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IT waiting until last minute to push out DST patch

Businesses that wait until next month to push out the DST patch will probably be just fine. But experts warn it's best to do it sooner than later in case you encounter glitches.

The planned changes to daylight-saving time (DST) go into effect next month, but only a handful of businesses so far have prepared for it, according to a new report from research firm Gartner Inc.

Businesses appear to be waiting until the last minute to update their computer systems clocks, which has some analysts and vendors concerned. Failing to address the change could mean nothing more than a missed dentist appointment, but for some it could mean real hassles with things such as security access and scheduling, experts say.

Planes aren't going to fall from the sky, but you might miss your plane.

"I wouldn't want to overestimate it," said Andi Mann, senior analyst at IT analyst firm Enterprise Management Associates in Boulder, Colo. "Planes aren't going to fall from the sky, but you might miss your plane."

No big deal, right? Not exactly, experts say.

As a result of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the U.S., as well as Canada, Bermuda and the Bahamas, will extend DST by four weeks. It will begin three weeks earlier, on the second Sunday in March (instead of the first Sunday in April), and end on the first Sunday in November (instead of the last Sunday of October). This means simply that the operating system clocks, which coordinate everything from calendaring to messaging to security access, will be off by an hour.

It also means that between March 11 and March 25 there will be a six-hour time difference between London and New York, instead of the normal five-hour difference, and a seven-hour difference between cities such as Frankfurt, Paris, Madrid or Milan and New York, instead of their normal six-hour difference.

But some IT managers wonder what the big hurry is, with many not scheduling updates until the first week of March. After all, why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?

"This is pretty straightforward for us," said Joe Dempich, director of information technology at Parts Now LLC, a Madison, Wis., based supplier of computer printer parts. Dempich said he and his handful of staffers will begin to push out the patch next month.

"I understand what we need to do."

Off the radar

A month ago, no one was even talking about it, said Sheila Baker, vice president of marketing at KACE Networks Inc., a Mountain View, Calif.-based maker of IT management products for midmarket organizations.

"Most of the folks [we've talked to] have said, 'We're looking at what's on our network and we'll push out the patches that we'll have to push out.'" Many of the customers Baker has spoken to have a pretty good handle on what they've got to do, so they're not worried.

"I think part of [the delay is] that they just discovered they have to do this."

Cameron Haight, an analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner, admits that at the outset of the study not even vendors were doing much about raising awareness that systems would have to be patched. Now, he said, he's seeing more vendors with information available on their Web sites about how to patch their systems.

"The announcement was over a year and a half ago, and it probably dropped off people's radar screen," he said. "The good news is that it has started to get more visibility."

Process is simple, maybe

Indeed, most major vendors, including Microsoft, IBM, Sun Microsystems Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. have pages on their Web sites dedicated to the DST change. Even companies whose products are not directly affected are offering reminders, and some guidance, to customers.

In most cases, the process is simple: Take an inventory of your operating systems and download the necessary patches.

Experts say it's inevitable that most organizations will experience a glitch or two. Microsoft, for example, has made the download relatively easy -- for operating systems that are still supported by Microsoft, that is. For older Windows platforms the update may have to be performed manually. Since October, patches have been available from the Microsoft Web site. And beginning Tuesday, business can download the patch through either the automatic update feature or the Windows Server Update Service Web site.

"You can download a patch -- but you also have to make sure that your OS system is current -- or under a support contract," Haight said. "There are some operating systems like Windows NT that there won't be a patch, although there will be a utility that you can download, but it won't be automatic."

There are other areas where a standard patch may not be sufficient, such as with time-stamped data, Haight said. These will likely require an application-specific patch. In this instance, new entries will be correct, but, for example, existing meeting schedules that were entered before the patch was applied and occur between the new DST and old DST cutover times will still be wrong.

This is something Gary Baalman, a senior security analyst at Indus International, is diligent about. Anticipating possible issues, Baalman patched the operating systems of some 1,000 desktops, a mainframe and nearly 400 servers weeks ago. Now he's busy patching applications that require not-so straightforward fixes. Unlike Parts Now's Dempich, who has only Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard systems to patch, the job Baalman faces is more complex.

"It's been a huge deal," Baalman said. In addition to ensuring that all his company's internal clocks are timed properly, as an independent software vendor, Indus has an obligation to make sure all its customers are pushing patches out as well.

This is not the same in terms of degree as Y2K, but breadth and scope is similar, he said. "We've got about 20 people working on this."

Baalman said Indus will set the date for March 10 and "see what happens." He's being cautious about any possible problems, but then again, that's why he's doing this earlier than later. "This caught many, many people off guard. [Now] there's less time to deal with it."

It's unclear what this change will cost businesses. But one thing is clear: This isn't the first time operating systems have had to adjust to changes to DST -- and it won't be the last. The Energy Policy Act was passed with the stipulation that it would be reviewed to determine if it had the intended effect -- to save energy. If not, or maybe even if it does, the government reserves the right to change it again.

"Changes to DST are common … and the sky hasn't fallen in the past," said Gus Bjorklund, vice president of technology at Progress Software Corp. in Bedford, Mass. And neither he, nor his customers, is too concerned about any delay in pushing out the patch. "It a pretty short [process] because it's a very small patch. The biggest issue, I guess, is that they have to do it."

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