Windows Mainframe - The Next Technology for CPA Firms

Frank GshwandtnerWindows Mainframe - The Next Technology for CPA Firms
Presented by Frank Gshwandtner
President, CPA Systems
Contact Frank at fgshwandtner@cpasys.com

Thursday, May 3, 2001

Visit the AccountingWEB Workshop Calendar for upcoming sessions.


Summary

With the incredible shortage of qualified accounting staff, technology has become even more important as a means to improve your staff’s productivity and allow family oriented staff access to your technology from home and client’s offices.

Participants learned how Windows Mainframe technology can reduce workstation headaches, minimize network administration time, lower or eliminate the need to replace PCs every three years, improve the performance and reliability of your practice management system and provide high speed, easy, remote access for staff from any Internet connection.

Frank helped particpants understand the advantages, economics and issues surrounding Citrix and Window terminal server technology when deployed in a Windows Mainframe environment.

Topics covered in the workshop included:

  • What is Windows Mainframe?
  • What are the Advantages of Windows Mainframe?
  • What are the economics of Windows Mainframe?
  • What are the gotcha’s with Windows Mainframe?

The complete transcript of the workshop will be posted here late on Thursday, May 3.

You can download a PowerPoint presentation that accompanies this presentation. The presentation will appear in your browser window and you can click your mouse to progress through the screens. The file is very large (531K), so allow some extra time to download.


Complete Transcript

Session Moderator: Welcome everyone and thank you for joining us today! We are happy to be joined by Frank Gshwandtner, the president of CPA Systems. Frank has 20 years experience developing and implementing CPA specific technology. He has been a principal with two different practice management software vendors and is currently President of CPA Systems, a Citrix Solutions Provider for accounting firms.

This unique blend of CPA specific practice management and local and wide area network technology knowledge has made him a frequent speaker at various accounting associations, technology seminars, including AICPA Large Firm MAP, AICPA Microcomputer Conference, ITA, Polaris, AGN, Summit Technologies Group, numerous CPA Societies and International Accountants groups.

Welcome Frank!

Frank Gshwandtner: Welcome everyone! Are you interested in making more money?

Session Moderator: I think everyone would vote yes to that!

Or enjoying tax season more - or maybe at least seeing your family once in a while? Got your attention yet? Today we are going to discuss Windows Mainframe technology and how it can reduce workstation headaches, minimize network administration time, lower or eliminate the need to replace PCs every three years, improve the performance and reliability of your practice management system and provide high speed, easy, remote access for staff from any Internet connection

Please feel free to ask questions as we go along. We will also have a question and answer section at the end. As the website indicates, we will be covering my definition of WINDOWS MAINFRAME, what are the advantages of Windows Mainframe, some general economic discussions on Windows Mainframe and some of the technological challenges inherent with Windows Mainframe. In other words, the good, the bad and the ugly :)

Even before we define Windows Mainframe I find it useful to review the history of computing technology as it relates to accounting firms. That's why I call this session "Windows Mainframe - The Next Technology for CPA Firms."

Victor Kazim, Jr.: Will you limit your discussion to the Microsoft product, or include Citrix Metaframe/Citrix XP?

Frank Gshwandtner: For today I define the MS product and Citrix as the same thing. We can talk differences at the end. Now, I am going to be showing my age here, so some of you who are younger, you may not remember this. Hopefully, there are some old horses, like myself, that remember the MAINFRAME days! Big computers, air-conditioned rooms, false floors, dumb terminals, keypunch operators - those kinds of things. IBM System 34s, DEC 1123s, etc. All of the programs and data were on the Central Processing Unit. It did all processing of tax returns, financial statements, WIP reports and bills. The terminals (generally the green screen things) merely allow users to key information and see information on the screen. But no processing occurred at the terminals.

Mainframes are central processing environments. BTW Hi Mike!

Michael Mazengia: Hi Frank.

Frank Gshwandtner: Then around 1984 along came IBM and the PC. Accounting firms used them much like Mainframes in that they tended to take the work to a PC that had write up software and a key punch operator prepared the financials. It was cheaper but the workflow did not change much. More importantly, there was little or no additional personal productivity over Mainframes. Stand-alone PCs are centralized processing at each workstation. Then, mostly because of tax software (and the advent of affordable - if not small - laser printers), accounting firms started putting small networks (generally Novell or Lantastic) so it wasn't necessary to install the tax software multiple times every time there was an update. Networks are distributed processing environments.

