Y2K at Global Marine: "Everything Perfect"

HOUSTON (12/31/99) - "Everything ran just perfectly!" was the first live report on Global Marine Inc.'s Y2K rollover, coming from a jubilant IT manager in Global's office in Aberdeen, Scotland, just a few minutes past 5 p.m. local time.

The report 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 the international headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands.

"Our guy said all systems are a go. Two thumbs up," said CIO Dick Hudson. After a long snooze of an afternoon for the IT staff here, this first triumph had the effect of a minor fireworks display in the data center. Clapping and cheering ensued. "I didn't think I'd get excited, but I do. It's nice to see it really work," Hudson said.

Until now, the biggest excitement of the afternoon was the discovery of a new mascot for the Y2K team: a computer chip decorated with tiny antennae and labeled "The Y2K bug." The newly adopted mascot had been housed in the office of Vahram Sarrafian, the Y2K team's Armenian-born electrical engineer. It was the soft-spoken Sarrafian who investigated Y2K compliance on all of the company's 32 oil drilling rigs around the world. "I did every one," he said proudly.

The engineer -- the only non-IT person on the core team -- didn't actually have to visit the rigs in their wild and remote locations. Once supplied a list of all their equipment, he laboriously checked on the Y2K 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.

But the biggest disaster averted was the discovery of a problem with a short-term software license. When Sarrafian was testing the systems of a new drill ship under construction now in Belfast, 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 the software license expired in 2002 -- a great catch for the Y2K team since a longer-term lease was vital.

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

As the hour inched toward 6 p.m. here, the data center was filling up with staffers and their guests, all ready to hear how Y2K is rolling over in Europe and Africa.

By 7 p.m., all but two of the 32 oil rigs had passed their Y2K tests and e-mailed back information on their systems, reported Scott Murray, manager of international support for Global Marine in Aberdeen. The two missing reports were in West Africa, where phone communications had been a little flaky this evening anyway.

"It's a snoozer, which is what we like," Hudson told his CFO when W. Matt Ralls called in for a checkup with the data center staff. The eight members of the Y2K team will disperse for a few hours and reassemble at 10:30 p.m. for the grand finale.

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