Security Concerns of the Cloud-Patriot Act Section 215, HIPAA and other issues

I’ve been thinking about choice and freedom frequently during the past few months. For those of you who don’t know me, I like pretty much everybody and don’t have any particular political agenda, nor is this blog a place for such discussion. As my personal mission statement of more than 30 years states, I’m most interested in helping people accomplish their goals more easily by leveraging technology.

The U.S. accounting profession has around 20 (18 by my count) regulations that might have to be followed based on the nature of the data from the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), the SEC, the IRS, and more. Some of these laws or regulations require that data stay within U.S. borders, including all backups. Having geographically restricted data usually requires:

  1. A premium be paid to the hosting company.
  2. Data centers to be in the country of origin.
  3. Special encryption or access methods are in place to prevent the use of the data outside the country.

Giving these regulations “teeth” are fines that can easily reach $50,000.00 or more for small businesses. For example, you can expect more requests to sign “business associate agreements” this year since the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) has stepped up HIPAA enforcement. The current interpretation of HIPAA data includes patient collection records or reimbursement through accounts payable that might be recorded in accounting software. Most SaaS products aren’t HIPAA compliant, and many hosted versions of desktop accounting products aren’t implemented with a HIPAA-compliant strategy. Likewise, accounting firms that do pension and benefit audits or 401(k) audits are now considered to have HIPAA data. Again, if the HHS agent is a stickler, a business associate agreement can be required.

One of the laws that concerns me regarding client confidential information is the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001, Section 215, which received more notoriety after the National Security Agency (NSA)/Edward Snowden incident of 2013. Of particular note is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA), which authorizes access to data hosted in public data centers. This access takes place without notification being given to the owner of the data (you or your client), and according to some sources, almost no request is denied. What probably got me thinking about choice and freedom was learning that in the NSA/Snowden incident:

  1. More than 4,200 QuickBooks files were requested for a “fishing expedition” for the IRS to look for potential fraud.
  2. The number of FISA orders was significant.
  3. SaaS vendors had to provide backdoor administrative logins for compliance.
  4. Large companies, including Microsoft, Apple, Google, Yahoo, and others with significant amounts of business and personal data, had to comply.
  5. Canada has a similar law – the Canadian Anti-terrorism Act, Bill C-36.
  6. Reports from the Guardian, New York Times, and others that RSA 4096-bit encryption was broken or backdoors were installed.
  7. Part of compliance included a gag order preventing the companies involved from disclosing, to the owner of the data or publicly, that access had been requested and permitted.

It’s clear that data centers can do a better job related to the security of data than small businesses can. For example, the typical data center has:

  1. Redundant communication lines.
  2. Generators for backup power.
  3. Service level agreements (SLAs) for 99.999(9)% availability.
  4. Physical security and control.
  5. Command centers to watch for attacks, weather, and other threats.
  6. Service Organization Control (SOC)/Statement on Standards for Attestation Engagement (SSAE) 16 certifications (often inherited).
  7. Probable Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery (BC/DR) preparedness.

Our current rule is that if a data center is used, it should be in your home country. If you’re part of the “English colonies,” you can have your data in another United Kingdom–friendly country. However, all of the 5,000 or so data centers or colocation facilities in the United States fall under the PATRIOT Act Section 215, meaning that data stored in these centers has to be surrendered under a FISA court order without notification, even if there’s no wrongdoing. I might call this “guilty until proven innocent,” and the data is simply being taken for review and subsequent action. The current attitude is more similar to the Second Red Scare of 1947 to 1954 in the United States, where many believe the approach is 100% needed and correct and others believe the protections of Section 215 are completely unneeded. President Obama has requested a modification of Section 215. This isn’t likely to happen, but I believe this, or a complete elimination of Section 215, is needed for cloud-related business activity to continue in a secure manner.

