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This time of year is one of introspection for many accountants as we evaluate what went right and what went wrong during the season.  For many firms, the focus quickly narrows to the firm’s technology.  For many firms, the performance of the technology is troublesome for the firm and we endeavor to make improvements to enhance our productivity.  For our firm, this tax season has been the most trouble free and technologically productive tax season in a long time.  Some of this stability was due to solving or finding workarounds for several issues which affected individual applications, but a large part of it, in my opinion, was due to a 2008 year end server upgrade which implemented Windows Server 2008 on most of our servers.

At this point, your thoughts might be wandering about whether this article is actually going to be about remote computer security in Windows Server 2008.  It is, but in order to understand the benefits of the security improvements, it is important to have an understanding of the overall benefits of Windows Server 2008.

After having worked with Windows Server 2008, I believe it is definitely a stable server operating system and is worth a strong look by accounting firms to implement during the summer months for next tax season.  While security is a component of Windows Server 2008, there were also many enhancements which are not security related but contribute to the improved stability and performance in the operating system.  But the focus here is the security improvements.  Security improvements are the major contributor to software stability because reducing vulnerabilities to malware reduces its contribution to system instability.

Some enhancements, such as User Access Control (UAC) got a lot of negative press for how it was implemented in Windows Vista.  While UAC still exists in Windows Server 2008, it is less noticeable to the user or the administrator.  While the security improvements in Windows Server 2008 are not the only items which make the server operating system more stable, they certainly help.

Since 2000, Citrix MetaFrame, now called Citrix XenServer, has been a part of the server environment for the public accounting firm where I work.  Starting with Citrix Presentation Server 4.0 released in the late 3rd quarter of 2004 and continuing through the latest XenServer release, Citrix has been moving in a direction with their product to support hundreds to thousands of users across large server farm (multiple servers) implementations.  This 2004 release was in the same time period as the failed Microsoft/Citrix merger attempt.  Citrix knew coming out of this attempted merger that in order to survive it had to service the larger organizations at the expense of the smaller firms.  While a twenty person CPA firm is large in our profession, it is very small in the Citrix world.  Microsoft having attempted to obtain Citrix’s core components via purchase now had to spend time and money developing their terminal server functionality into a more robust product closer to the look and feel of Citrix without the option of buying the company.  The results of that development cycle are now included with the server operating system as part of the Windows Server 2008 version.

Terminal Services is now renamed Remote Desktop Services in Windows Server 2008.  This new functionality brings many pleasantries to the table including Remote Programs.  Citrix calls this same functionality Published Applications.  In late 2008, our firm implemented our first terminal server running Remote Programs.  We were able to consolidate from two Citrix servers down to a single terminal server using the new 64-bit Windows Server 2008 operating system.  The 64-bit Windows Server 2008 operating system is not required to use the new terminal server functionality although it would be my suggestion to use this new hardware functionality.  The 64-bit operating system significantly improved performance on the terminal server of all the accounting and non-accounting applications.  For more about remote desktop services, here is a link to the Microsoft FAQ:  http://www.microsoft.com/windowsserver2008/en/us/rds-faq.aspx

It is critical to know that with this new functionality comes with new security options for using the remote desktop services.  The overall security enhancements:

• Help eliminate the risk of data theft when a laptop is lost or stolen
• Centralized data helps simplify the burden of regulatory compliance
• Connect via https to internal applications, without VPN infrastructure

These overall security features are just the surface summary of the security benefits obtains by implementing remote programs on a Windows Server 2008 operating system.  This graphic (from Microsoft’s website) shows how the new security works with this version of remote desktop services.  Note:  The mouse over effects will not work in this graphic, but you can go to the Microsoft Website to obtain the additional information provided in the mouse over’s by clicking here:  http://www.microsoft.com/windowsserver2008/en/us/rds-features.aspx

remotecomputing

Not all firms will have (or need) all the servers shown here to implement remote desktop services.  Some of the machines shown here can be virtualized using Microsoft Hyper-V virtualization technology or some complimentary components can be combined together on the same server.

Most firms who have looked at Citrix and decided against it, do so because of the cost for both the software and the time it takes to get it implemented properly.  Now firms can have the same functionality found in Citrix using the new Remote Programs functionality.  This new functionality along with the enhanced security of Windows Server 2008 will produce favorable gains in productivity.  The best part is that remote desktop services comes included in the Windows Server 2008 operating system.  This reduces costs for software especially in those firms already using Citrix.  Remote Desktop services only need to be turned on versus purchasing a whole separate software package in order to use Citrix.

We started out talking about how well the technology functioned in the firm where I work.  A large part of that has to do with the stability of Windows Server 2008 and the new remote desktop services functionality we used this tax season.  The security enhancements including those used in remote desktop services contributed to this stability and as a result the improved productivity of employees who did not have to deal with technology problems during tax season.  As you go about looking at the productivity in your firms and what changes should be made before the 2010 tax season, Windows Server 2008 and especially the benefits of remote desktop services should be at the top of the list of things to change.

John Anderson CPA.CITP

John D. Anderson, CPA.CITP, CIA, MCP, MSA; is the Information Technology Services Group Manager at Weidmayer, Schneider, Raham & Bennet, a large, local CPA firm in Ann Arbor, MI.  His experience includes Citrix, Windows 200 Server, Internet Information Services, Lotus Notes/Domino, Cisco Pix, SonicWall, and Trend MicroNeaTSuite products as well as dozens of accounting software packages used by CPA firms and their clients.  He joined the firm after completing a Masters Degree in Accounting from Eastern Michigan University.

He speaks at national computer user meetings and is very well respected for his activity on ARNE [the Accountants Resource Network], an Internet bulletin board system sponsored by Thomson Reuters.

Last modified on Sunday, 02 June 2013
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