Next came Windows. We still had networks (now some NT also) but the workstation setup time becomes more time consuming and involved. The advantage of Windows though is we start seeing more personal productivity - of course when it works. Which brings to NOW! WINDOWS MAINFRAME. Full Circle. Yep, we are moving back to centralized processing. The whys we will go into a little later, but first some definitions.

Before we get into definitions - any questions?

First definition:

NT Terminal Server/Citrix/Windows Mainframe - I will define the difference later but first the main definition: In its simplest form, NT Terminal Server/Citrix is PCAnyWhere on Steroids. PCAnyWhere, Carbon Copy, LapLink or any remote control solution, allows one computer to remotely control another computer. Most of us have done this at one time or another (or at least we have tried!). We leave a computer on in the office, running some remote control program's "Host" module. We dial in with our remote computer and connect with the Host. This allows us to execute any application accessible to the Host computer. The processing occurs at the central Host computer and your computer is merely seeing the screens and delivering the keystrokes that "control" the Host computer.

In essence, your computer has become a terminal connected to the host computer. Using this solution, you need one host computer for each remote computer. NT Terminal Server/Citrix adds a simple twist. NT Terminal Server/Citrix allows one big computer to host multiple remote computers. In addition, the NT Terminal Server/Citrix technology dramatically improves the performance of the screen refreshes at the remote device, significantly enhancing the users' experience.

Second definition: Ok maybe I understand (sort of) what NT Terminal Server/Citrix/Windows Mainframe is, but why all those names and what are the differences? NT Terminal Server Edition is a Microsoft operating system. It comes in two flavors NT 4.x and Windows 2000. It is the basic operating system that allows multiple users to process on the same server at the same time - just like it was two (or 20) different workstations all crammed in the same PC.

Third definition: Citrix (MetaFrame and/or XP) is an add on software solution that expands the capabilities of NT Terminal Server. You can have Terminal Server without Citrix - you cannot have Citrix without Terminal Server. For our discussions today I am going to call a Terminal Server or a Citrix Server - Citrix Server.

Fourth definition: Windows Mainframe is when all or virtually all of your applications are specifically being processed on the Citrix Server - which eliminates processing at individual PCs on the network. Let me re-emphasize this - Mainframe implies that ALL processing occurs at the Citrix Servers.

Most of the advantages we will talk about rely on that premise. So, everyone now can explain to me what Windows Mainframe is, right?

Jim Fahey: yes

Victor Kazim, Jr.: you bet you

Frank Gshwandtner: One brave soul. A Citrix server can also be use in conjunction with a standard NT distributed network merely to allow remote access or support multiple offices accessing centralized programs and files. It's the same technology; it's just not supporting the processing of all applications and/or all workstations

Why is this technology just now becoming viable? While this technology has been effectively used for years in the general business sector and in limited CPA environments, four important changes have occurred making this technology viable in the average CPA firm.

Victor Kazim, Jr.: Frank, when you say that all processing occurs, do you mean as far as the client horse power is concerned?

Jim Fahey: Viable because bandwidth cost is down.

Victor Kazim, Jr.: Can I still have distributed systems (aka Application Servers) processing from the connected Citrix sessions?

Frank Gshwandtner: If I understand your "client horse power" to mean workstations, then yes all processing for all workstation occurs at the Citrix server. Victor - your definition of distributed is what?

Victor Kazim, Jr.: An example would be tax-processing software...

Frank Gshwandtner: The tax software would be installed on the Citrix Server and would process on the Citrix Server. The data would reside on your file and print server.

Victor Kazim, Jr.: I have my tax processing or other application installed on an Application server and Citrix session is (are) my clients.

Frank Gshwandtner: When you say application server are you saying Citrix Server?

Victor Kazim, Jr.: No. MS SQL Server, or other applications server.

Frank Gshwandtner: In the case of a TRUE application server, like SQL then yes, Citrix sessions will access the data from the SQL server. If the application software is supported by Citrix.