Additionally, the increased threat and level of spam, viruses, distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, and professional hacker attacks (see the real-time map here), including foreign espionage and corporate espionage, is appalling. Brian Dye, senior vice-president for information security at Symantec, told the Wall Street Journal that antivirus software “is dead.” To this alarming statement, Dye added, “We don’t think of antivirus as a moneymaker in any way.”

While this makes me think protection software won’t help us much anyway, I did take comfort in the May 24 Economist report of a brilliant, new “multicompiler” protection strategy created by computer scientist Michael Franz from the University of California, Irvine. I think Dr. Franz is really onto something, and he has a prototype working with both Linux and Firefox.

If you have client confidential data or your data contains intellectual property, you should never store data in a free data-sharing service. And if you’re concerned about client privacy under the PATRIOT Act Section 215, you should be cautious about using data center–based services. On the other hand, if you believe all of these attacks, threats, and queries don’t affect you and your clients, then you can proceed much like I did originally – naïve that people would want accounting data from honest businesses and people.

Randy Johnston and his NMGI team provide IT consulting services and recommendations. If you have questions on any hardware, software, procedures, or IT strategies for your firm, contact with your questions or to schedule a time to speak.


Solid State Drives(SSD)-Things to Know

Solid State Drives (SSD) are all higher performance than traditional spinning hard drives, but organic…there are a maximum number writes and the products will fail. For the last five years, Samsung has established that they are a market leader in SSD technology, Intel is number two because they are more expensive, but still of high quality. There are a lot of manufacturers trying to enter the market, which you will find in a quick search. There are different grades of SSD drives. Think: consumer, business, enterprise grades.

  • Types
    • SLC (single level cell, 1 bit per cell=low latency, increases longevity, better quality NAND, less heat)
    • eMLC (Enterprise multi-level cell, 2 bit=more right cycles, relatively new in the last couple of years) drives with their enhanced garbage collection techniques have closed that gap between MLC and SLC but only by a small amount.
    • MLC (multi-level cell, original was 2 bit, but now more likely 3 or 4 bit, and fewer right cycles) hybrid drives. These were actually first introduced back in 2008 by Silicon Motion. They were the ones who first produced the SSD controllers which enabled a hybrid SLC-MLC NAND drive.
    • TLC (Triple Level Cell) would be like that found in USB (4 bit or higher, lower quality and cheaper, runs the hottest). (For example, Samsung Evo is TLC NAND)
    • The fact remains that SLC SSD’s (enterprise) are higher endurance drives with regards to writes.
  • Life of drives
    • An SLC drive is rated at 100,000 writes per cell expected lifetime. They are the most expensive (you can buy from HP, 300GB=$8,000)
    • An eMLC drive can reach numbers of 20,000 – 30,000 writes per cell expected lifetime. This is the sweet spot for enterprise. These are being used in data centers. An example is the Samsung sm843 SSD eMLC Enterprise cited below.
    • An MLC drive is 10,000 writes per cell expected lifetime.
    • Consumer MLC = 3,000-10,000 writes
    • From those numbers and with the current cost of eMLC drives I believe the cost vs. writes is a no brainer. These drives when placed in a RAID array should provide a relatively nice service life at a fraction of the cost of SLC drives.
  • Performance in Servers and SANs
    • There is not as much gap in server and SAN controller performance as there once was. Many drives sit behind a caching engine as Tier1 space. The cache (Tier0) handles the processing and write optimization (more on this further below).
    • Latency is not a concern with today’s drives. As with the above, these drives also have the luxury benefit of sitting downstream of the Tier0 cache controller as the second tier.  The cache is 30X faster than SSD on write operations and keeps “hot data/pre-fetch” for faster reads.  Out-of-cache reads (Achilles’ heel of caching) are done at SSD speeds.  SSD drives are super-fast on reads.  This method prevents “write cliffs” that some SSD engines experience as the drives fill up with writes.
    • Endurance numbers are much, much, much higher than 2011. With the right choice of drive, the expected lifetime is 19 years under enterprise class conditions.  Drives in an “abusive” environment should last five years.  We recommend changing the drives by then in those environments (drives will be larger/faster with even higher endurance numbers in the future).  Firmware frequently monitors the SMART data on SSD for replacement prediction based on utilization.
    • Reservation space is large enough on most drives to handle multiple years now (used when a cell reaches lifetime use).
  • Products and product review
    • Samsung just released the 850 PRO which is the successor to the 840 Pro that is mentioned below. It is too early yet to know on this device although it looks to be on track to be just as successful as the 840 Pro.  The 850 Pro would fall into the Performance category just like its predecessor the 840 Pro.
    • These reviewers have been following the SSD market for most of its existence
  • Possible products to purchase:

