Users dodge real-time clocks

Users dodge real-time clocks

The Office for Government Information Technology (OGIT) this week revealed that government agencies would have to "make a risk based judgement" on whether to enforce real-time clock (RTC) Y2K compliance in their PCs.

The statement comes in the wake of some US Government organisations and private companies demanding that chip makers provide a fully-compliant RTC, not accepting assurances that a two-digit year field can be adequately corrected by BIOSes and operating systems.

Noncompliant RTCs present a risk in industries with a high dependence on embedded systems, such as precision manufacturing, and from time-sensitive applications that access the RTC directly. A spokesperson for OGIT said the importance of the RTC depended on the type of application being run.

"Most applications now get the system date from the operating system, not the RTC," the spokesperson said.

"If an agency uses a special-purpose application or an older application which directly accesses the RTC, they will have to make a risk-based business judgement as to how the problem will be corrected.

"Commonwealth agencies will apply their own tests to each of these components in their IT equipment, working down through the levels, and using a risk management approach take whatever corrective action is most appropriate to their business needs.

"This may include applications modification or replacement, PC level fixes such as BIOS patches, TSRs and complete replacement or utilising a PC in a network mode where the date is taken from the server.

"The Government does not specify compliance of agency equipment."

In the US, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has ceased to buy PCs built with Intel chips because they rely on a 99-year clock.

"If there's true year 2000 compliant hardware out there, we should go with that," said Alan Dolleck, an NRC computer specialist who oversees PC purchases.

The NRC's definition of "year 2000 compliant" requires that all time sources on a PC -- BIOS, operating system, and RTC -- be compliant.

"A compliant RTC is an insurance policy because it is the only component that has any means of maintaining time," said Carl Konzman, a computer specialist at NRC.

Intel, however, downplayed the need for a compliant RTC.

"We're with the rest of the industry, in terms of being year 2000 capable with the proper BIOS," said Bill Calder, a representative at Intel.

Intel must use "capable" instead of "compliant" because its chips are based on the original 1984 IBM AT chip-set specifications, which called for a 99-year calendar.

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