Old Switches, Routers Pose Y2K Threat

Users of routers or switches dating back two years or more had better take note: Your network will likely not make the Y2K grade.

The leading internetwork vendors — Cabletron Systems Inc., Cisco Systems Inc., Nortel Networks’s Bay Networks unit and 3Com Corp. — are not even considering testing some pre-1997 products for year 2000 compliance. Other products have been tested and passed or will require a software upgrade to bring them into compliance.

The Y2K problem with routers and switches lies in the onboard real-time clock and operating system software. Many clocks and operating systems register dates using two digits. They cannot distinguish between the two zeros at the end of 1900 and 2000, so when the clock rolls over, devices that rely on that date information could malfunction.

Networked applications that rely on time stamping and other scheduled processes can be disrupted if the network devices between clients and servers cannot register the correct date. Network management applications that perform error reporting and log device uptime may also provide imprecise data on a network’s status.

Indeed, the Y2K problem is especially critical for networks because it could pose a security risk. Network devices that cannot read the correct date can allow intrusive packets into the network, further disrupting business operations.

In a database managed by Infoliant (www.infoliant.com) that tracks the Y2K status of key routing and switching products, numerous Cisco product scores are listed alongside the phrase “Vendor Will Not Test.” These products include AGS and AGS+ routers, 3000 series routers, specific releases of the Catalyst 5500 LAN switch and CiscoWorks management software, as well as Kalpana EtherSwitches.

Cisco says it will not test products that it will no longer be selling or supporting next year.

Rival Nortel Networks will not test any product for Y2K compliance built or sold before Jan. 1, 1997, according to Infoliant and the Nortel Web site (www.nortelnetworks.com). Such products include Ethernet transceivers and host modules, 16-port ATM OC-3 switches, and LattisSwitch models 28115 and 28104 Ethernet and fast Ethernet switches. Also on the list are EtherCell Ethernet-to-ATM switches and several models of the Access Node, Access Stack Node and Access Node Hub routers.

3Com and Cabletron have similar policies.

Cabletron has discontinued several products over the past two years — from some Ethernet, token-ring and FDDI switching and routing modules to SmartSwitch 9000 processors. The company is offering replacements for some of these products. Cabletron also is not testing several third-party products, such as Cisco router modules and SNA channel-attachment cards. The company is referring Y2K queries about some of these products to the manufacturers.

3Com has discontinued all of its David Systems — aka ONSemble — products and is not testing them for Y2K compliance. The company has discontinued specific models within other product lines, including the LANplex switch line, and will not test these products, according to the Infoliant database and 3Com’s Web site (www.3com.com). Some products, such as NetBuilder II routers and SuperStack II OC-3c ATM modules, are “pending evaluation,” according to the Infoliant database.

More recent products, meanwhile, may require software or microcode patches to bring them into compliance. For instance, users of Cisco’s Catalyst 1100 LAN switches running software releases prior to Version 3.6 will have to upgrade to this version in order to come into Y2K compliance. Similarly, users of Nortel routers running BayRS software Versions 10.x need to upgrade to Version 11.03 Rev5 or 12.0 Rev2 for Y2K compliance.

Versions of Cabletron’s MMAC-Plus Device Management Module prior to 5.0 need to be upgraded to that version. And 3Com’s AccessBuilder 7000 BRI Bridge/Router module needs to be upgraded to Version 5.03I2 or later.

Users need to peruse vendors’ Y2K compliance Web sites, check the Infoliant database or contact vendors to determine if such patches are needed.

Users may also be eligible for rebates and trade-ins for their unusable equipment. Fortunately for users, the leading internetwork vendors appear to be proactive in their Y2K compliance and upgrade efforts.

Nortel is offering customers a trade-in incentive of up to US$700 per port for noncompliant products, depending on the product family. This rebate also applies to Nortel’s Bay Networks equipment acquired by customers from other vendors and to equipment obtained by Bay through its various acquisitions.

Cisco has a Technology Migration Program whereby users can exchange older gear for credit toward upgrades. Cisco says the amount of credit depends on the age, feature set and value of the older products, compared with the value of the newer gear.

Cabletron has a trade-up program for discontinued products that offers users discounts based on volume, the product family and age of the older gear. Cabletron stresses, though, that none of its products has become obsolete as a result of Y2K issues; products were discontinued based on functionality and price/performance, said Dave Cleveland, director of services marketing for Cabletron.

3Com says it, too, has a product trade-in program, specifics of which vary by product.