Make sure that you look for updated information on SSD drives before you make your purchase

Acccounting Firm Survey


Delivering critical decision-making data to firms of all sizes

Randy Johnston, President, Network Management Group, Inc., and Leslie Garrett, PhD, CEO of Insight Research Group, with guidance from an executive board comprised of industry thought-leaders, are conducting a national survey to gather and report research results for firms of all sizes.  Survey results will be analyzed and compiled in an eBook distributed to sponsors and survey respondents. 

Apple iPad Mini

I was fortunate to receive one of the earliest deliveries on the Apple iPad Mini. I had been impatiently waiting to get my hands on this smaller version of the Apple iPad. Based on my personal preferences and work style, I naturally like the smaller format screens better, as evidenced by my earlier articles on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 and the Google nexus7. I have not tried the new 10″ Google nexus tablet and now that Samsung is able to ship their larger tablets again, there are those of you who may want to look at the larger format. For me, I like the smaller size that I can hold in one hand, the lighter weight and the thinner form factor. I chose to configure a model that was similar to the two competitors that I have, so I chose the 32MB wireless version of the iPad Mini for $634.99. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but here’s my summary after two days of usage:

  1. The battery life seems reasonable on this model. I don’t stream a lot of video, but do run apps, email, web browsing and other normal business use of the product. Apple claims a run-time of around 10 hours, and I’m currently getting about 8 hours.
  2. The speed is reasonable. Since the Apple iPad Mini uses the same processor as the iPad2 and the new iPad, the performance was quite acceptable.
  3. Since the resolution (163 pixels per inch or ppi) is lower than the iPad 4 Retina Display at 264 ppi, yet higher than the iPad2 at 132 ppi, it was clear that the displays of photos and other visual content was not as good on the Apple iPad Mini as the iPad Retina, but certainly passable.
  4. The product heats up with usage, but it is not nearly as bad as the new iPad(3) unit overheats.
  5. The product is too wide to hold comfortably in one hand. I had my wife try holding this unit as well as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2, Google nexus7 and Kindle Fire HD. She could not conveniently hold the Apple iPad Mini nor can I. My hand fell asleep holding the product while using it earlier today. Not being able to hold this in one hand is a major drawback on the smaller unit. Single hand operation is critical to commuters as well as many other situations.
  6. The weight of the unit is slightly over 11 ounces and that reduction in weight compared to the larger format units is appreciated. I don’t have the postal scale to weigh all of the 7″ tablet competitors side by side today, but will update this post with that information when I do the “weigh in”.
  7. Comparing the iPhone 5, new iPad and iPad Mini iOS 6.0.1 side by side was an eye-opener. I updated all of my units to the most current release from Friday, November 2 before running the comparisons and I was amazed how many of the settings were different on all three products. This fact is almost worth another post by itself. Certain features I turn off were turned back on in all three units, but not the same features. I’m still trying to figure out exactly why. The iPad mini connected to iCloud automatically although during the setup process, I specifically chose the options to not connect. I wanted to see the native install without any accidental settings updates from iCloud.
  8. The keyboard buttons are slightly too small and close together to allow convenient typing, but they are passable.
  9. Although somewhat expected at this point in the game, some applications seem to be confused if the product is an iPhone or an iPad. Some of this may be issues in my own setup procedure.
  10. Key business apps like email and Citrix don’t work the same on the Apple iPad Mini as they do on the larger iPad models.
  11. The 5MP camera is quite acceptable and similar to the larger iPad although I believe the 8MP iPhone 5 camera does outperform the Apple iPad Mini camera as expected.

