The New 4G Race – Can AT&T Make it Rain on Verizon?

They say 4G is super-fast and we’ll love it, since it’s better than the ancient 3G…, Right? But not all 4G is created equal.  Even when you’re talking about the same kind of 4G – (Long Term Evolution or “LTE”). Now that AT&T has launched its LTE network in a few cities that allow a better side by side and apples to apples comparison with Verizon, can we ask, “Who’s the fastest? “

Will consumers continue to smile happily upon Verizon’s “Can you hear me now?” call, or can AT&T finally deliver on its sometimes overly ambitious “You will!” claims?  More to the point, is Verizon’s network still faster than AT&T?

Can ATT make it rain in Chicago with LTE 4G? Or are they just all wet?

A recent study released  by the wireless analytics company Metrico set out to discover which LTE network was faster: AT&T or Verizon.  The firm performed data and web speed tests on five devices in three cities where both carriers have LTE networks. Metrico collected 24,000 samples from five locations in each of those cities.

After the data tests were performed, Metrico determined that in this side-by-side review AT&T was on average 30% faster, according to their controlled (but not fully scientific) study.  That’s a surprise to  some of us knowledgeable with the technical landscape of the U.S.  cellular  market.  It’s probably also a surprise to wireless customers, since consumer opinion mirrors the conventional wisdom that Verizon is considered to have a better network (or at least a better performing, less congested network) than AT&T.

We haven’t gotten down and dirty in the details of the Metrico report, but it certainly piques our interest.  Why did they get these results? Was it due to types of phones or devices used? Was it the amount of users on the network, or the given  locations?  Were the results skewed or valid?  Check it out for yourself.  Tell us what you think.

FTIL 2 – The Time of the Season

What is this world coming to?  Something good, perhaps?  People continue to show that there are changes more significant and meaningful than the unpredictable march of the modern business cycle, and I’m pleased to discover that there’s a new kind of improvement in productivity that affects people’s lives directly, not just through some abstract macroeconomic statistics.

Nowadays, folks are happy campers harvesting grapes, stomping them, and hauling away the sap amidst the blistering Calistoga sun or bitter chills of Halifax winds.  I’m not talking about agricultural employees, I’m talking about the consumers!  Though many could avoid the additional expense and effort through a quick swing through their local store, more and more people will pay handsomely to participate in the vinification process, from performing sweaty vineyard chores to listening in on lectures on the art and science of wine making. 

A growing number of vineyards around the world are more than happy to oblige, customizing sessions and tasks to seasonal needs of the vineyard.  Catering to this new customer demand with titles like “Wine Camp for Beginners” and “Grape to Bottle,” the vineyards’ goals are to demystify the subject and present their wares to the people so that consumers can better appreciate their products, as well as the care and expertise necessary to make them special.

Aside from learning cool words like “riddling” (dislodging sediment to the neck of the bottle) and “disgorging” (removing sediment from the bottle) and, of course, drinking the fruits (no pun intended) of your labor, the biggest benefits of these camps have little to do with wine itself.  They are the laughter, spending time with your family and friends, and crafting memories that last a lifetime.

Oh by the way, if you happen to find yourself in NorCal’s winery region, it’s worth a quick trip to Sonoma for a private tour of facilities at Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards – my wife and I have many memories of tasting sessions from the barrels in the barrel room with former head winemaker Terry Adams (Terry, hope you are enjoying your retirement pal).  And V. Sattui Winery is the best kept BBQ secret in Napa.

Here’s to finer things in life.  Worry less about the trends, enjoy the seasons.  Cheers!

Year-End Reconciliation for SMBs – Federal and State Compliance (Part 1 of a 3 Part Series)

Small businesses dread this time of the year.  Heck, I dread it…   I’ve seen enterprises of all shapes and sizes put off this crucial task as long as they can, hoping it would somehow go away.  However, year-end reconciliations, for both IRS compliance and internal records and P&L purposes, don’t need to hurt as long as you stay organized. smb tax compliance

Key compliance tasks for year-end reconciliation of federal and state tax matters include:

  • Employee Wages and Taxes – each quarter, you should have sent the federal government a Form 941-SS, which summarized your employees’ wages and withholdings.  At the end of the year, you will need to send the Social Security Administration a W-2 form showing how much each employee was paid, and how much was withheld, in addition to W-3, which is a summary of all the W-2 forms.  Lastly, if your state has an income tax, you must send in an annual reconciliation along with copies of the W-2s. 
  • Contractor 1099 Payments – similar to W-2 employees, each contractor gets a 1099 at year-end, and you will need to send a 1096, which is summary of all 1099s, to the federal government.

