With all the talk of cloud computing and having remote access to business applications and data, many small business owners are finding themselves searching for the answer to cloud-ifying their tried-and-true QuickBooks desktop software. At first view, most business owners get the impression that their only viable choices are to either move up or down the product line – downgrading to QuickBooks Online Edition, which lacks the features and functionality they’ve come to expect from QuickBooks, or upgrading to QuickBooks Enterprise Edition, the only version Intuit visibly supports on terminal servers and which is far more expensive than the Pro or Premier editions.
It is surprising how many accounting or even IT professionals don’t understand the real options available to their small business customers wanting to move entirely to a cloud-based IT strategy, particularly when it comes to QuickBooks. This is no fault of the IT guy or accountant – unless they’re specializing with QuickBooks, there are some options they are simply not being made aware of because it isn’t where Intuit is focusing its marketing efforts. Intuit wants businesses to buy QuickBooks Online. The market, on the other hand, likes the QuickBooks desktop products and wants them in the cloud. The well-kept secret is that businesses can have their QuickBooks desktop editions in the cloud and it works the same way as it does on the desktop.
Hosted QuickBooks isn’t rocket science; it’s simply a method of installing QuickBooks desktop software on servers and making the solution available to users via the Internet. Many business offices are already doing this type of thing without really recognizing it – accessing the office PC via a Remote Desktop connection so they can work on their QuickBooks or other applications from home.
A QuickBooks hosting solution is essentially the same thing: QuickBooks software and the company data exist on a computer in a data center, and the user connects to that computing environment, application and data via a remote connection. Most providers use the same underlying technology (Remote Desktop) to deliver their hosting services that users deploy in their own offices – they just use “bigger” versions of it and sometimes a little extra technology with it to help out. The point is that Remote Desktops and hosted applications are not new or bleeding edge technologies; they are a proven means to effectively and efficiently deliver seamless remote access to computing resources (environment, apps, data, etc.).
Perhaps the weirdness surrounding the QuickBooks licensing is part of the problem; I’ve seen this confusion prevent businesses from running their QuickBooks on remote systems simply because they could not figure out the right way to do it and still conform to licensing rules. Consider that QuickBooks is essentially a single-user application, and it’s the database manager that really allows concurrent multi-user access to a data file. The program was not designed to have multiple users of the PROGRAM all running from one computer concurrently (which wasn’t a problem when only one person at a time used a computer).
But these days, with terminal servers and remote desktop capabilities, a single computer is essentially turned into a box containing a bunch of user environments (call them desktops, sessions… whatever). Each of these user environments (desktops/sessions) are running at the same time and on the same computer. So, when a user goes to launch QuickBooks and then open a QuickBooks company file, the database manager looks at the computer running the QuickBooks license and says “ok, you have a license to allow QB to access a data file with one user”. When the next user launches QuickBooks from that machine it will allow them to open the program, but if they try to connect to the same data file as the first user, guess what? QuickBooks database manager looks at the computer and license and sees the same single-user license number coming from the same computer.
A single-user license means only 1 user can access the company file concurrently (at the same time). So, if two or more people are on the same terminal server (remote desktop server), and are trying to access the same company data file concurrently, the QuickBooks license on their terminal server must be at a level that allows all of them to access the company file at the same time, e.g., a 2- or 3-user license. This is not intuitive.
Another issue relating to QuickBooks licensing on a terminal server or remote desktop setup is the fact that it’s a really awesome method of giving more users access to QuickBooks than you legally should. This is an unfortunate technical reality of the product, and is possibly an issue which influences Intuit’s lack of support of the product in this type of environment. While the licensing language and the operation of the database manager indicate that each user running QuickBooks should have a license, the technical reality is a bit different.
The technical reality is that a single QuickBooks license installed on a terminal server could possibly be actively used by any number of people on that server – all at the same time – as long as those users don’t try to open the same company file at the same time. Of course, this is in direct violation of the license agreement and is essentially a situation where a single QuickBooks license is being unlawfully accessed by more users than it is licensed for. Intuit does not approve of this model as it falls into the category of software piracy, but I sure see a lot of accounting firms applying it for client QuickBooks access. (It’s often a statement about how, as a ProAdvisor, the accountant gets their license each year, installs it on the terminal server, and magically all clients now have access to the new edition!). **Note to self: if your service provider or accountant gives you “free and automatic” upgrades to QuickBooks each year, you may want to look a bit further into whether or not the licensing is actually legitimate; the risk to your business books isn’t worth avoiding a $249 investment**
Another thing that often prevents businesses and their IT people from moving QuickBooks to a hosted solution is the lack of available support. While Intuit says that they support QuickBooks Enterprise in a terminal server environment, there is no such offering for the Pro and Premier editions. In reality, this doesn’t mean that the solutions won’t work, because they will. It simply means that Intuit won’t support the installation directly. Perhaps this is the best and most evident reason to work with an authorized QuickBooks hosting provider. Particularly when it comes to your business accounting and financial data, it makes sense to make sure it is running in a supported environment. There are few things as frustrating and potentially damaging to business than losing customer, vendor and accounting information. Let us still be realistic about this, though. QuickBooks was not designed to run on a terminal server, and its behavior and performance may not be flawless. In most cases, however, any tradeoffs are easily weighted towards the benefits of mobility, security and IT management. You get glitches with QuickBooks even on a local PC, so occasionally experiencing them with QuickBooks in the cloud should be expected.
Small businesses need help with their information technology, particularly as even simple to use solutions like QuickBooks continue to get more technically complex (simple to use often means there’s a lot going on behind the scenes). And small businesses want worry-free IT, so they can focus on running the business and not on running computers. For these reasons and more, the small business owner and the IT person serving small business should take a close look at hosting their QuickBooks desktop software – along with their other business applications – with a trusted cloud hosting provider. Yes, you can have your QuickBooks in the cloud. Today.