Unfortunately, my recommendation is to stay with the larger iPad or consider one of the competitive 7″ tablet products. The primary objection is the product is too wide and too slow to compete favorably with the other advanced 7″ tablets. I really wish this recommendation had come out differently.

Microsoft Surface and the Plethora of New Tablets

Microsoft Surface has shipped, and I was one of the lucky people to get one of the very first units. We are going to see many new tablets released this fall including the iPad Mini, which I have on order ($634.99), as well as the new iPad4 and replacements for the Google nexus7 and Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 that I own, like and use. The tablet operating systems, usability and applications improve daily. I am the most productive on a tablet with a keyboard, but that may not be true for you. My skin type requires touching a screen multiple times for the touch to be recognized. For example, it is normal right now that I have to touch my iPhone 5 2-5 times for each character I type. This past Friday, I counted 17 touches to type a single letter. Interestingly, though, is that the Microsoft Surface has not required me to touch the screen multiple times. I’m not sure if there is a technology difference that makes this touch actually work, or if it is something else, but it is fun to have a correctly working touch Surface!

It is helpful for you to know that I have used every Apple iPad and every Apple iPhone since release. I “get” how Apple’s technology is supposed to work. For business purposes, the Microsoft Surface may be a better product. I have made all of my tablets run Virtual desktops and configured them to support Microsoft Exchange for business purposes. I add keyboards and covers to these units, when possible, to make them fit my business needs more. I naturally like the smaller size and lighter weight of the 7″ tablet size. I enjoy my Apple iPad3 ($1231.30), Kindle Fire ($287.24), Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 ($301.47) and Google nexus7 ($304.91). But wait, there are good things and several shortcomings that you will see about the Microsoft Surface ($841.69) below. After using the product for only three days, here’s a summary:

