They said back in 1999 that the desktop was dead, but desktop software is far from gone. In fact, application hosting services for products like QuickBooks desktop editions just keeps growing in popularity because it delivers the access, mobility and managed services businesses need.
Service providers have been hosting QuickBooks for years, and I’ve been right there all the way, ever since the model was originally developed. In fact, the company I worked with is still selling that original service model today while many other providers have come along to follow it and take advantage of the opportunity.
Using the cloud to support accounting and other business processes makes a lot of sense, and the best part is that it doesn’t require businesses adopt the online versions of the software that just doesn’t work as well. I have a background in accounting so I understand the issues of working remotely with clients, when the business is done in one place but the accounting is done in another. And I love the technology and finding ways to make it easier and more efficient to get small business accounting done.
The benefits of using hosted QuickBooks services are many.
Anytime/anywhere access and fully-managed service are among the most obvious benefits for QuickBooks desktop users, but the advantages of centralized information and applications, secure support for mobile and remote workers, and real-time integrations and analytics capabilities can be transformational for the entire business. Having the means to affordably extend applications to the entire workforce and keep everyone working with the same data in real time can become the foundation for improved processes, greater efficiency and better business performance.
Among the key benefits of the application hosting model is the fact that businesses are not forced to adopt software subscription services or invest their data in web applications that do not provide the functionality or features required. Even more, the business can elect to move their hosted system back to in-house computers, because the hosting is simply an alternative platform for running the software the business owns. You can take your ball and go home if you don’t want to stay.
With all the benefits of hosting QuickBooks, there are also risks involved, especially when working with shared hosting platforms.
Shared hosting platforms are architectures where the service provider spreads the cost of their infrastructure across many customers to help keep the costs down. Using conventional technologies to create divisions between customers on servers, networks and so on, services providers can deliver at a lower cost when they are able to generate revenue from lots of customers for the same pieces of equipment. As more customers are added, more servers are joined into the network. After a while, there are many servers handling the customer load.
Unfortunately, the greater the number of servers, the more complicated and costly it becomes to update the platform. This is among the reasons why many service providers have aged platforms, with server operating systems that are going out of support and offering only legacy desktop views. In addition to compatibility and modernization, a big problem with allowing the platform to age is that it becomes less secure and more difficult to keep protected.
Protecting against disaster is not the same as doing backups.
Many hosted QuickBooks customers have been faced with the ugly reality that their service provider backups are not enough to recover from disaster. This is largely the fault of the providers and is somewhat by design. Businesses hosting their financial and other business applications and data want to know that their information is safe and secure. Performing data backups is part of the promise of protecting customer data, so most customers believe that their service provider is backing up in a way that ensures the data can be recovered.
What most hosting customers don’t understand is that the provider backups are there to help the provider recover from disaster and not necessarily to get the customer back where they were.
Hosting companies know that they need to do backups so they can support customers when files get deleted or become corrupted. Hosting companies typically do regular backups of customer data, but they do not necessarily retain individual backup data sets and they often backup all customer data together. This means that the backup data is constantly being updated, and that fully restoring the data of just one customer may be problematic. Service provider backups are there to support the continued operations of the service provider and may not provide the level of archive or retention needed by the customer. Just to make sure their data is safe and recoverable, I strongly recommend that clients keep any hosted data archived in at least one other location off the host’s platform.
In just the past year, outages caused by malware have been experienced by service providers Cetrom, Skyline, Cloud9 and Insynq, demonstrating just how devastating an outage can be when the service provider doesn’t have adequate protections in place.
In many cases customers lost data because the service provider wasn’t able to recover it from compromised or nonexistent backups. Suggesting that customers should have their data backed up locally is never part of the marketing or onboarding with the QuickBooks host, but it is often the fallback position in times of trouble.
Perhaps the most troubling aspects of these provider failures are that many of the problems stem from the shared nature of the platform.
When we first started building QuickBooks hosting services the hardware and software to make it work was terribly expensive. To approach some level of affordability, a shared platform approach was developed. This allowed the service to scale while offering a lower cost of service to customers. When the services were initially developed, there was concern about protecting from viruses and Trojans, but the nature of malware in the wild was not nearly as troublesome as it has become. Things were manageable.
But technology has evolved and so have the threats and bad actors.
The smarter bad guys should be forcing platform providers to reconsider their shared management and delivery models.
Affordable computing resources are available from platforms like Microsoft Azure and Amazon AWS, offering small businesses the opportunity to have not only powerful and scalable platforms for their business IT, but also offering a means of operating privately. Not being forced to operate in the same network or on the same VMs as other companies means not having to worry about the behavior of other people or applications in your business network. It also means that the focus is on recovering your system if disaster strikes, not on recovering the systems of hundreds or thousands of other businesses at the same time.
Considering the move to a more private cloud hosting solution is an important way to reduce risk and improve IT performance for the business.
When they were in-house, the networks were private and no other businesses were sharing the servers. Moving to the cloud should not radically change that profile, and should offer customers the same privacy from outsiders and the same flexibility to implement whatever applications the business needs.
The Microsoft Azure platform provides this capability and businesses can benefit without compromising the budget. With private accounts on the Microsoft Azure platform, our customers are able to take advantage of the current and emerging technologies while safely and affordably supporting their business requirements, which is something the shared platforms fail to offer.