Y2K: This New Year's Eve, Tech Types Won't Be Partying Like It's 1999

Y2K planning has thrown a wet blanket on Wall Street celebrations this year.
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ROSELAND, N.J -- For the past 2 1/2 years,

Prudential

executive Irene Dec has been wearing a special wristwatch that counts down the hours to the millennium, to the second.

For her, knowing when the clock strikes midnight is crucial. She runs Pru's Y2K control center here. It handles operations for the entire company, including

Prudential Securities

.

About 90 minutes down the New Jersey Turnpike, the

Philadelphia Stock Exchange's

Gary Roundbehler has been busy, too. The exchange spent $18,000 to reserve 15 hotel rooms at the

Wyndham Franklin Plaza

for the big night, planned to cater a spread in the exchange's atrium for the workers (and their spouses) and ordered $7,000 of diesel fuel for its backup generator.

Wall Street is known for blowout parties, but Y2K planning has thrown a wet blanket on its 20th Century bon voyage. Most firms will be staffed Friday night by, and have scores of, technical experts monitoring their systems, all in an effort to make sure that on Monday investors see no effects from the date change.

At the Philly, the month-end processing will be done Thursday, though the exchange closes at 1 p.m. on Friday. All of that day's processing will be done by midnight before hours of system checks begin.

Then, finally, there's a break. "We can't keep everybody here all day and all night," Roundbehler says. "They'll go home and come in at 5 or 6 on the morning of New Year's Day."

They'll resume testing Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with several hundred members on the floor, then check production platforms, copiers, faxes, software and hardware. And on Monday morning, the Philly will bring its systems up earlier than usual, just in case.

Online Anxiety

At

National Discount Brokers

(NDB)

, Mike Long, technology operations chief, took control of the technical aspects of the Year 2000 project just hours after he joined the company about two years ago.

In February, he put an $11,000 cash deposit down on two rooms at the nearby hotel for the week before and after for a scant $550 a night per room. Then a few months ago, Long started thinking seriously about reinforcements and called for a vacation freeze for the last week of December and the first week of January.

His team will take it easy early during New Year's Eve, and then swing into action later. "We have an itemized checklist of everything," Long says. In addition to the

ndb.com's computer systems, he's got to go through the corporate headquarters' air conditioning and heating systems and elevators.

After midnight, the next phase begins. Long will be checking through all the documented work and running in-house tests. Then, he, like others at most Wall Street firms, will report to the

Securities Industry Association

.

The first battery of tests will be complete around 2 a.m. or 3 a.m., and with some luck, Long will be able to buy the technicians a cocktail to celebrate. It doesn't end there for ndb.com, though. Rotating shifts of technicians will sift through links to customer accounts and test throughout Saturday and Sunday, preparing for the real test: Monday's market open.

Command Center Celebration

Back in New Jersey, Prudential Y2K operations command center is too neat to be called a bunker. There are no sandbags, no boxes of emergency first-aid kits, no batteries or flashlights.

Rather, the cavernous room, heavily hued in steely blue and black, has three massive screens covering one wall, dozens of workstation consuls and rows of more complex workstations used by the problem management teams.

Dec is Prudential's Good Ship Millennium captain.

For the firm, with 60,000 employees, 30 million customers and a presence in 30 countries, Y2K could be a disaster if mishandled, so the firm created its command center two years ago. It put Dec, an 18-year firm veteran, in charge about four years ago.

Dec's team has wound its way through 1,649 computer applications, replacing more than 154 million computer code lines. Now, it must make sure Pru's 21 mainframes, 4,095 computer servers and 74,854 desktop PCs in offices and data centers around the world make the transition to 2000 intact.

To do that will require one monster 30-hour shift that Dec plans to work herself. Starting at 7 a.m., Dec. 31, the team -- working around the clock in shifts of about 25 tech staffers at a time -- will start watching the Millennium happen, starting in Japan where the New Year will strike about 10 a.m., Dec. 31 in New York. After each midnight, Prudential's command center will start getting data from its data center offices in that time zone, letting the firm know what's happening.

First, the firm will check each data centers' infrastructure: Is the physical building intact? Are the lights on? Is there rioting in Tokyo or Jakarta, Indonesia? Then, the command center will begin to check the mainframes, the servers and the telecommunications in the area.

Then come the applications, standard and specialized computer programs, that run normally throughout the year -- some hourly, some daily, some monthly or later. By the end of 2000's first business day, about 60% of the network's applications will have run; one week later, about 85% of the applications will have run, with the remainder running over the next month, Dec says.

And while all this goes on, investors won't notice a thing, or at least that's the hope of each of these companies.