  1. This tablet is different in use and style than any other tablet released to date. And that is a good thing.
  2. The Microsoft Surface is thinner and lighter than my comparable iPad(3). On my postal scale today, the iPad3 with the Zagg Keyboard weighs 210.0 ounces and the Surface weighs 115.2 ounces. The iPad with keyboard is about 1″ thick and the Surface is 1/2″ thick. The Surface is about 1″ longer with a better shaped HD screen and is about 1/2″ less wide. All around the Microsoft is a lighter, smaller unit. I do have the new Zagg Professional keyboard on order which should make for a lighter, smaller iPad combination. However, after trying nearly 20 keyboards, the model I currently have was the best fit for me until the Zagg Professional was released.
  3. The Microsoft Surface just reeks of quality. The metal stand that holds the product up for you, and the way the keyboard attaches, turns the unit off and on and protects the screen is clearly well thought out. The cover keyboard is so much better than the Apple “refrigerator door” covers that fall off so easily. I have only gotten the keyboard off with some direct effort, so I don’t expect the cover to fall of accidentally, like most Apple iPad covers do.
  4. The included keyboard is flat and has an audible click noise. This works fairly well in low sound situations but not so well in noisy situations. My hands fare poorly on flat keyboards such as those made by Apple (and now by a lot of other manufacturers, too), but oddly enough this keyboard has not hurt my hands. I’m not sure why. I was appalled that different color keyboards cost such a large premium ($120-130) that I was not willing to pay that premium for white, red, cyan or magenta. So like Henry Ford, I chose black. I was interested in the Touch Keyboard, but wanted to experience the standard keyboard first, and had no motivation to spend the extra money since the touch keyboard was the same weight (.46 lbs.) and thickness. The mouse movement on the touch keyboard is sluggish, but acceptable. I did not try to change the mouse speed default settings.
  5. The connectors on the Surface unit are solid and good with two key issues. First, the USB port worked just like a USB port should. Plug in a USB stick and files appear in a typical explorer view. As you would expect, the file structure on the Microsoft Surface is similar to what you see in Windows 7 or Windows 8. The network drives in my home office were accessible (the same as a computer) but this was a tablet doing the job. The Micro SD card slot also worked flawlessly. It is not located in the most convenient spot under the flip metal stand, but it is in a very protected location. Both the USB and Micro SD can expand your storage capability or allow you to work with large files offline. Now for the complaints. The power connector and massive power block were both proprietary. I hate stuff like that. Apple has done better with both the old connector and the new Lightning connector. The Apple power block approach is probably better, too. Simply give me a cord that has a USB plug so I can plug it into computers, airplanes and other power adapters of my choosing! Second, the VGA and HDMI projector adapters should have been a Micro USB connector, not some proprietary form factor that is similar to Micro USB. The connector block of the VGA adapter seemed excessive, but the HDMI adapter was slim. On a good note, both VGA and HDMI worked exactly right on the first try. I could present a presentation from the Microsoft Surface with far greater confidence than I can from any Apple iPad, and I have presented from them all.
  6. Setting up multiple users was interesting, too. The setup process asked if the user was “a child” so security restrictions could be placed on the second user. Remember that the Microsoft Surface that shipped on 10/26 was the “personal” version, not the business version.
  7. Both Portrait and Landscape modes seem to work equally as well. Clearly the device was designed to be used in Landscape mode with the keyboard. The Microsoft Surface is far more natural to run with some touches and some keyboarding. It is clear on the iPad that Apple intended you to only run this with touch, so adding a keyboard is not the most natural.
  8. Integration to Microsoft Exchange and OneNote were phenomenal. The presence of Office 2013 (yes, in preview) was also seamless, quick and superb. The integration into SkyDrive was also completely flawless. Remember, though, that SkyDrive’s security agreement makes me question if business confidential documents should be stored in this resource. I feel the same way about Google Drive, DropBox, SugarSync and
  9. The responsiveness of the Microsoft Surface overall is quite good. The Surface may outrun the Google nexus7 and Samsung Galaxy Tab 2, which both outrun the iPad, iPad2 or new iPad. The iPad4 announced on October 25 will have a faster processor, and I’ll be able to report on the responsiveness of that unit at a later time. (BTW, if you bought an iPad3 in October 2012, take it back and get the new unit!).
