On-site at Global Marine: ‘Everything Perfect'

HOUSTON (01/07/2000) - Global Marine Inc.'s first Y2K report that all was well came from a live connection tested successfully between the famed Glomar Explorer spy ship - now a Global Marine deep-water drilling ship in the South Atlantic Sea off the coast of Nigeria - and its international headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands.

"Our guy said all systems are a go. Two thumbs up," said CIO Dick Hudson, on-site in Houston with a core team of eight information technology managers who were in it for the long haul on New Year's Eve. The group was overseeing a series of live backups and final systems tests starting around dinnertime at company installations in West Africa, the U.K. and Western Europe.

It was to be a night of such phone calls and e-mails, as one region after another checked in to trade virtual high fives.

Vahram Sarrafian, the Y2K team's electrical engineer, investigated year 2000 compliance on the company's 32 oil-drilling rigs around the world, laboriously checking on the compliance with every vendor involved.

"There were 17 actual fixes, that was all," Sarrafian said. The bulk of the problems were discovered in oil-drilling parameter measurements and in Global Positioning Systems at each rig.

Potential Disaster Averted

The biggest potential disaster was averted with the discovery of a problem with a short-term software license. When Sarrafian was testing the systems of a new drilling ship that is under construction now in Belfast, Northern Ireland, he rolled the date test forward to 2004 to check on that distant leap year. "When we punched in the date, everything went blank," he said. It turned out that the software license expired in 2002 - a great catch, since a longer-term lease was vital.

"That could have been one big problem," Hudson pointed out. "These are huge, sophisticated drilling ships, meant to last for 40 years. Everything on them these days is controlled by computers."

Global Marine, a $1.1 billion company with offices in a dozen countries, employs 4,000 people worldwide. The company reported that its Y2K remediation program cost only about $500,000 - a surprisingly low figure for such a large, far-flung enterprise. The reason for this good fortune: a 1992 conversion to client/server systems, which retired two IBM mainframes and replaced them with servers from Sun Microsystems Inc. and Compaq Computer Corp. That resolved the Y2K problem years before other companies were even paying attention to it.

"We did luck out," said Brenda Hethcoat, MIS manager of user systems at Global Marine. For the past 18 months, Hethcoat has lived and breathed Y2K compliance as the person coordinating the company's entire effort. That has meant handling the verification with suppliers, vendors and contractors, as well as making quarterly reports to the board of directors and administering other internal efforts.

Global Marine was actually done with its Y2K testing in 1996 but then had to retest several systems as vendors re-issued newer Y2K-compliant versions of their products. Last year alone, the human resources and accounting software packages had to be reinstalled twice. "Very annoying," Hudson said.

The firm also used three outside contractors: one to double-check contracts and legal issues, another to conduct an internal audit of all systems and a third to perform an operational audit on its oil rigs.

In the final hour, it was a small and weary crowd in the data center. Everyone picked listlessly at the shrimp platter and sipped sparkling cider from Waterford crystal flutes.

"I'm going home to ‘sleep the sleep of the saved and thankful,'" said Hudson, quoting Winston Churchill. "When we pack up and leave tonight, it's all over."

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