Victor Kazim, Jr.: For example, I have started down this path in our practice, and with a dos machine/windows 3.1X or other client we can dial

Frank Gshwandtner: I am going to talk about why Citrix has just started being viable - 1 High speed, multi-processor PC Servers are more affordable. Because the server is providing processing support for all connected users, processing power directly impacts user response time. The more concurrent users, the slower the response time for all users. Therefore, the number of processors, the speed of the processors and the amount of L2 Cache with multiple processor servers dramatically impacts user performance. In addition, the amount of RAM is also critical. Each user session needs between 16-48 MB RAM in order to provide good user performance.

Victor Kazim, Jr.: in and what the end user 'sees' is a Windows 9x/NT workstation like experience.

Frank Gshwandtner: That will depend on whether you use JUST Terminal Server or if you use Citrix and published applications.

The second reason:

CPA specific software was not compatible with NT 3.51 or NT 4.0 as the workstation operating system. As with any computing solution, the software determines the hardware configuration. Prior to now, a number of important CPA specific software solutions were not compatible with NT, therefore they would not work properly with Citrix servers. Now the majority of CPA specific software is compatible with NT.

Michael Mazengia: Do we have to worry whether the apps we plan to use on a Citrix server is designed to take advantage of dual processor or does the OS takes care of this?

Frank Gshwandtner: The OS takes care of it.

Jim Fahey: Do you recommend switching to this environment all at once from client/server or taking baby steps few apps at a time?

Frank Gshwandtner: We would normally do it all at once. The economic reasons to do it tend to drive you to go all the way.

Victor Kazim, Jr.: Do your users need to work connected or unconnected?

Frank Gshwandtner: Some apps won't work and you will run them as always. Always need to be connected. They just don't need a very fast connection. Even a 30K analog modem gets adequate response.

Victor Kazim, Jr.: So how do my practitioners work with Write-up s/w in the field?

Frank Gshwandtner: Have to be connected, which is why notebook heavy firms cannot as easily justify Mainframe.

Getting back, another reason for it becoming popular. Reason Three:

The administrative cost of maintaining individual PC workstations on a network has reached an average of $7,000 (best case) to $12,000 (worst case). While PC technology has become absolutely necessary to continue to improve staff productivity, especially with the staffing shortage, it comes with a heavy administrative price tag.

Reason Four:

CPA firms are increasingly frustrated by the need to replace perfectly good PCs every 2-3 years just because the software requirements change. What are the advantages of Windows Mainframe (not just Citrix servers - but most or all processing being centralized - remember)

1. Reduce Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)
2. 2 Multiple Office Connectivity
3. 3 Remote Access by Staff & Partners
4. 4 Ability to Administer Remotely 5 Provide Service Bureau Client Services.

Reduce Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). One of the greatest challenges facing CPA firms in recent years is the issue of network administration. In the early 90's, it was common for a CPA, even a partner, to administer the network. The amount of billable time lost was a worthy trade-off and the knowledge necessary was not overwhelming. As networks have become more complex, the time investment necessary to maintain a network has increased dramatically. The cost of losing a billable professional has prompted many smaller firms to hire a full-time LAN Administrator. That decision, of course, comes with its own set of challenges.

How much does it cost to own a PC? Well, it depends on whom you ask. PC manufacturers will tell you it costs less than $1,500 to purchase a new PC. Of course, that will get you a box delivered to your door, but what about setting it up and keeping it running? The Gartner Group estimates the total cost of ownership (TCO) of that PC is over $9,000 annually1. That number includes costs related to upgrades, support, troubleshooting problems and maintaining applications. So it's expensive to maintain network infrastructure and buy new PCs every 3 years.

Multiple offices support - Multiple-office CPA firms have unique challenges not faced by comparably sized single-office firms. The desire to operate as a single entity, avoid alienating satellite offices (treating them as a step child) and maintaining open communication across geographic locations creates infrastructure challenges not easily solved-until now.

Because Citrix server processing requires very little bandwidth and the server performs all the processing, it becomes possible for multiple-office firms connected via a wide area network to centralize practice management and other expensive or centralized services. Given the size of the offices, number of offices and the bandwidth (i.e. T1, ASDL, etc) between the offices, CPA Systems has actually eliminated fileservers in the outer offices. This allows multiple-office firms to easily operate as a single firm with standardized software solutions, shared intellectual capital, centralized technology administration and training.

