Faulty Microsoft Exchange DST patch may ’cause problems’


Daylight Saving Time (DST) shift this weekend may result in some unpleasant surprises for Microsoft Exchange 2003 users if they’ve relied on patch instructions issued by Microsoft, says a Canadian analyst firm.

Toronto-based Info-Tech Research Group reported that Microsoft issued a faulty DST patch for Microsoft Exchange 2003 that may cause the application not to run properly when the time change kicks in.

Starting this year, DST starts three weeks earlier, and ends a week later than usual. The reason behind the change is to cut energy consumption.

According to research lead Darin Stahl, part of the issue is Microsoft has been busy readying Vista for release, while “working on the fly” on patches for various versions of Exchange.

Info-Tech Research discovered the faulty patch as its own IT departments were preparing for the DST shift, he says.

To further complicate matters, Microsoft has issued around 20,000 documents outlining how IT managers ought to apply DST patches to Microsoft applications, says Stahl.

While Stahl credits Microsoft for its transparency in handling the DST issue, and publishing ample instructions, he says the sheer volume of documentation is confusing at the very least.

In the kerfuffle, there’s an order of battle that must be followed, and if not done right, things could get problematic, says Stahl.

The research firm has issued a revised set of instructions outlining that order of battle to address the Exchange problem.

Exchange 2007 remains unaffected by the time change, says Stahl.

While the DST shift presents a range of issues – from the minor to the serious – the time change highlights responsibilities and opportunities for software vendors and their partners, says Darren Hamilton, business manager, at ProCurve Networking by HP, a Mississauga-based provider of networking products and services.

“From a vendor perspective,” he says, “it behooves us to make the change as easy for our customers as possible.”

Besides simple patching, Hamilton says it’s a great opportunity for vendors to assume a leadership role and help customers define a strategy to address the imminent DST shift.

That aside, the impact of the DST transition on businesses may likely vary, depending on the size of the organization and the systems it operates, he says.

Although DST patching should be universally applied, patching some systems will prove more critical than others, says Hamilton.

He cautions organizations to step back, make an inventory of systems that should be patched, and prioritize them based on importance.

“[Some unpatched systems] may cause minor irritation, while others could turn out to be big issues.”

Hamilton says an example of a minor irritant could be a constantly flashing “12:00” on a VCR. While annoying, the flashing digits won’t affect the VCR’s ability to play a movie.

“It becomes more critical when we look at things such as security across a network, or any device that has time-based controls,” says Hamilton.

For instance, a system operating on such controls might allow employees access to resources or data during a specific time frame per day. If delayed by an hour, users could get shut out of the network when they ought to have access, he says.

This is particularly crucial if an employee needs to backup a large amount of data during a pre-determined time frame, says Hamilton.

Other potential consequences of poor DST patching, he says, are automated activities, such as data backup and server synchronization.

Scheduled activities such as these are a greater concern for larger organizations, the HP executive says, where processes are often automated to handle the large data load and greater number of users.

“While larger enterprises typically have more IT resources at their disposal, they are also likely to have more applications or services deployed across the infrastructure that run on schedule.”

In such cases, accurate time stamping of transactions is critical, says Hamilton.

While the most immediate fallout of poor DST patching will be processes such as time-based transactions, there may be some not so obvious repercussions, he says. In particular, IT’s ability to maintain accurate logs – of events, occurrences and errors – may be compromised.

“These are things that may not rear their heads on the first day of daylight savings but if you want to track events six months later, it becomes difficult.”

While a user may be denied network access due to the time shift, Hamilton doesn’t foresee other functionality losses that network administrators should be concerned about.

Additional reading

Last minute patches as DST draws nigh


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