RealTime IT News

Are Your Computers DST-Compliant?

Computer firms are alerting their customers of an impending problem related to the change in daylight savings time next month, which could throw their computer clocks off by an hour.

The issue stems from the change in dates for daylight savings time, that quaint tradition best defined by the phrase "spring forward, fall back." In April, most of the U.S. would set its clocks forward an hour. In October, they set their clocks back an hour. The reasons for it are numerous.

In 2005, Congress passed and President Bush signed into law the Energy Policy Act, which amended the Uniform Time Act of 1966 to change the beginning and ending of Daylight Saving Time (DST).

Beginning this year, DST begins on the second Sunday of March instead of the first Sunday in April, and ends on the first Sunday in November instead of the last Sunday of October.

The impact on hardware and software is that daylight savings time changes are programmed into their internal clocks, and systems developed before the 2005 law have the wrong dates in them. Therefore, old hardware and operating systems are still operating on the April/October date change rather than March/November.

This alert has led to some hyperbole and inevitable comparisons to the Y2K bug . However, it's nowhere near an apples-to-apples comparison, as this is a fix anyone can make. All a person needs to do is apply the patches from the vendors, or at worst alter their system clock manually. It's not like sifting through millions of lines of code to make date changes.

Still, Gartner has sent out an advisory to its clients not to downplay the risk. "Few IT organizations have any formalized risk assessment and remediation program in place to address the potential impact of this time modification," the research firm wrote.

There is the real risk of business damage and liabilities could occur from applications performing their processing at the incorrect time, the company wrote. It went on to say that patches for major operating systems and other infrastructure components appear to be readily available.

"Because code changes will usually not be required and most applications take their time from the underlying operating system (and hence only this needs to be patched), the overall remediation effort will pale in comparison to that of Y2K," concluded the Gartner report.

Microsoft  has issued its own warning for customers. Windows Vista and Office 2007 have already had this adjustment programmed in, but Office 2003 and prior versions, as well as Windows XP and older operating systems do not have this fix.

A fix for Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) was pushed out as part of Patch Tuesday this week. There is also a fix on the Microsoft DST site for Outlook 2003 and prior versions.

Sun Microsystems  has a Web page set up as a central repository for its fixes to Solaris 8, 9 and 10. HP  also has an information page set up for its customers, and Novell  has a page featuring its ZENworks patch management software.