Thinking out loud - The Machine 's Parts : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

The Federal government is focusing attention on it's mission critical systems, at the expense of whatever our tax dollars have paid for that doesn't fit into this sometimes ambiguous category. What about all of the non-mission critical systems and the impact of not having them remediated where needed? For some of these the question is why do we even have them at all?

Even with concentrating on just the mission-critical systems, the latest report card from Congressman Horn on November 23 states "nearly one-third of the government's critical systems will not be compliant by the year 2000 deadline of March 30, 1999, established by President Clinton." It doesn't state what percentage of the non-mission critical systems will not be ready, does it? Any votes for 75%, 99%, 100%? Both are parts in the machine, however.

The private sector may not be much better off. Layoffs and forced or 'voluntary' retirement plans have made resurgence in the daily headlines. Cutting dead weight, eliminating or reducing non-critical functions, mergers, streamlining, and pressure on the bottom line due to low profit margins without any real ability to raise prices are all taking a toll. At least some of this is Y2K related. The private sector is a big part of the machine.

It is increasingly probable that the "Machine" which is our networked computer-run infrastructure is going to stop. It's non-mission critical gears have already been abandoned. If even one of those 'non-critical' parts turns out later to be critical after all, it will be trouble.

How will the machine stop? Will it be a large failure that cascades like a domino set until all the gears have ground to a halt? Will it be a series of small but steadily increasing failures instead? Perhaps these two scenarios are not mutually exclusive... could we have a series of small failures first, followed by large ones. What is most likely?

Do we have any control over how the machine stops? Can it be partially stopped, not as a whole, but in pieces, using a phased approach perhaps, to 'operate' on the truly critical parts on which everything else depends? Think about the NRC and their concern over safety at the 108 Nuclear Power plants as an example. They have publicly stated that plants which cannot demonstrate that they can operate safely given Y2K will be shutdown. That's about 22% of the power portion of the 'machine'.

In the same context, think about the banks. The Fed has already begun to stockpile cash, and is printing $50 Billion more in anticipation of panic withdrawals. They are also not 'retiring' older worn-out currency to help bolster the supply of physical cash. What is the next step in keeping this part of the 'machine' running. If they start seeing a large increase in the amount of withdrawals (Yes, they do keep track of this, we just aren't privy to it) they can do any number of things. This may start out with limiting cash withdrawals and escalate into a bank hoilday.

Sorry this post is so long, but those of you who 'know' me have seen me thinking out loud before, and this is usually what happens. Anyway, the machine hasn't stopped yet.

Any ideas here?

-- Rob Michaels (, December 04, 1998


I see the so called 'mission critical' reporting as just another way to minimize the potential impact.

Your post has prompted me to think of Y2K preparation by individuals as determining those things 'mission critical' to survival.

When corporations prepare (assess, fix, test, and store supplies critical to their ongoing operation), its a good thing.

When individuals prepare, they are wacko, doomsayer survivalists.


-- MVI (, December 04, 1998.

Forgot to mention that I have determined that cable tv, A/C, refrigeration, hot tap water, coca cola, beer, telephone, the WWW, electricity, etc., are not not mission critical for my survival but it sure would be nice.


-- MVI (, December 04, 1998.

I've always thought the notion of "non-mission critical" was intriguing. What does this REALLY mean? If you are an employee working for an organization, isn't your job "mission critical" to your life? If your job turns out be "non-mission critical" to the organization, why is that job in existence? If there is a major purge of "non- mission crtical" jobs in the job market, how does that affect the rest of the "machine?" I think the "downsizing" that is going to occur in the next couple of years will be without precedent, and this great nation will in effect, become a third world country.

Lower your expectations, kids. You'll need it to keep your sanity...

-- pshannon (, December 04, 1998.

What's a non-mission-critical job?

Suppose your company makes two products X and Y. It has a patent on X, is therefore a monopoly supplier, and sells X at a healthy margin. The patents on Y ran out years ago, and competition has whittled the margin on that product close to breakeven.

Now, you find that you've run out of time to do remediation on the production lines for both X and Y. What do you do? Surely it's a no- brainer; close down the Y line, and concentrate resources on X. If you work on the Y line and don't have transferrable skills, you'll be looking for a new job, maybe with the other outfits who will shortly see a good reason to raise their margins and increase their output of Y.

X is mission-critical, Y isn't. It is all relative, of course. Perhaps the biggest danger, and the only one I can see that government fiat can help with, is that manufacturers of things of trivial importance will be competing for resources with society- critical organisations like the utilities, and won't realise that you can't make (arbitrary example) Coca-cola without electricity and water supplies anyway.

It all comes down to electricity, fuels, water, telecomms and banks. These are mission-critical not just to themselves but to all of us.

-- Nigel Arnot (, December 04, 1998.

Nigel: This gets interesting doesn't it? Another example would be where company A makes a part that it categorizes as non-critcal. This part however, is critical to company B, who uses it in a mission critical system that they have. Company A may or may not know this. Even if they did, you raise a good point about scare resources and how they will be allocated. Should it be a choice by comapny A between their own critical system(s) or company B's, they would fix their own.

-- Rob Michaels (, December 04, 1998.

More Ideas Welcome.

-- Rob Michaels (, December 05, 1998.

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