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January 19, 1999


US Indian helps build Russian germ bomb: Vivek Wadhwa's Relativity is supplying St Petersburg with software to exterminate Y2K bugs. A Correspondent
in Washington

The Russians are going into battle against the Y2K problem, armed with the software of a two-year-old American company based in North Carolina.

Email this story to a friend. For Vivek Wadhwa, Relativity's founder and CEO, the task of helping the Russian nuclear industry, airline, computer businesses and hospitals is more challenging than anything else in the deal.

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That is because Wadhwa knows there is hardly any money to be made out of the Russian gig. "It could be, potentially, a multimillion dollar revenue generator," agrees Wadhwa but points out that "with the instability of the rouble and the collection delay in Russia, it's not money you can take to the bank."

Wadhwa announced last week that Lanit Holding, a private business that's been certified as Russia's first official 'Year 2000 Competency Center', plans to adapt Relativity's RescueWare product to tackle the Y2K problem.

Wadhwa claims that the contract will enable Relativity to expand its technology, work with talented programmers and contract with developing countries and even US companies that use outdated languages like Fortran.

The agreement with Lanit "enhances the reputation and prestige of Relativity," he proclaims. "This puts our small North Carolina company on the world stage." Relativity employs about three dozen people.

Echoing his sentiments, a North Carolina senator hailed Wadhwa's breakthrough. "The Y2K problem is very serious, certainly for American companies and agencies, but for the rest of the world as well," says John Edwards. "I am proud that a North Carolina company is taking on such an important role in helping other countries solve their own problems."

Wadhwa also claims that there's no real downside for Relativity because Lanit is tackling the task of adapting RescueWare for use in Russia.

RescueWare converts old software programs originally written for mainframe computers into programs that use modern computer languages suitable for client-server networks and the Internet. Modernising the computer code also enables addressing the Y2K problem.

Russia, burdened by its economic crisis, outdated hardware and adjustment to the new European currency, is behind schedule on the millennium bug projects, says Andre Terekoff, a math professor at the University of St Petersburg and the general director of Lanit.

Lanit is an information technology company that employs over 800 computer professionals in Russia. It intends to adapt RescueWare for use with computer languages prevalent in Russia.

Also, user interfaces have to be translated from Russian into English, Wadhwa explains.

Under its agreement with Lanit, Relativity will own the rights to any improvements that Lanit makes to the software. "I expect they will make quite a few improvements using it on the scale they are talking about," Wadhwa believes.

Much of Relativity's development work is handled by 50 Russian software developers that work under contract in St Petersburg, an operation that costs about a third of what it would in the United States, claims Wadhwa.

"I think Relativity is very well known in St Petersburg," Wadhwa says. "We are as well-known in some circles there as we are in the RTP area." That familiarity helped bring Relativity to Lanit's attention. "But at the end of the day they chose us because we are better," Wadhwa says.

The Russian government is expected to spend about $500 million to fix its computers.

The US government has contributed $12 million toward that effort through the World Bank and plans to contribute more, according to Kent Hughes, associate deputy commerce secretary.

The United States is particularly concerned about the command and control systems for Russia's nuclear arsenals, he explains.

Russia's Y2K prescription is more complicated than those for Western countries are because Russia has relied more heavily on PCs and midrange computers rather than mainframes.

Also, many of its PC applications were written in a variety of non-traditional programming languages.

Although most Russians don't depend on technology, credit cards, and ATMs on a daily basis like Americans do, many factories are automated with obsolete technology.

"The Russian government was so sure Y2K wasn't a problem that they ignored it except for Terekoff drumming away at them," Wadhwa says.


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