Winnie’s Pregnant

As we were catching our breath after racquetball a few days ago, I asked Steve, “So, how’s the construction business lately?”  We usually talk about business or politics while cooling down, and politics seemed especially fraught lately.
He sipped his water and shook his head.  “I’ve got a problem,” he said glumly.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
He frowned, toweled the sweat from the back of his head before finally replying.  “Winnie’s pregnant.”
I stared blankly.  I didn’t know who Winnie was, but she’s not his wife.  “The company bookkeeper,” he finally added.
Oh.  Well, that was a problem, and for me, too.  His wife and mine are friends, and this put me in a tight spot.  Do I tell her or not?
“Hmmm,” I kind-of replied.  I bounced the racquetball a couple of times and tossed it towards the trashcan, missing wildly and hitting a passing seven year old instead, eliciting a nasty glare from his mother.  “Have you, uh… told Melinda yet?”
“Yeah,” he answered, shaking his head. “She offered to fill in, but she can’t even balance a checkbook.  Where am I going to find another bookkeeper? Nobody knows our business like she does.”
Oh.  Guess I’ve been watching too many movies since I got Netflix streaming. I breathed a sigh of relief.  “Can she work from home?”  I suggested.
His face brightened. “She offered, but I don’t know how to set something like that up.  Is that something you could help with?”
Did I mention that like most people in Los Angeles, Steve is a former wannabe actor? Had I just been played?
Later that afternoon, I headed over to Steve’s office.  “Gotta run,” I told my wife.  She followed me out to the car.  “Where are you going?”
“Winnie’s pregnant,” I shouted out the window as I zoomed off.
At Steve’s office, he led me over to Winnie’s PC. “She’ll need access to email and the file server, but most important is Quickbooks.”  From my own experience trying to work from home in the evenings, I knew that opening files on a networked server would be painful, but there are workarounds.  Quickbooks I knew less about. Here’s how it looks working locally:

I had our portable WAN emulator, the Linktropy Mini2, with me, and inserted it between Winnie’s PC and the office network. I set the bandwidth to a typical DSL line of 3 Mbps/768 Kbps, and assumed she’d have roughly the same 40 ms of latency I get when connecting to the office. “This is what Winnie will see while working from home.”
“Cool,” Steve said, until I fired up Quickbooks and we sat there for 30 seconds waiting for it to open.  “Uh… not cool.”

Using the software wasn’t much better – saving an invoice was painfully slow. “So now what?  Is there anything can we do about it?”
When you make WAN emulators, sometimes you lose sight of the fact that finding the problem is only the start.  What people really want are solutions, but each situation is unique.  However, a WAN emulator does make it possible to test what options work and what don’t.
“Is FIOS available where she lives?”  I asked.  Steve shrugged his shoulders.  “More bandwidth might help.” I changed the settings to 25/25 Mbps and performance improved, but not enough.
I thought for a second, then rattled off a few other solutions:

  • Add a WAN accelerator if one can be found that accelerates Quickbooks.
  • Use Quickbooks Online instead of the client software.
  • Move the data from the file server to a laptop that Winnie can take home with her.
  • Send Winnie an accountant’s copy of the file to work on and send back each day.
  • Use Citrix, Remote Desktop, or other Virtual Desktop (VDI) to allow Winnie to connect in from her home computer to run Quickbooks on her office computer.

For Steve’s situation with a shared Quickbooks environment, VDI seemed the best alternative if it would work.  For a quick test, we enabled Remote Desktop on Winnie’s PC, connected to it from my laptop, and placed the WAN emulator between the two. We tried Quickbooks again, and while not perfect, seemed entirely usable. And with some tuning of the RD parameters, it wasn’t bad at all.

I suggested to Steve that he download a trial version of Citrix GoToMyPC and maybe a couple of other VDI programs to compare, and left behind the Linktropy Mini2 for him to experiment with, but by now, I was receiving a text per minute from home and was anxious to get back.
When I finally pulled up outside my house, my wife was still standing in the driveway, her arms folded in front of her.  “You got some explaining to do, mister,” she yelled.  “Who the hell is Winnie???”
Ah, yes.  There are some things even a WAN emulator won’t fix.

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