  10. The power up and down speed is quicker than any tablet I own. Not sure of the exact reason, but I’m duly impressed. The battery life seems good. I have recharged the unit once since owning it, and can’t give you an accurate run-time estimate. An unexpected nice piece of navigation was the Windows logo at the bottom of the touch screen returned to the Windows menu. Scrolling left and right on the touchscreen is much faster than any Apple iPad or Android unit. Using the mouse to scroll is doable, but painful.
  11. The Windows 8 interface (formerly known as Metro) is interactive, refreshing with information on a continuous and scrolling basis. This is a bit of a concern for confidential email and for appointments both on the Windows 8 screen and on the splash screen for calendar events. The first 35 or so characters who on the splash screen for your appointments, so you’ll need to be careful that your calendar event naming doesn’t contain client confidential information.
  12. The email client connected beautifully to Exchange, but has some usability errors that will have to be fixed in future software upgrades. For example, the Reply button has Reply, Reply all and Forward, but you have to tap twice (once for the button and once to choose one of the options) to reply to an email. This should only require one tap! The email interface was threaded like Outlook 2007 or 2010, which is OK if you like that, and annoying if you don’t. Getting to the settings of the email client is not easy. The biggest annoyance is the difficulty of filing an email that you have completed. Both Apple’s email client and the Android email client have done this better.
  13. I was pleased that my primary password manager, LastPass, was available in the Microsoft App Store and could run on the Microsoft Surface. A major objection to the App Store is no ability to search. The categories of apps is good along with the top free and new releases. The Store should have an easy way to exit back to the Surface and does not.
  14. Camera quality is also marginal, but sufficient. I would have preferred much stronger cameras, than the two 720p HD cameras, (front and rear-facing) that were supplied. These are sufficient to work with Skype, which is one of the available applications in the App Store. One clear error I made was to merge my existing Skype account which changed the way I log in to use Skype. There was not sufficient direction to keep me from making this error. The Skype interface on the Surface was elegant and an indicator of what apps will look like in the future for Windows 8 as well as the Surface. Skype calls on the Microsoft Surface are a better experience than calling from a computer.
  15. I was surprised how some apps worked on the Microsoft Surface. For example, USA Today is available on lots of platforms: Apple iOS for both iPhone and iPad, Android, etc. Everything about the Surface app was better than any other platform except the navigation to sections. The news was far easier to read, the videos and photos were more accessible and sharper, and it probably didn’t hurt to have K-State in the running for the number two poll position. The picture and supporting text on the stories was much easier to read and more navigable. However, one caution on the apps on Surface in general. The developers are still trying to learn how to use the controls in the most effective way, and frequently don’t have the right buttons programmed to return to the Surface Windows RT OS or to switch conveniently somewhere else. We saw this on the Apple iPad for at least two years after initial introduction.
  16. The volume level of audio files is quite good and of high quality. This was one of the key objections I had to the original Kindle Fire. The navigation of the music player is confusing, but I have never understood the Windows Media Player well. The controls were on the Surface keyboard, but should have been equally accessible on the touch screen. It was interesting to watch the Surface tie into my Xbox account and profile.
  17. The Kindle Reader on the Microsoft Surface was quite acceptable.
  18. The built-in OneNote was superb. It was surprising that you could download the old version of OneNote from the App Store, but I suspect that is to maintain file compatibility with older versions of OneNote. I liked being able to write and draw on the screen, but could not get ink to text to work as I expected. The idea here is to take hand writing and translate it to typewritten text. If this works as expected, it may be the “killer app” that would lead me to recommend the Microsoft Surface as the business tablet of choice. BTW, I used my BoxWave stylus (a must for me on the iPad), but the stylus was no better than using my finger for drawing on the Surface.