Remote Access by Staff & Partners

Have you ever tried to get files off the server - once you left the office? For most CPA firms, it's simply impossible. For those few groups that have this ability, it's typically so slow and cumbersome that it's often easier to return to the office and pick up a diskette. After-hours work - When it's time to go home, but you still have a few "last minute" items to finish, finish your work at home! Tax returns, depreciation schedules, word-processing -- just about anything that can be done at your desktop, can also be done from home.

Audit staff - When audit staff are on the road and needs the latest copy of a file, they can choose to work on the file directly, or easily download it.

Practice management - Time entry and billing functions can be done from afar, which means billings get out the door more quickly and accurately.

Work-at-home staff - As you know, finding and keeping staff is one of your greatest challenges. Many firms have reported the loss of valued employees due to their need to work from home. Citrix Server offers firms the opportunity to keep those employees productive without leaving home.

Seasonal help - When office space is an issue, we can give seasonal employees the ability to work from home or make adding that new workstation a snap.

Ability to Administer Remotely

Jim Fahey: How big is the average firm employee wise that you implement this for? How many installs has your company had?

Frank Gshwandtner: It varies from 5 employees to 150. We have about 100 total Citrix users, but only about 40 or so Mainframe to date.

Michael Mazengia: Frank, Wouldn't Terminal Server licensing be an issue for Seasonal help? Since you have to call Microsoft Clearing house to revoke a license issued to that user?

Frank Gshwandtner: Michael - You are talking about Windows 2000 only. Michael's question has to do with some new MS licensing. Probably to difficult to get into here

Jim Fahey: Are your clients local or national?

Frank Gshwandtner: Our clients are national. We have clients in SF, Alaska as well as GA - where we are located.

Frank Gshwandtner: Another advantage: Provide Service Bureau Client Services.

With the growing access and use of the Internet, firms can now offer accounting services as an extension of their Local Area Network (LAN). It is common for a firm providing QuickBooks, Peachtree, etc., accounting services to have a client drop off floppy disks, use a courier or use overnight delivery services to send updated data. A far more efficient method, however, would be for the client to open a Citrix Server session via the Internet, log into the firm's network, access the accounting program, and directly key the data into the program. There is only one copy of the accounting application to administer, one database to maintain, and the backup and security of the application is managed centrally. The firm can review data at any time and adjustments are real time, they don't have to be re-entered into the client's copy of the data

Larry Braga: Is it correct that there are additional costs if you want to do sound (like for voice recognition) on this platform?

Frank Gshwandtner: Citrix does not deal with sound or video streaming well. No thin client solutions do right now.

BTW Hi Larry :)

Ok some economic discussions:

My sales engineers hate me when I talk dollars :)

Jim Fahey: so do the partners.

Frank Gshwandtner: No the partners hate the dollars we talk. But here are some VERY general dollars discussions for this technology. One Citrix Server will support about 20 accounting firm users simultaneously. This can vary, but with as many different programs your users typically have open at the same time, this is our best measure.

Victor Kazim, Jr.: how true...

Frank Gshwandtner: This is based on dual processor servers, not Xeons or Quads. We have found it to be much more reliable and redundant to have multiple servers vs one big server. A Citrix Server, with the right hardware, software and setup fees will cost about $18,000 - $25,000. Why the range ? mostly depends on your network now, the software you are using and just how bad you PCs are :)

Victor Kazim, Jr.: I was agreeing with you based upon dual Xeon processors!

Frank Gshwandtner: A complete Windows Mainframe solution (new Citrix Server, new or upgraded File server, etc) will generally be $30,000 +. Because a single Citrix Server/Windows Mainframe can support up to 20 employees, there is not much difference in price between a 10 and a 20-employee firm.

Jim Fahey: Our users want to open an app and have it open all day, up to 10 at a time, will this drive our cost thru the roof for memory requirements?

Frank Gshwandtner: Depends on the app. Some are very well behaved and the lack of use causes Citrix to reallocate the resource. Stay away from DOS or 16 bit windows apps. For example TValue will spike your processor in heartbeat.

Jim Fahey: Does your implementation include testing of all your clients apps for functionality in this environment?

Frank Gshwandtner: Some Words of Warning.

As with anything that seems too good to be true, Citrix Server also has some considerations that impact these advantages.

Michael Mazengia: Do you recommend introducing Citrix for Remote first then use it internally ones all apps are tested and your users are comfortable with published apps?

Frank Gshwandtner: Michael - that is a pretty painless way to do it. You are basically running a pilot while providing remote access to key apps.

