Better QuickBooks Access, Management and Security – QuickBooks Licensing and Hosting Models

Whether hosted in-house or offsite, licensing models for hosting QuickBooks can be very confusing.

driving1-ANIMATIONThe demand for solutions to address user mobility, better collaboration and improved information security is increasing as connectivity improves and cloud services and threats evolve. Server-based computing models and application hosting are increasingly popular as businesses seek to embrace teleworking and telecommuting models for their entrenched applications and systems, creating a foundation for improved productivity and work/life balancing (or integration).  On the technical side, the benefits of centralizing applications and data include improved efficiency in managing, maintaining and securing systems. For many small businesses, this means centralizing the installation and maintenance of core business applications like Intuit QuickBooks Pro, Premier or Enterprise.

Whether it be offsite with a commercial hosting provider or on a co-located server somewhere, or an onsite installation on the in-house server, hosting Intuit QuickBooks licenses can be straightforward or complicated depending on what you are trying to do with them. 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.  The primary issue is often simply understanding the QuickBooks licensing model, which is not particularly INTUITive (sorry).

Licensing hosted QuickBooks applications comes with two different sets of implementation issues: the technical implementation (the installation and setup) and the logical allocation of licenses to users (the licensing rules).

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 in a workspace or session-based system (e.g., 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 (I think it is still Sybase), 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 server-based implementation of QuickBooks, technicians will install the QuickBooks desktop software on the server, and will determine whether or not that same machine will also handle the company data files.  The QuickBooks DB manager is part of the 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 running the QBDB manager.  The overhead used by the database manager isn’t huge, but it can impact the performance of users on the server.  For this reason, some techs will decide to implement a separate file server to manage the QB data files, taking that load off the app server.

  • The QuickBooks software uses the database manager to “host” access to company files.  This simply means that a single server with the data on it is providing managed access to remote-desktop-sessionsQuickBooks application users.
  • When QuickBooks application software and data is installed and centrally managed on a server (instead of QuickBooks being installed on individual PCs), that means QuickBooks application is being “hosted” on that server.
  • When a 3rd party provider supplies the server, the QuickBooks installation, data storage, and your way of connecting to it all,  that provider is a “host” providing hosting services for your QuickBooks.

In a dedicated hosting environment, the data is often stored on the same server as the applications, whereas in a shared hosting environment, the data is often stored on central file servers which serve multiple customers. This is why, in some shared hosting situations, one bad data file can take down the database manager services for all the customers using that same file server.

Users open the QuickBooks application on the server instead of having the application installed on individual PCs.  The single server-based installation of the software is able to be used concurrently by all users logging in to that computer. 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 computer/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 computer or 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 computer, 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). There will be more than a few annoyances when running a variety of QBs on the same computer, but it is technically possible.

In order to allow multiple users to simultaneously access the same data file from a central installation of QuickBooks, the license key installed on the computer 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 with that same license key to simultaneously access the same company file.  Technically (but not lawfully) this installation of QuickBooks on the machine could allow a virtually unlimited number of users to launch the QuickBooks application simultaneously, limited only by machine resources.  This is where the logical allocation of licensing comes in.. the rule of licensing QuickBooks.

The logical allocation of unique licenses for each QuickBooks user is a little easier to understand than the technical implementation.  The rule is simply that each user of QuickBooks is required to have a valid registered/activated license. That valid license is a license purchased and activated for that business.

total-businessMaking QuickBooks desktop editions more useful by adding secure remote access and centralized management makes a lot of sense.  For companies who rely on the functionality and features of the desktop products (QuickBooks Pro, Premier and Enterprise), a hosted approach is the only way to really address mobility and multi-location requirements.  Remember that hosting doesn’t necessarily mean offsite, although that could make sense for the business, too.

Centrally-managing QuickBooks applications and data creates greater efficiency and improves overall IT management capability for the business.  At the same time, a centralized model introduces a better strategy for mobilizing the workforce and connecting remote users and offices. The struggles of understanding and implementing proper QuickBooks licensing begin to seem very small when compared to the benefits of deploying a centralized system that’s easier to access, manage and secure.

Make sense?

J

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