it isn't likely to be any worse than the confusion in Outlook that everyone will be experiencing this coming weekend. "You'll have more missed meetings," Caldwell said. "But as for SOX or privacy compliance, who cares? I don't see any broad implications."

Still, failure to comply with the changes could affect systems that rely on internal clocks to schedule and execute important tasks such as backing up data, distributing software and updating Web sites.

"Some IT folks have deliberate policies about what patches they put on and when. This patch is one that you have to put on," said Luis Rodriguez, director of market management, IBM Tivoli software, "particularly if you haven't been that careful about applying patches."

Over the next several months, IT managers can expect a number of patches to be released by all the operating systems vendors, including Sun Microsystems Inc. and Microsoft, as well as the Linux distributors. The patches are generally absorbed into the cost of the operating system.

On Monday, IBM introduced its Tivoli Provisioning Management Express software, which the company says prevents IT departments from having to manually adjust their PCs' clocks and calendars, and keeps IT specialists from having to visit every employee's cubicle to install software patches manually, machine-by-machine – a process that could take days or even weeks. Through automation, the process is cut to a matter of minutes. IBM provides this automated patch management capability through its Tivoli Configuration Manager and Tivoli Provisioning Manager products, the same software used to deploy security patches for dealing with network threats due to hackers and viruses.

IBM said it would begin offering the DST software patches soon. Services will be provided through IBM Global Services' Systems and Process Management practice.

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