Regardless of how independent or self-reliant you may be, bear in mind that the market provides you with a sound way to avoid creating a year-end rush and a long-term operating issue.  For a minimal fee your payroll services provider will file all compliance paperwork and mail W-2s and 1099s for you.  You will simply need to verify transactions and documentation with your agent.  Stay organized through the year and leave the hard work to payroll provider at year-end.

 

Year End Reconciliation for SMBs – A Three Part Series

Part 1 – Federal and State Compliance

Part 2 – Accounting and Close

Part 3 – Forecast and Budget

Small Solutions for Big Problems – NAS Data Storage

Centralized file storage for your SMB

If you have 2 PCs or more in your business and can’t afford a file server (or don’t want the hassle of maintaining one), a NAS is a great investment. Each person has their own files on their PCs and makes changes to those files when necessary. Though, what if you have files that need to be shared by everyone or by specific users in the business? What if multiple people need to make changes to a single file or worst their computer crashes? Things can easily get complicated very quickly, causing wasted time and resources consumed by emailing files back and forth.  Not to mention the follow up calls or hallway chats devoted to making sure the person received it, etc…  “Did you get that document?  It was in that message I sent.”

This is where having a network and a NAS comes in handy.  A NAS, otherwise known as Network Attached Storage, is basically a networked hard drive that can be accessed anywhere from your business, wirelessly and even remotely without the need for a file server. With a NAS system, data can be centrally stored and set up with permissions for either all or certain users in your business. This way, files may be shared both instantly and efficiently. Another great thing about a NAS is that it is easily backed up so that your data is safe and your PCs don’t even have to be on overnight.

Survey Says! Tablet Adoption on the Rise

AUSTIN, TX – November 9, 2011 – A new study reveals that small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) continue to embrace advanced technology – including tablet computers, cloud services and virtualization technology—at a rapid pace. According to the results of the recently released State of SMB IT survey, nearly half of SMBs have adopted tablet computers and cloud services, while IT budgets for the second half of 2011 saw the greatest jump in more than two years.

The Spiceworks State of SMB IT survey is a semi-annual global study that investigates the latest technology purchasing, usage and staffing trends among companies with less than 1,000 employees. The study of 1,200+ IT professionals was conducted during the fall of 2011 via the Spiceworks Voice of IT® Market Research Program.

Survey highlights include:

  • Tablets are becoming more popular among small and mid-sized businesses.
  • Fifty percent of SMBs have deployed or plan to deploy tablet devices, such as iPads, within the next six months.Adoption of cloud services continues to rise rapidly among SMBs, while virtualization is still their top IT initiative.
  • Cloud services are now used by 46 percent of SMBs, a significant rise over the 28 percent that reported using cloud services in the first half of 2011 and the 14 percent that reported doing so mid-year 2010.
  • Virtualization continues to dominate the SMB market. Currently, 61 percent of small and mid-sized businesses use virtualization, which is up from the 54 percent that reported using virtualization during the first half of 2011.
  • IT budgets see the largest increase in two years as SMBs continue to add IT staff.

Overall IT budgets in the second half of 2011 grew 9 percent when compared with IT budgets for the first half of 2011 – the largest increase in two years. The average annual IT budget for SMBs now stands at $143,000, up from the $132,000 previously reported for the first half of 2011.

Nearly one in three SMBs, or 31 percent, plan to hire IT staff – which is consistent with data reported for the first half of 2011. “Despite market fluctuations, 2011 proved to be a great year for disruptive technologies as SMBs increasingly adopted tablet computers, cloud services and virtualization technology,” said Jay Hallberg, co-founder and vice president of Marketing for Spiceworks. “The results of our most recent survey show SMBs making similar strategic technology investments with expanded budgets – pointing to a stronger market for IT products and services among small and mid-sized businesses in 2012.”

Quick PC Performance Tip of the Day!

Why use TV commercial ads to make your PC faster?

After using your PC for a while, you may notice that it seems to take longer and longer to start up. This can be extremely annoying, especially if all you want to do is turn on your PC for a quick peek at your bank account or check email.  So, something that may take a minute to do, will now take 10 minutes because your PC has to load up all of those programs at startup.

Here’s a quick tip on how you minimize those start-up times to get them closer to being acceptable.

1. For XP: Click Start -> Click Run -> Type msconfig -> Press EnterFor Vista\7: Click Windows button ->In the search area, Type msconfig -> Press Enter

2. You will notice the System Configuration Utility pop-up.

3. Click on the Startup tab

4. This lists every program that starts up with Windows

5. Very carefully sort through the list. Some of it may not make sense. For example in XP: Apple‘s Quicktime program is actually called “qttask“. To disable this program from starting up, uncheck the box beside “qttask” -> Click Apply -> Restart the computer.

