Act now to avoid the Year 2000 e-mail lockdown

Will your e-mail network grind to a halt on Jan. 1, 2000? If you're running older systems such as cc:Mail, Microsoft Mail, IBM OfficeVision or Digital's All-in-1, it just might.

There are many things that could go wrong with your e-mail network, even if you're running a Year 2000-compliant e-mail system. E-mail may not function correctly if neighbouring messaging systems or backbones, the network itself, applications submitting messages or the platforms on which the network depends start to misbehave. In a complex messaging network with multiple post offices, switches, gateways and directory synchronisation servers, problems in one component have a nasty habit of propagating to others.

Woe unto the user whose system is not Year 2000 compliant, for e-mail has many date-sensitive processes. Confronted with Year 2000 dates, the system may incorrectly sort messages in folders or discussion databases. Your calendar could go berserk. New messages may be autodeleted, items may be rejected, and logs and utilities may become unusable. Users may find themselves unable to reply to messages through a gateway. Directory synchronisation processes could fail.

So what should you do?

To remedy your Year 2000 problems, you must first take inventory of your e-mail systems, gateways, management utilities and applications. You may find this to be a frustrating experience because some Year 2000 risks are known but many are not.

For example, the Lotus Web page says earlier versions of cc:Mail are not Year 2000 compliant but points the user to cc:Mail Post Office DB8 and cc:Mail client R6.3, which contain maintenance fixes to solve the problem.

In other cases, the risk level is uncertain. The Lotus Soft-Switch backbone product pages do not reference Year 2000 compliance. Microsoft's Year 2000 page says Exchange 5.5 is compliant, but the page is silent about Microsoft Mail and previous versions of Exchange. (See www.microsoft.com/ithome/topics/year2k/y2kcomply/y2kcomply.htm) When contacted, a Microsoft representative said, "Test results will be published by the end of the summer.'' To my knowledge, no Microsoft Mail fixes are planned.

Considering some enterprises plan to freeze changes to their network from about April 1999 to April 2000, users don't have too much time to act if upgrades are needed. But an upgrade is what you'll face in the many cases where no maintenance releases are available.

Novell GroupWise is one example. Novell has a Web page that identifies whether each product component is compliant. (See http://www.novell.com/groupwise/y2000/.) But all too often, you'll see the notation "Not being tested - Upgrade to GW 5.2.''Vendors need to be more proactive about providing users with maintenance releases or, at the very least, with more information about what can go wrong if they don't upgrade. Picture yourself going hat in hand to your CIO:

"I need $500,000 to upgrade to Exchange 5.5 or GroupWise 5.2 because of Year 2000 problems.''"What problems?''"Uh ... I don't know.''This is not exactly a career-enhancing dialogue.

The industry as a whole must be more proactive. The US Electronic Messaging Association, for example, is considering a Challenge 99 demonstration dealing with secure messaging and the interoperability of certificate authorities.

But for many users, the real challenge may be making the business case to management that a big messaging upgrade is needed before the Year 2000 lockdown begins.

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