Ryerson boots computer bug

In Features /

By Emily Bowers

For the past two years, one of Larry Lemieux’s biggest concerns has been preparing Ryerson’s computer systems for the arrival of the year 2000.

Lemieux, assistant director of information technology support, has been at the university for 20 years. In his office in the basement of Jorgenson Hall, headquarters to Ryerson’s Computer and Communications Services department, the only sign of what he does is a personal computer on his tidy and organized desk.

As Lemieux sits to talk about the Y2K computer bug at Ryerson, the magnitude of the task CCS has tackled in the past few years seems diminished in the face of his confident manner.

“We’ve covered all the bases. Everything should go fairly smoothly,” Lemieux says in a soft, calm voice.

After he and the staff of 100 at CCS prepared all of Ryerson’s administrative computer systems, including students’ records and timetables as well as staff and faculty’s payroll and finances, nothing should go wrong.

Ryerson’s administration is not quite as confident there won’t be problems come Jan. 1. While the cost of updating the school’s computer systems was absorbed in the existing technical budget, $500,000 has been set aside for “contingency planning.”

“If something unforeseen occurs, we have put aside money to deal with it,” says Linda Grayson, Ryerson’s v.p. administration and student affairs. While Grayson won’t comment on what she thinks might occur, she says, “we can’t be 100 per cent sure.”

With desktop computers, the Y2K bug affects the two-digit year-labelling system and how the computer and its programs interpret in which century the date belongs. For example, the abbreviated ’99 is known by computers as 1999. But when the clock ticks into 2000, the computer might interpret ’00 as 1900.

Students may have noticed on their timetables that the fall term is now denoted as F1999, and the winter term will be W2000, as opposed to the previous method using just one letter and two digits.

Everybody on the CCS staff had a hand in preparing Ryerson for the year 2000. The first step was taking inventory of all the systems and looking at what needed to be updated.

“We’re covered by what we already have in place,” Lemieux says.

Ryerson receives all new versions of software released by companies such as Microsoft. The most recent versions were made year 2000 compliant upon release.

These are used throughout the systems supported by CCS, which include student, staff and faculty records and the Pine E-mail server.

This summer, CCS tested computers by doing mock Y2K rollovers. Internal clocks were set to 11:30 p.m. on Dec. 31, 1999, and changed successfully to Jan. 1, 2000. CCS also tested other date glitches, including the upcoming leap year, Feb. 29, 1999.

All the systems passed.

While CCS takes care of Ryerson’s central networks, each department or school is in charge of its own computers. CCS is offering departments a series of workshops beginning this month and running through October about how to prepare for 2000. In addition, CCS has set up a help line and has staff available for assistance.

Ryerson security’s computers are also separate from those maintained by CCS.

Manager Terry Ladouceur has been working on security’s Y2K problems for a year-and-a-half. He tested systems throughout June, July and August. They all passed.

Most of security’s computer programs are new, so year 2000 compliance was included with installation. And every building on campus is similarly equipped with a two-year-old Y2K-compliant alarm system.

Ryerson security, from its new headquarters at 111 Bond St., has been working to develop a “fail-safe lock down access system,” Ladouceur says.

When the fail-safe system is activated, doors with card access will automatically close. People will be able to exit the building, but no entry will be possible. This takes effect in every building on campus where security systems aren’t communicating with the main server.

While Ladouceur is not anticipating any problems on the New Year’s weekend, he is discussing the possibility of having extra security on hand and examining what resources are available in case of a crisis like a Toronto power outage.

Should any problems occur with Ryerson’s computer systems, Lemieux and other CCS staff will be on call all weekend. They have until Jan. 5, when registration for the winter term starts, to work out any bugs, before classes start on Jan. 10.

After that, Lemieux’s job will go back to everyday upkeep of Ryerson’s computers. But for now he’s sure the school has the Y2K bug beat. “There should be no problem,” he says with a smile.

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