Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Networked TaxWise Desktop

At the VITA @ MILPITAS PUBLIC LIBRARY Site, we experimented with Networked TaxWise Desktop.

Without access to a permanent LAN, we set up temporary networks each week. In the early years, we used after-market network adapters and routers/hub/switches connected together with network cables which tended to fall off, had bad connectors, and provided great opportunities for disasters waiting to happen in the form of tripping up our hardworking volunteers.

The performance was poor, with long waits while the software was loading or interacting with the TaxWise server Database, and there were cases when most of the work done on a return was lost. To be mobile and portable, we put the TaxWise Server on a Windows XP Pro laptop upgraded to run Windows Server 2003.

We installed TaxWise on a partitioned volume labeled the N-Drive. This drive was shared and mapped to the N: drive of the other workstations, we appeared to have a system that ran flawlessly. One hour into the first session, we ran into all kinds of problems. TaxWise was throwing exceptions, workstations were connected to the network but could not access the mapped N: drive even though they could access the web site on the server. Given that we were using an unsupported configuration (namely secured wireless networking), there wasn't much we could get in the way of technical support.

It is not clear what the problem was: it could have been TaxWise, or interference, or we may have had reached the limit of the number of active connections on our server. The bottom line was that there were impatient taxpayers and volunteer tax preparers who kept asking when the system would be up and running again. The temporary solution was to reinstall TaxWise on the default C: drive of each of the workstations, and prepare the returns the conventional way, using a usb flash drive to transfer the data.

We haven't figured out the root cause of the problem yet, but realized tht the solution as it stood was not workable.

We are working on an alternative solution.