June 24, 2018

DNA Data Storage Could Complicate Data Center Walkthroughs

dna data storage accountants IT

Forget underwater data centers and outrageous cloud CapEx spending. All of it is utterly passé compared to DNA data storage.

Wait, DNA data storage? You mean — storing digital binary data as DNA?

Yes. And, it blows my mind too.

DNA’s not just the smoking gun in a crime drama

In 2012, Harvard scientists figured out to how to encode a 52,000 page book using DNA as the hard drive.

This year, scientists are getting better at packing more data onto fewer DNA strands. How much data? An almost unfathomable amount. The article states that this innovation is:

Capable of storing 215 petabytes (215 million gigabytes) in a single gram of DNA, [and] the system could, in principle, store every bit of datum ever recorded by humans in a container about the size and weight of a couple of pickup trucks.

For reference, 215 million gigabytes is equal to 6.7 million 32GB iPhones.

Here’s a summary of how encoding works:

1. Convert digital data files into binary 1s and 0s or the most basic kind of computer gibberish.

2. Compress (or tidy up) the data file and split it into chunks of code.

3. Package and tag the chunks of code for smooth reassembly using a special algorithm. The tags are important since otherwise, we would be dealing with an invigorating million-piece puzzle.

4. Synthesize the DNA (Don’t ask me how this is done. I’ll say magic.)

The data is all set for storage in a cool, dry place. If properly stored, the synthetic DNA “can last hundreds of thousands of years.”

To decode, all scientists have to do is sequence the DNA and input that information into a translator to convert the four-letter alphabet of DNA (i.e., As, Cs, Gs, and Ts) back into binary. It’s just like when you translate Chinese into English using Google Translate only the Google Translator speaks DNA and binary and is a lot more accurate. Tags help put the puzzle piece strands of DNA back together.

This could be the next big thing, especially for archiving important data. Encoding and decoding are not instantaneous, but the DNA strands don’t wear out like disk drives do over time. Plus, glitches in the code are easy to find and fix, resulting in a completely error-free data file.

It’s in an auditor’s DNA

Alright, now that you have the basics down, let’s talk about repercussions for businesses and auditors. If auditors are expected to test controls on this type of thing, that’s going to be quite the headache.

Right now, data center walkthroughs are a breeze. Check a few dates here and there to make sure the inspections on the fire suppression system and backup generator are current. Observe that the physical controls are in place to make sure the servers are locked up tight. That’s about it. I don’t know what you would need to do if the company is using DNA to store digital data. Ugh. I know my synthetic biology skills not sufficient for that.

I’m skeptical about how pervasive DNA storage will be, so it may not be horrible for us auditors to deal with after all. Still, archiving information with DNA would definitely be an upgrade to magnetic tape. Plus, archiving doesn’t play a huge role in an audit for anything other than for general IT controls. But, that might not be the case for long…

DNA and quantum computing

The caveat is that some researchers envision that DNA data storage has the potential to be integrated into quantum computers — the future of computing. It’s a blend of all the crazy sci-fi stuff where quantum physicists rule the world (only minus the robots take over and cause the apocalypse part). And, who knows, these supercomputers may be pivotal to day-to-day business operations.

According to Wired magazine:

The quantum computer revolution is coming. Physicists say these devices will be fast enough to break every encryption method banks use today.

Google researchers said they anticipate the first commercial quantum computers in five years, and the company wants to build and test a 49-qubit—that’s “quantum bit”—quantum computer by the end of this year.

One of the hiccups with quantum computing is data storage since a single quantum data file would be the size of approximately 40,000 videos and, since they are so large, “A single quantum file would occupy a stamp-sized area on a solid-state hard drive.”

DNA storage might be a viable solution to the quantum computer data storage problem:

So one alternative storage contender is DNA… Unlike conventional hard drives, which only store data on a two-dimensional surface, DNA is a three-dimensional molecule. That extra vertical dimension lets DNA store much more data per unit area.

Are you still thinking this is a pie in the sky idea? Well, sure, it’s pricey now and not “ready for large-scale use yet” but, honestly, it’s not crazy expensive. The scientists who successfully performed the most recent experiment said it “cost $7000 to synthesize the 2 megabytes of data in the files, and another $2000 to read it.” Plus, with quantum computing starting to look to DNA data storage as a way forward, it might start getting some teeth.