To see a better description of each file, expand the width of the “Command” column, up near the Startup tab. I recommend only unchecking one item at a time, to make sure that nothing goes wrong during the next restart.  Please be extra careful with this, as some of these files are necessary for either Windows to work correctly or maybe even your corporate software.  Also, look for items that are blank or have no description as they may be signs of a virus, adware or spyware. Disable them first and restart to see if your PC’s performance increases.

It’s quick. It’s simple.  It’s less hassle than responding to a 2 a.m. informercial!

Richard’s Finer Things in Life (FTIL 1) – Olive Oil

When’s the last time you gave more than a minute of thought to olive oil?  Not very good for high heat cooking – that’s the extent of my knowledge of juices from this simple fruit…  Virgin oil is manually extracted or pressed without using heat or chemicals.  Extra virgin has low acidity thus good for cooking and salads.  But in all seriousness, any gourmet worth his salt knows that Tuscan-style olive oil pairs well with arugula and radicchio with its peppery character.

On the other hand, butter lettuce and micro greens should be dressed with less assertive traits, perhaps those from Alpes de Haute-Provence with its distinctive fruity flavor…  Olive oil is a deep and passionate subject for enthusiasts who characterize varieties using a vernacular familiar to wine, coffee and scotch.  Small North American producers are downright psychotic about making exquisite boutique oils that cater to finer tastes.

I believe it’s important to experiment and develop your own palette for refinement.  Try different varietals, brands, and the stores that carry them. Oh, why not?  Some experiments will turn out to be an absolute triumph, while others can be utter disasters…   But even then, they will be your own disasters, and at the end of the day, it should be fun to blaze some new trails.  Lastly, this FTIL does not necessarily have to be an expensive hobby.  Walking along the isles of a discount outlet, my wife and I were surprised to find a small bottle of Lambda at quite a reasonable price…   Here’s to hoping that you too will also enjoy finer things in life.  Cheers!

Disaster Recovery & Business Continuity – Options from the Cloud

Business Continuity with Cloud Based Services

Will this button help?

Disaster recovery can be a much needed asset when introduced into a cloud environment. If properly prepared, it can be an ace you’ll want in your bag and can help your business prevent and/or rebound more quickly from any number of catastrophes. One surefire way you can prepare your business to better withstand the unexpected is through a virtualization strategy that incorporates cloud solutions. Consolidating physical hardware and running virtual machines in the cloud creates a safe haven for your business’s data. If physical disaster strikes, it probably will only be a matter of minutes before your business can migrate to the DR datacenter, while restoring and repairing physical server environments could take anywhere from hours to days.

There are various cloud solutions, such as Microsoft’s Hyper-V and VMWare, and now even Apple has gotten into the mix, offering numerous solutions to help businesses virtualize and manage their IT infrastructures on the iClloud platform. Through a single Web-based console, your IT staff can perform a range of actions that help prevent disasters like data breaches, corruption caused by malware or unauthorized use.  These tools also support business continuity during disaster, since they enable IT staff to provide remote assistance, monitoring equipment and more.

If your IT strategy doesn’t include a disaster recovery or business continuity component, don’t wait for the next water main leak, fire or network failure to occur before you add one. Also, make sure your BC plan integrates into the overall communications and business plan for your organization. Having an organized plan that takes all critical functions of the business into account will make recovering from disaster considerably easier and less painful.

MONEY!!! The Taxman Giveth….

Money!As the resident lawyer, I have to get used to people not always rarely taking my advice.  But sometimes I get a little uppity and feel the need to prove a point.

Today’s lesson is for my disbelieving finance colleague here at SMB Matters, and is something that is actually going to be worth MONEY to him, even though he didn’t trust what I told him about the not-so-mythical “SUV Tax Deduction”. 

Ever wonder why people still buy large SUVs, or why so many are sold at the end of the year?  Read on…

The SUV Deduction is an example of one tax goodie that the big, wealthy people lobbied to get into the tax code, which happens to benefit for “ordinary” people as well.  The SUV Tax Deduction is a form of accelerated depreciation, which allows qualifying taxpayers to deduct a significant portion of a vehicle’s value from their annual federal income tax return in the early years of ownership, versus the usual 5 year depreciation window applicable to most vehicles used primarily for business.

I won’t bore you with all of the nuances and caveats (e.g., the vehicle’s use must still be primarily for business purposes; personal use will lower the deduction on a prorata basis; qualifying vehicles generally need to have truck/crossover chasses; etc…).  However, the quick takeaway is that certain “heavy” SUVs or crossovers with a gross weight rated at or above 6000lbs  (GVWR) are eligible for accelerated depreciation in the first year “placed in service” up to $25,000, as well as “bonus depreciation”, which also increases the early year deduction value.  Where applicable, these two elements can sometimes be the equivalent of enabling a taxpayer to deduct a huge portion of the vehicle’s value in year one.  Economists might call it an economic distortion.  SUV owners call it “MONEY!”

