QuickBooks Plus Subscriptions Provide Supported License Option for Hosted QuickBooks
Hosting Intuit QuickBooks products can be easy or difficult, depending on the business model and functionality desired in the solution. Because QuickBooks was designed as a standalone, single-user application, there are a number of challenges when it comes to preparing it for server-based use. Among these challenges is the QuickBooks licensing model, which is not particularly INTUITive (sorry). With the introduction of QuickBooks 2014 and some new subscription license options, hosting QuickBooks may have become a little bit more attractive for service providers because there is a way to license hosted QuickBooks and not have to take the customer phone call about how to use it.
Licensing hosted QuickBooks applications comes with two different sets of implementation issues: the technical implementation and the logical allocation of licenses to users. Service providers have enough to worry about with these two elements, and are generally not excited about the prospect of also taking calls about how to use the product. These are generally technical organizations, not QuickBooks trainers or consultants, and they are certainly not in a position to tell people how to perform business bookkeeping or accounting. Installing and managing the application and making sure the licensing model is compliant is enough.
When it comes to the technical implementation, many an experienced engineer has beaten their head against the wall trying to get QuickBooks to work properly on a terminal server, all because they expect the product to implement like a “normal” client/server application. While QuickBooks may use the Sybase database manager guts to handle multi-user access to QuickBooks data files, the architecture required to properly service a networked QuickBooks installation does not necessarily mimic what would be used with, for example, a .NET desktop client application with an MS SQL back-end. First, the QuickBooks data files cannot be remote to the application, meaning that both the client and the database manager (which is actually working as an adjunct to the client) must exist on the local network; it will not work over a WAN connection, which is why so many folks get frustrated when they put their server “in the cloud” and attempt to connect from a local client using a VPN. It just won’t work that way with QuickBooks; it all has to be on the local network – client, server, data… all of it.
It is notable that many businesses use Dropbox and other file sync solutions because they want to be able to get to their data from multiple locations, but the data they’re getting must be “local” to the apps that use it. It doesn’t allow for simultaneous multi-user access, but it can be an effective way to share a file. The caveat is that the file (at least in the case of a QuickBooks file, or Outlook PST file, etc.) should not actually be used from the sync folder. Sync folder should contain copies of data files that users wish to sync or share with other devices. But I digress…
With a terminal server implementation of QuickBooks, technicians will usually install the QuickBooks software on the TS and then may or may not use that same machine to handle data files. The QuickBooks DB manager is a partial installation of QuickBooks, and the file system and drive where the QB files are to be managed must be recognized as a local drive on the server. The overhead used by the database manager isn’t huge, but it can impact the performance of users on the terminal server. For this reason, many techs will decide to implement a separate file server (some call it the “app” server) to manage the QB data files, taking the load off of the terminal server.
The user opens the QuickBooks application on the terminal server, and then opens the company file from wherever the files reside (and wherever the QB DB manager is handling them). With the database manager running, the file is essentially “hosted” on that machine, and the file may then be opened in multi-user mode. OK so far. The problem generally comes about when a second user on the same terminal server wants to open the same QB data file as the first user.
Because the QB database manager is looking at the license of the client application accessing the data file, it will recognize when two different users/sessions with the same license key attempt to open the company data file. If that license key is a single-user key, then the database manager knows it should allow only 1 concurrent user in the file. QuickBooks doesn’t get installed for each user on a terminal server, it is installed one time on the machine and each user on that machine runs from that single shared installation. Any particular version of the QuickBooks application may be installed only once on a single machine (OS), but it is possible to install multiple editions, year versions, and “flavors” of QuickBooks on a single machine (cannot be more than one installation of each unique product).
In order to allow multiple users to simultaneously access the same data file from a terminal server installation of QuickBooks, the license key installed on the server must be a multi-user key. QuickBooks Pro, for example, can be keyed to 3 concurrent users, meaning that the license will allow up to 3 users to simultaneously access the same company file. Unfortunately, this installation of QuickBooks on the terminal server could potentially allow a virtually unlimited number of users to launch the QuickBooks application simultaneously, but that’s where the logical allocation of licensing comes in. *Note that this is also one of the issues addressed with the Authorized Commercial Host for QuickBooks program, which authorizes hosting providers to have QuickBooks present on their servers and describes appropriate and allowed use of the products in a hosted environment.
The logical allocation of unique licenses for each hosted QuickBooks user is a little easier to understand than the technical implementation. The rule is simply that each user of hosted QuickBooks is required to have a valid registered/activated license. That valid license could be a license purchased and activated for that business, or a license rented from an Authorized Commercial Host for QuickBooks (license rented to accompany the hosting service). When a customer with an owned license wants an upgrade to a new version, they obtain the license from Intuit and have it implemented with the host. QuickBooks product licenses, including those obtained as rentals from an authorized host, are provided with a standard Intuit support option (limited to 90 days or something like that). If a customer requires support for their QuickBooks product after the initial support period, they must either pay to get support from Intuit, or get support from their hosting provider or other source. In many cases the hosting provider is not familiar enough with the QuickBooks product to be able to provide operational use or product training, or maybe the host works with so many solutions that they cannot be experts in supporting all of them.
The “Plus” subscription licenses now available from Intuit give customers the options of turning QuickBooks from a one-time purchase into a supported subscription product use license. Businesses who elect to subscribe to the license plus model get perpetual most current version licenses (it’s like Software Assurance in that respect), and they get support from Intuit as long as the license is active.
These “Plus” subscription licenses for QuickBooks should be attractive to hosting providers, as it allows Intuit to take the phone call for general QuickBooks product support, which then allows the hosting service provider to focus on more “hosting-related” issues. Hosts still need to handle technical and implementation issues, but “how to operate QuickBooks” remains an Intuit support duty with this supported subscription license (Intuit is the subject matter expert for QuickBooks, so let them be that for hosting companies, too).
In case you didn’t know it, Intuit has programs for service providers, granting authorization to host and deliver small business financial software products to direct customers and via resellers. Get information on Intuit’s Authorized Commercial Hosts for QuickBooks here
- Changes to Authorized Commercial Host for QuickBooks program
- New program tier for QuickBooks hosting providers