Citroën 2CV

The Date is January 21, 2038. What Bad Things Will Happen?

Bentley Bentaga

Tic Tok Unix Clock.

There is plenty of time to get ready for the Internet Date Time Apocalypse in 2038!

Every computer is controlled by the Operating System which performs a multitude of tasks such as running and monitoring applications, managing access security and keeping track of time.

The major Operating System brands are Microsoft Windows, Apple IOS, LINUX, Unix and IBM’s VM found on all mainframe systems. VMWare enables a single Intel server to simultaneously run one or more Operating system instances.

Recall the Y2K debacle in year 2000 which required changing all computer code which store year by two digits to four digit years.

Unix and its clone Linux have a known flaw that has been swept under the rug.

Since Apple’s IOS operating system is based on BSD Unix, all Apple IOS devices feature the same flaw.

Unix was designed in the late 1960’s to run on a Digital Equipment PDP-11 computer. Unlike today, computer memory was very expensive. The year 2038 was 70 years in the future. Who could predict how popular Unix would become in the 2010’s or that someone would go to the effort of making a clone of Unix (Linux)

Unix stores date and time values as the number of elapsed seconds between the epoch time of January 1, 1970 and the specified date.

The flaw in Unix is that not enough digits were allocated in to represent a past January 19, 2038 at 3:14:07 GMT, After this point, the elapsed seconds exceeds the amount of memory to store the epoch time value. 

The date value after this point in time will be undetermined. All applications relying on correct date and time values will fail.

Microsoft Windows systems use twice as much memory to store date and time values than Unix. Windows will not be impacted by the Unix epoch time problem. However there will be a problem 292 million years from now!

Since networks are based on Unix standards, devices used by Windows and UNIX systems such as network time servers and routers will need to be upgraded from the IPV4 standard to IPV6. This migration will need to be undertaken to support the coming 5G wireless standard. Given the millions of network devices out there, the upgrade will bee no small task.

The list of impacted applications is huge.

Key enterprise grade native Linux/Unix applications impacted include:

  1. ORACLE, DB2 and MYSQL database engines.
  2. Websites hosted by Apache Tomcat for Linux and WebSphere for UNIX or Linux.
  3. Java Applications
    Since Java obtains the date and time from the operating system time, all date,time and time zone values for the current time in Java applications will beinvalid.
  4. Docker application virtualization system.
  5. AmazonWeb Service supports Epoch time which will need to be updated to a 64-bitimplementation.

The Unix/Linux Date Apocalypse problem is more severe thanY2K by a factor of 10. Y2K was primarily limited to applications developed by corporations and governments. Date Apocalypse is baked into the Unix/Linuxoperating systems and can’t be fixed by an IT organization’s developers.

The solution involves the following steps:

  1. Operating System Vendors to announce the solution.
    Given the players involved, I am betting that the Apple, ORACLE, IBM and the freeware community will deliver multiple solutions.
  2. Every organization to establish a cut off date for development of Unix/Linux/IOS applications.
  3. Operating system vendor and third-party device driver vendors to release an implemented solution. This step will enable the operating system to support hardware components such as network adapters on a range of computer platforms such as IBM and Dell Intel servers.
  4. Platform vendors to certify Unix/Linux/IOS for the solution.
  5. Third party application publishers such as ORACLE will update all software packages.
  6. Corporate IT and Governments cannot start on the remedy until all preceding steps are completed.
  7. To enable business application testing on virtualized servers, VMWare to will need to release stable images of the updated Unix/LINUX operating system. This will enable companies to develop and test existing and updated Unix/LINUX applications.
  8. Amazon Web Services cloud server software with dependence on Unix/LINUX are updated and tested
  9. Future state is now known. All affected organizations start planning for the update.
  10. All effected organizations perform the update to packaged and custom developed software.  This task includes the case where parties A, B and C use a service from vendor X. The party’s dependant on services provided by X will need to perform testing even if their systems are not Unix or LINUX Platforms.
  11. Release updated code on an agreed cut off date such as March 1, 2036.
  12. All affected organizations update their test and production environments.
  13. All affected organizations update their software portfolio, test and plan for cut-over into production.

Clearly this process will be costly and contains several risks which could result in data centres full of defective servers and customers unable to online shop or access customer service web sites using Apple devices.

There is a remedy however – migrate all Unix/Linux/IOS applications to Microsoft .NET applications running on Azure cloud.  Enterprise applications such as ORACLE for Linux would be updated to ORACLE for Windows.

This solution is pendent on the remedy for the Date Time Apocalypse.

Every IT Organization with UNIX,Linux and IOS systems will need to agree on a strategy to remedy the issue.  

Hurry. It is amazing how time flies!

I would advise that every CIO develop an impact study now. Senior management would be made aware of the problem and adviseof the course of action.