Downsides, and I’m sure I’ll find more:

  1. There are only around 900 apps in the Microsoft Store as of today. Many of my favorite apps are missing including Audible (books).
  2. The Windows 8 navigation requires too much scrolling, but if you don’t organize your iPad with groups, you have too much scrolling, too. I observed a lady on my flight Thursday night that had 12 screens on her iPad…I wanted to reach over and help her understand how to organize the device to keep from wasting so much time.
  3. The business unit does not become available until January. This unit will have the ability to join a domain. For most business users, this is a reason to wait to purchase.

The other versions of the tablets mentioned above also deserve a written summary like this as well and hopefully will be written up in due course.

iPhone 5 and other new phones

Most of us will begin to suffer from device exhaustion as hordes of new devices make it to the market. The maturity of both smartphones and tablets (phablets) will continue to make them more viable business tools. While I’m still concerned about lack of security and mobile device management, businesses will continue to adopt these technologies since the cost of acquistion is so low. The cost of ownership is higher than most admit, but if people want something it doesn’t matter.

Top phones for the fall of 2012 include the Apple iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy S III, Droid Razr HD and the Nokia Lumia 920. The only way to know a phone is to use the phone, and after using the iPhone 5 on Verizon for a week or so, here’s a summary:

  1. This version of the iPhone is notably better than the predecessor 4 or 4s models. However at the lower price for each of the “4” models, they are a viable option for many.
  2. The new thinness and lightness of the iPhone 5 is great.
  3. The extra row of icons is appreciated, and so are the jokes about the iPhone 10 with 10 rows of icons.
  4. The email upgrade with iOS 6 is good. There are notable new usability features for people who do a lot of email. Also of note is that the original iPad is no longer supported with iOS 6. Hardware obsolence is showing up as expected.
  5. Changing to the lightning connector is understood and since it plugs in with either orientation, it is nicer than the old Apple device plugs. As of today, the only optional accessory for the lightning connector is a converter to the old connector so you can use the old VGA, HDMI and other special cables.
  6. The 3D maps are interesting. GPS navigation is a big deal to some, but frankly, the battery life is drained so much by phone GPS, you are probably better off with a real GPS.
  7. Camera quality is good, and the panoramic capbility is a nice addition. I would like to see the infinite focus capability similar to Lytro implemented.
  8. Battery life – not so good. Even with conservative configuration, the unit pretty much drains the battery in 24-36 hours. If you use it heavily, the power can be gone in 3-4 hours. Most prior units have done this as well. Charging a phone every day is not my favorite thing, and it is worse on units that don’t have removable batteries when work actually has to be done.
  9. There are limited accessories because of the new format, but that will fix itself ad nauseum in due course.
  10. Security holes continue to exist that would allow lucky and smart hackers to get into the phone even with pass codes or swipe codes in place. These holes have existed since the earliest iOS and continue to remain even though reported to Apple.
  11. Apps are being updated at an alarming rate. Since release of iOS6, creators of the apps seem to have many updates. I’ve received 100+ updates and have had 5 more today alone. I appreciate the fixes, but sure hate the download time. Most iPhone applications are still running in letterbox, not really taking advantage of the new improved screen size.
  12. Siri continues to be highly inaccurate with my voice even with the three microphone design. But then again, people in fast food drive throughs can’t hear me either. I wouldn’t expect this since you learn to project your voice well as a public speaker, musician and actor . Just not well enough for Siri to work reliably. Siri was a key reason to acquire an iPhone 5…an additional trial of this technology was really needed. I’m glad Siri is still marked beta. The results were often inaccurate, quite good at other times, but in general it was a waste of time to use Siri, even in a quiet setting. Android seems to be doing a better job on this for me.
  13. The ability to configure the product to make it more efficient to use just isn’t there. Most items on the iPhone under iOS take more steps than a well configured Android.
  14. The iPhone 5 is better for speed, and the reliability is good. The lookup performance on contacts that made prior versions of the iPhone almost unusable seem to be largely gone.
  15. The iPhone 5 interferes with traditional radios and TVs when in close proximity. I tested the Droid Max in the same position as the iPhone 5 and there was no problem. The issue was very reproducible. I’ve not had the chance to go back and try the iPhone 4s on the same test.
  16. Verizon specific – I thought it was particularly horrible to give up an unlimited data plan to be forced onto a 2GB or 4GB plan, paying for all excess data used. Part of the reason to go to 4G is to move more data to the phone. Verizon (and others, but not Sprint for example) have given us reason not to use as much data. BTW, no streaming of movies or music here, just work files…

The other versions of the phones mentioned above also deserve a written summary like this as well and hopefully will be written up in due course.

Xero launches guide to invoicing and payments

We continue to watch innovation in collaborative accounting. Xero LTD has has launched a Small Business Guide for invoicing and payments at based on input from almost 1400 Xero community members. Getting invoicing right is a great opportunity for small businesses.

Online accounting from entry level all the way up to large ERP installations is innovating quickly. This is good for the market because many of the traditional accounting vendors are responding with hybrid solutions that are cloud and mobile friendly. Hosting is becoming more common as well. Expect that accounting information will be accessible at the right time by the right people from the right place using the right technology.

2012 K2 Quality Award Winners


K2 Enterprises has released their annual technology awards for 2012.  According Val Steed, CEO K2 Enterprises, “We want to acknowledge the leadership in Cloud and Mobile solutions so we expanded the awards to recognize this growing arena of technology.”  K2 has been providing the K2 Quality Awards now for eleven years. “My sincere congratulations to all winners!” said Randy Johnston, Executive V.P. “anyone who can sway over our team members really deserves to recognition”  added Brian Tankersley, Director of Strategic Relationships.