Image: Pixabay

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Tracking Charitable Donations? Now There’s a CPA-Developed App for That

In more non-iPad, Apple-related news, we learned earlier this week about iDonatedIt, an iPhone app developed by BMG CPAs in Lincoln, Nebraska. The app is designed to track all non-cash charitable contributions whether it be clothes, furniture or family members (okay maybe not the last one). This will allow you to track all of our donations to Goodwill, Salvation Army, etc. rather than receiving that crappy receipt they give you that has nothing on it.

Being interested in all things accountant-ish, we got in touch with BMG to find out how this bit of ingenuity came about.

We spoke with Todd Blome, a partner at BMG who came up with the idea and he told us that as soon as he got an iPhone he was thinking of ideas for apps that would be useful for his clients. Since Todd is the tech-savvy partner at BMG, (he heads up their IT consulting services) he started kicking around ideas right away and eventually landed on the idea for iDonatedIt.

Todd told us that the development was fairly simple and that there were only two test versions prior to releasing the app.

“So far we’ve 100% positive feedback on iDonatedIt,” Todd told us, “We’re definitely looking for suggestions for improvements or add-ons.” The one idea that has been floated to Todd was adding a tax savings tool to the app so that a user could determine how much tax savings would be created by the donations. “That will probably be in version two,” he told us.

iDonatedIt retails for $2.99 at the app store and as Todd noted, “a donation of one item pays for the app.” A version for the Droid is currently in the works as well.

Todd and the rest of of his team at BMG are kicking around a few more ideas for apps but he said they want to make sure iDonatedIt is working as good as possible before committing to another project. Check out the demonstration below and jump over the firm’s website or follow them on Twitter to give them your feedback.

Shoeboxed: Saving Accountants One Nightmare Client at a Time

Last week we briefly mentioned Shoeboxed.com and how they can make all your shoebox receipt toting clients disappear. Not only that but it may save some of your more aggressive employees the trouble of explaining why they punched out the deadbeat who showed up with their receipts on April 15th.

We were fortunate enough to spend a some time with Stacy Chudwin, the Company’s Director of Communications, to learn more about the Durham, North Carolina Company.

Stacy told us that the Company got its start by servicing small businesses who wanted to avoid the hassle of tracking expenses by keeping a mind-numbing amount of receipts around, “Businesses can simply compile all their receipts, send them to us and we scan, enter the data and categorize them.”

Now the Company offers an “Accounting Professional Plan” which allows CPAs to do the exact same thing for those clients who aren’t so organized with their bookkeeping, “CPAs can either have their clients send us the receipts directly or they can send the us shoebox that gets dropped off on their desk and we’ll take care of the rest,” Stacy said.

Once all the data entry is finished you can access the information via your business’ account and for CPAs, you can create sub-accounts for each individual client. These reports can then be exported to a number of applications including QuickBooks, Quicken, Excel, and others.

The Company has also developed a free iPhone app that will extract all the information from a photo of the receipt. So for you Holiday Inn jockeys out there, you don’t have to stuff all your receipts in your suitcase and try to decipher everything you spent two weeks later.

“So far all of the feedback from our clients and users of the mobile apps have been great, however everyone wants more features both in their accounts and for the app,” Stacy told us.

Stacy also maintains the Shoeboxed Blog that is updated a few times a month that has areas for “Small Businesses”, “Taxes”, “Budgeting” and “Shoeboxed.com Resources”. She also informed us that they have a very active Twitter account, “We like to use Twitter to make announcements, to highlight recent press, and to retweet some positive feedback from followers, but we will also respond one-on-one if a user has an issue and reaches out to us via Twitter.”

If you’re not hip to the whole Twitter thing the Company has online customer support and a toll free number for all your questions.

The Company has several different plans for both businesses and accountants and both come with 30 day trials. So if you’ve more nightmare clients thatn you can count, what are you waiting for? Thanks to Shoeboxed, now you can add more clients instead of wanting to physically attack them.