Old Macs vs. Y2K

The following story is true. The names have been changed for the privacy of the parties involved. The author is a longtime consultant who works with Macs, Novell, and more and has over a dozen years field experience.

An employee and I just finished a trip to a steel rolling firm on Y2K issues. The facility had a surprising dual network. Most of the heavy equipment is controlled by IBM and ASA minicomputer systems, but two parts of the internal network stood out.

First, all of the job costing and job control equipment is handled by 26 Intel boxes, ranging from 486 to 686 machines. The really interesting part is that these machines are all running Windows NT of various flavors, and they cannot be shutdown.

Over the past seven years, their previous consultants have been adding NT servers to the primary network when projects became too complicated to be handled by one machine – the company was being held hostage by these 26 machines.

If one goes down, the entire facility has to be shutdown and restarted – a period of at least three days. When the failure occurs, they always lose data. They have 61 separate active databases that are shared between machines. When the machines are restarted, they take at least 24 hours to recompile and rebuild their collective databases.

They routinely corrupted the last three or four completed jobs. Since a job takes them nearly three weeks to complete, any jobs not finished were lost since the last NT determined close and sync of the databases. A job usually consisted of at least six stages, which means they’d have to revert and reenter the previous stage. This is why they were pulling out their hair and cussing their other consultant.

Our job was to replace all of this equipment – none of it is Y2K compliant – and the database was going to fail in 2000 as well.

Mac II with color displaySecond, the entire accounting and billing department is Macintosh. The company has 37 Macintosh stations, subnetworked into four different office areas. It contains all of their billing and invoicing information, as well as all accounting information since 1977. The database software they used previously converted into FileMaker 2.0 quite easily in 1992. They’ve been running solidly off of a Mac II file server, replacing hard drives as they outgrew them, since 1990. The Mac II got it’s job information from a Novell connection to the NT servers.

They were working on a mainframe in 1977, before Macintoshes. They switched to Macs for accounting and billing with FileMaker and ClarisWorks back in 1988, but they didn’t convert the 1977 through 1988 data into their system until 1992. They had no trouble doing it when they simply sat down and did it.

This kind of explains why they had so much faith in the FileMaker software – there were no arguments, since they’d “converted” from other database formats before. They had no fear of what I intended to do next.

The reason the old consulting firm was fired was because they informed this company that their entire investment in computer hardware would have to be replaced for Y2K – at the cost of 1.7 million dollars. Additionally, they would have to switch their accounting software to NT to meet Y2K requirements.

Given their track record in service, the company dropped these consultants, and sought outside contracts.

To give an example of what we’ve been able to accomplish in three weeks:

The 61 part database was shared between the NT servers in tab-delimited format. We converted all the sections of the database into FileMaker Pro 3.0 format, kept the same names, and matched the screen format. We run FileMaker Pro 3.0 Server on three spare 68040 machines at their office. (FileMaker Pro 3.0 Server is 68k, not PPC, and it has the ability to share 100 databases. However, to keep any computer from becoming swamped, the databases were split among three servers.)

Quadra 650These ‘040 machines are all five-to-six-year-old Quadra 650’s with 128 MB of memory.

We installed WebStar and FileMaker Tab plug-ins on a five-year-old Power Mac 7100/66 with 128 MB of memory, had WebStar link to all of these shared databases, and have reduced the 26 NT machines to four AMD K6-400 machines (machines that strictly handle Novell job costing and job control data from the IBM and ASA machines).

The Mac II is now a tape backup server. It was replaced by the FileMaker servers and the WebStar server. Administration has access to all of their databases through Internet Explorer on their subnets. The entire office runs off of web browsers, and even with the confusion, we’ve gotten nothing but praise and pats on the back. These people love their Macintoshes! And boy are they happy they can keep them.

Last Saturday morning, the company shut down the entire facility. We switched off the 26 NT machines and fired up our Macintosh equipment. The owner had secretly made one bogus transaction that morning and announced proudly two hours later (that’s all it took us to come back online – a far cry from three days) that his bogus transaction was in the database. Sneaky.

Monday morning, after we were sure that all systems were go, we moved the clocks on all machines to 11 p.m. 12/31/99, and we waited. By noon, we found three glitches:

  1. Keep It Up, used on the servers to automatically reboot and script load FileMaker Pro Server and the databases, was not registered and had expired. (Whoops)
  2. All transactions before 1990 were now newer than 00, so 00 transactions sorted in the middle of the page instead of the top. We went into the FileMaker database and changed the function – this will be changed to support 4 digit numbers in January 2000. (Well, we expected something trivial like this)
  3. The Mac II (which is now simply a tape backup server) taxed our network greatly for several hours. We’d noticed the heavy network traffic early on but didn’t think much until the Mac ejected the backup tape. Seems the false date convinced the Mac II that Retrospect hadn’t been run in several months – so it started doing it’s monthly full backup, plus dailies, plus the year end. (Stupid whoops . . . we shouldn’t have had a tape in the drive).

Why is this story important for the Mac user? Because this company needed Y2K compliance, and they found it in cheap older Quadras that mostly were pulled from their closets and older workstations. In the process, these Quadras provide all of their internal services – at much faster and more reliable speeds than before, and in a format (web) that can be used by any platform they decide to use in the future.

There have been no errors this week and very little retraining on the software: The databases run in the web window just like they did in FileMaker.

This company just invited us to rework six other facilities. And they’ve formally announced to us that there won’t be a bidding process – we have the contract.

The owner also informed us that our total invoice was half of last year’s consulting costs for maintaining their equipment. We charged them around one-tenth of the other company’s bid, and we accomplished the job in three weeks (vs. their five month estimate for completion).

If you can’t tell, I am very proud of what we accomplished – but really more excited we were allowed to do it all with “obsolete” Macintosh equipment.

The best part was putting the 26 Intel boxes in their closet. Someday we may pull them out and make Linux routers out of them – they’ll never see NT again.

Keywords: #y2k

Short link: http://goo.gl/xnduJL