K2 Enterprises Annual Quality Awards are determined by a voting poll of the K2 Enterprises instructor team. The polling members of this team are Randy Johnston, Will Fleenor, Val Steed, Brian Tankersley, Tommy Stephens, Bob Spencer, Ilene Eisen, Lawrence (Mac) McClelland, John Keegan,  and Karl Egnatoff.

2012 Categories and Winners:

Best Overall Mobile Strategy – Sage Software

Best New Mobile App – Xero Touch – Xero Accounting

Reseller Program – Open Systems

CPA Program – Intuit Pro Advisor – Intuit, Inc.

Reseller Channel – Open Systems

New Product – Beyond415 – New River Innovation

New Module – CYMA Accounting

Management Strategy –   Doc.It

Technical Support – Concur

Customer Satisfaction – SurePrep

Ease of Use –

Marketing Communications – Freshbooks Cloud Accounting

Overall Quality – Avalara

Tax Technology –   SP Binder – SurePrep

Audit Technology – Knowledge Coach – CCH

Business Intelligence Solution –   Biznet

Workflow Solution – XCM Workflow Solutions – XCM, Inc.

Small Business Accounting Solution – Xero Accounting

Small CPA Firm Solution –   Office Tools Professional

Entry-Level Accounting Upgrade Solution – Open Systems

Top Hosting Provider – Cloud9 Real Time

Social Media – Kasey Bayne – Freshbooks Cloud Accounting

Cloud Power Solution – Concur Small Business Edition

Cloud Ease of Use – Dropbox

Cloud Top Shelf Award – Beyond415 – New River Innovation

Cloud New Product –  ValueAppeal

Cloud Portal – ShareFile – Citrix

K2 Enterprises is a Hammond, Louisiana-based organization that provides continuing professional education services to the accounting profession and marketing consulting services to technology providers in the accounting market. K2 Enterprises delivers approximately 1,000 educational programs to over 50,000 professional accountants on an annual basis throughout the United States and Canada.

Windows Server 2012 Pricing

Today is when Microsoft officially changes pricing and licensing for Windows Server. Enterprise edition is eliminated, RIP. Enterprise edition was the version that when licensed allowed for  four virtual Windows Servers. Windows Server licensing must now be purchased by processor in either the Standard or Data Center Editions. This approach should be simpler, although more expensive for many organizations. The price increase of 22% will effectively raise new licensing as much as 40% for many shops. However, as a part of the whole, Windows Server licensing is a relatively small piece of the total expenses of a network or hosted environment. The most common deficiency for any organization using virtual servers or virtual desktops is not licensing the appropriate numbers of machines/licenses. It is difficult to understand the licensing from any vendor, so make sure that you discuss your usage with a Microsoft licensing professional…someone who deals with this every day. One final observation, however, the new simplified licensing agreement from Microsoft is an improvement. We would like to see more technology companies follow this lead.

Google nexus7

Part of what I try to do for you is listen, look, learn, filter out marketing messages and recommend reasonable products for you to consider. Sometimes a product won’t get all the recognition it deserves, and sometimes it won’t be the big “winner” in the market place. However, if it does the job well for you and meets your needs, isn’t that a good thing? Remember to consider both a personal and business strategy and then develop your tactics. Leverage what you do with technology.

The nexus7 has some things I really like:

  1. Small size and weight
  2. Standard connectors
  3. Simple case
  4. Speed
  5. Latest Android operating system 4.1.1 Jelly Bean
  6. Most apps that I wanted were available in Google Play or the Android Marketplace. Everything I do for business can be done on this tablet including Citrix, VMware View, Exchange email and web surfing.
  7. At $249 it is a bargain

Drawbacks include:

  1. Only available in wireless
  2. Having a better camera resolution would be helpful
  3. Battery life is consumed fairly quickly, but not as fast as the New iPad

Overall, this is a good tablet to consider if you want a small unit that is durable and easy to use. We are anxious to see the iPad mini, scheduled for announcment on October 17 and to ship in November.