Software compatibility. Although many CPA specific software solutions work with Citrix Server, some don't and others do not work well. Your firm's specific list of mission-critical software will determine whether Citrix Server is viable for your firm. Over time, this issue will be come less of a concern as more CPA specific software becomes NT compatible. In addition, it's possible to gain most of the advantages while maintaining a hybrid Citrix Server and distributive network solution until such time as all of you software is compatible. Windows 2000 has in turn presented some of its own compatibility.

Jim Fahey: There are still DOS and 16bit apps we need, how can we get these in a dumb terminal environment for one login, ease of use, etc.

Victor Kazim, Jr.: Some will work, some will not.

Frank Gshwandtner: Victor - some 16 bit apps will work - but they ALWAYS have a heavy toll on processor and memory. And that slows everything else down.

Victor Kazim, Jr.: True.

Larry Braga: Can you name the other software besides Tvalue to watch out for?

Frank Gshwandtner: Not enough room :) If you have specific issues - e-mail me.

Software compatibility. Although many CPA specific software solutions work with Citrix Server, some don't and others do not work well. Your firm's specific list of mission-critical software will determine whether Citrix Server is viable for your firm. Over time, this issue will be come less of a concern as more CPA specific software becomes NT compatible. In addition, it's possible to gain most of the advantages while maintaining a hybrid Citrix Server and distributive network solution until such time as all of you software is compatible. Windows 2000 has in turn presented some of its own compatibility.

Jim Fahey: Watch out for CSI's Write Up Sol'n II.

Frank Gshwandtner: Jim - are you on NT 4 or W2K TS?

Jim Fahey: Novell 5.1

Frank Gshwandtner: Jim - I also assume you are talking about their DOS version.

Jim Fahey: yes - we are switching to CSI Accounting (win) now.

Frank Gshwandtner: Jim - all DOS apps eat up Citrix servers.

Jim Fahey: We found that out in a recent Citrix test.

Session Moderator: We're almost out of time - are there any last minute questions for Frank?

Jim Fahey: Thanks Frank.

Michael Mazengia: Thanks Frank.

Victor Kazim, Jr.: Thanks.

Frank Gshwandtner: My pleasure. Please forward any questions to my email tex@cpasystems.com is easier.

Session Moderator: Frank - we are so grateful to you for your time and for presenting this excellent information!

Frank Gshwandtner: Enjoyed - good luck with your Citrix stuff.

Session Moderator: There is a PowerPoint presentation of Frank's material available at the story about this workshop: http://www.accountingweb.com/item/42328/101


Biography

Frank Gshwandtner
President, CPA Systems

Frank has 20 years experience developing and implementing CPA specific technology. He has been a principal with two different practice management software vendors and is currently President of CPA Systems, a Citrix Solutions Provider for accounting firms.

This unique blend of CPA specific practice management and local and wide area network technology knowledge has made him a frequent speaker at various accounting associations’ technology seminars:

AICPA Large Firm MAP, AICPA Microcomputer Conference, ITA, Polaris, AGN, Summit Technologies Group, numerous CPA Societies and International Accountants groups.

E-mail: fgshwandtner@cpasys.com
Web site: www.cpasys.com

You may like these other stories...

By Deanna C. WhiteThis year, minority accounting students who aspire to become CPAs will have three opportunities to explore the possibilities the career can offer when the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) holds its...
On May 2, 2012, the Center for Audit Quality (CAQ) has released a report summarizing its recent workshop on the evolving role of the public company auditor. More than thirty workshop participants gathered in New York on...
Session SummaryThe leadership of the National Conference of CPA Practitioners (NCCPAP) announced their concerns regarding the fallout from the events surrounding Enron. The leadership of the organization believes that this...

Upcoming CPE Webinars

Jul 31
In this session Excel expert David Ringstrom helps beginners get up to speed in Microsoft Excel. However, even experienced Excel users will learn some new tricks, particularly when David discusses under-utilized aspects of Excel.
Aug 5
This webcast will focus on accounting and disclosure policies for various types of consolidations and business combinations.
Aug 20
In this session we'll review best practices for how to generate interest in your firm’s services.
Aug 21
Meet budgets and client expectations using project management skills geared toward the unique challenges faced by CPAs. Kristen Rampe will share how knowing the keys to structuring and executing a successful project can make the difference between success and repeated failures.