Richard, this is my gift to you… Check this link to reveal the GVWR of your new Audi Q7! http://autos.yahoo.com/audi/q7/2012/3-0t-premium-quattro/specifications.html (Hint: it’s nested in the Vehicle Capacity section. )

Remember me at Christmastime…  ;-)

Legal Issues Entering the Cloud…

Cloud computing” has been around for decades, but has mushroomed in recent years due to the improvements in our communications infrastructure and the growing utility of managed service offerings to businesses of all sizes.  But how does the average SMB achieve a good working relationship with their cloud provider, given the huge differences across this booming industry?  Cloud providers can differentiate their services only to a limited degree, so businesses should be open to finding a good balance between the service offerings and the service terms.

 

 

Big Players Lead the Market, but Don’t Define It Completely

The major cloud providers include IBM  Microsoft, Amazon, Google and Salesforce.com. Their Terms of Service (ToS) are generally standardized for single and small users — however, major customers can and do negotiate their arrangements.

Most users won’t have the leverage or opportunity to negotiate terms and conditions, particularly with the largest national providers, who tend to use boilerplate “click-wrap” terms and conditions that cannot be modified. They have to agree to terms that are likely confusing without a lawyer’s help. For example, the standard terms and conditions for Microsoft or Amazon will contain multiple bundled documents that are present for you to accept or deny, with no chance to negotiate or modify the ToS.  Some typical terms and conditions may include:

  • Acceptable Use Policy
  • Customer Agreement
  • Service Terms
  • Trademark Guidelines
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use

However, when the opportunity presents itself with small- and medium-sized cloud vendors, take every chance to negotiate on the terms vital to your situation.  Don’t bicker or haggle just for sake of argument.  Understand your own needs and communicate them to your business partners, which is generally the most effective way of realizing that each party has some legitimate objectives in the contracting process.

Consider the Important Legal Issues

If your company is using the cloud to store or access business data, and if you have the clout to negotiate, there are a few key issues you should address:

How can I ensure seamless and efficient return of data when I cease using the cloud?

Inevitably, each cloud customer will stop using its cloud provider at some point for some reason. When that happens, options are limited to: 1) moving the processing back in-house and off the cloud; or 2) moving to another cloud provider. Diligent customers need to negotiate with their cloud providers to clearly define closure and termination issues, including the data format and the cost for migration of the data to another location. Failure to address this could result in an expensive and painful migration, or a business decision to be stuck without the practical ability to change, similar to the days when changing cell carriers meant losing your cellphone number, making customers reluctant to switch.

How do you confirm and ensure your sensitive data has been appropriately deleted upon termination of your cloud services?

It is vital that the old cloud provider not retain the customer’s business data, such as financial documents, accounting records, customer data, or other business records. Deletion is particularly important because of laws and regulations related to privacy (including credit card information and/or HIPAA personal health information). The cloud provider agreement must obligate the cloud provider to delete data from its system (including backups) after the customer has migrated away. Additionally, the cloud provider should be bound to protect all confidential data at all times.
Understand data backup obligations.

Speaking of backups, companies routinely create data backups, and cloud providers are no different. Therefore, cloud provider agreements must clearly delineate how customer data and systems are protected from disaster, including sharing where customer data is stored and how the customer can access that data if and when it is needed.

Ensure protection of trade secrets.

If the cloud customer has trade secrets, such as proprietary customer data or software, that customer must properly protect its data or software and have tangible evidence to prove in a lawsuit that it made appropriate efforts to protect those trade secrets. One of the best ways to prove that a trade secret has been properly protected is to show that only the trade secret owner can access the protected information. One solid way to do that is to have the ability to audit.

Establish the right to audit cloud IT operations.

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) requires publicly traded companies to comply with laws of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) including the ability to audit and verify accounting data. In order to conduct a SOX audit of IT/Internet services, customers need audit rights in the agreement. For companies not covered by SOX, but for which a formal CPA opinion is required by stockholders, the right to audit the cloud provider is essential. Even if your provider is not so large to be covered by these scenarios, a responsible small or medium sized firm should still have some reasonable means and methods for customers to conduct audit and assurance functions, so don’t expect less from the little guys.

Lessons

Each business has its unique requirements for using cloud services. Signing the standard cloud provider agreements may be convenient, but risky. Any company using the cloud needs to properly protect its IT and data with a well defined cloud services agreement that is clear and specific to the customer’s own requirements.

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