Contrary to What You Learned in Grade School… Sharing is Bad, Okay?

There is a place and time for sharing. Share your color crayons, share your toys… share your feelings with those you love. But when it comes to business technology and infrastructure, sharing isn’t always the best approach. Some things you should just keep for yourself… like the servers you use for hosting business desktops, desktop applications and business data.

When we first began the journey of bringing small business desktops and applications like QuickBooks to the Internet, the “cloud” was not yet a thing. Hosting providers put up servers in racks in data centers, installed software and stored data on behalf of customers, and did their best to find ways of making the service affordable. Elastic resources, massive scalability and built-in redundancy (which are benefits of a real cloud fabric) were not generally available nor were they even remotely affordable. Because the hardware, networking and other resources that make up the hosting infrastructure is costly, it is important for the hosting service provider to be able to spread those costs across the entire customer base.

In most cases, this meant creating shared servers where many customers run their applications and store their data. Even when a provider suggests that a customer has a “private” server, there is still a good chance the server is using shared storage and/or networking resources made accessible in the environment.

Sharing can be a good thing or a bad thing, and it often depends on the behavior of those involved. In shared application hosting environments, particularly desktop hosting environments, there is a lot of potential for intentionally and unintentionally causing problems that can and will impact other users and customers on the platform.

A simple provisioning error might allow a user to see data belonging to another company or have access to applications or services they should not.

With shared resources, bad actors and intruders can often escape permission boundaries, attaching to network shares and other computers on the platform.

Malware accidentally introduced by an innocent user from one company could easily penetrate the entire system, following paths to data storage locations and other servers, spreading the problem to many customers and systems and even data centers.

If you are operating on the compromised system you are at risk, even if the compromise wasn’t initiated by one of  your users or from within one of your applications.

In the realm of QuickBooks hosting providers, the issues around sharing infrastructure and resources have created some very difficult situations for hosts and for their customers alike – especially when it comes to dealing with computer viruses, malware and ransomware. A few high-profile events, as well as numerous incidents which have flown under the radar, have revealed just how damaging the shared approach can be.

With the IRS, AICPA and other agencies issuing increasingly strong guidance for tax and accounting professionals to protect client information, finance professionals should strongly consider the risk introduced through shared hosting service arrangements and evaluate if it is greater than the costs of having a more private system.

Cloud platforms available today are fully matured, delivering scalability and agility at price levels that are affordable even for very small businesses.  No longer solely for enterprise enjoyment, real cloud solutions and delivery models can be used by small businesses for desktop and application hosting without compromise. Every business deserves their own cloud, and we know how to make that affordable.

Cooper Mann works with teams deploying on the Microsoft Azure platform, offering an agility in design not previously available with legacy computing approaches. Because every delivery is absolutely private to each customer, the solution can be scaled up (or down!) on demand to suit the specific needs of the individual business. More important is the fact that each customer operates separately, so any bad behavior the system may suffer from is their own.

jmbunnyfeetMake Sense?

J

QuickBooks Point of Sale and Hosting

QuickBooks Point of Sale in a Hosted Environment

Retail operators and multi-location store owners often face difficulties in attempting to bring cohesion to their accounting, financial, and operational data.  In so many situations, the retail location –  where inventory is sold and money is exchanged – is far-removed from the administrative location where the financial systems and business reporting exist.  It seems that the best case scenario is to create a means for the remote (retail) locations to operate with real-time access to centralized customer, inventory, and financial data from a primary source. Application hosting services can provide this centralization,  and a platform for standardization, of systems.  Further, the application hosting model can deliver security and managed service which ensures that the systems are available and performing as required.

Even though hosted applications and centralization of the systems and processes in a POS environment may appear to be the right answer, there are caveats and considerations that speak to the realities of today’s technologies.  These caveats should be strongly considered prior to undertaking any reformation of systems and processes relating to the retail locations.

The first fundamental reality which must be addressed is connectivity.

While a retail or store location may enjoy Internet or network connectivity, there should be great consideration given to the wisdom of connecting these locations only and exclusively via remote access systems.

Retail is a dynamic business, and the sale is made when the customer is ready and willing to buy.  Any retail location must be able to process this sale in order to meet the immediacy of customer demand.

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If the systems in use are exclusively accessed remotely, then the connectivity to those systems become of paramount importance in the ability to do business.  At the very minimum, any remotely-served retail location should have redundant connectivity options, with local personnel being familiar with the connection failover process.

A second strong consideration for a hosted or remotely-deployed POS or retail system is local device support.

Devices, such as card readers, scanners, cash drawers, receipt printers, etc. typically require local PC/computer drivers in order to function.  When served by a remote system, this connection between the host and the local devices may not function.  Limited device support for POS hardware can significantly impact the location’s accuracy and efficiency.

QuickBooks POS was designed for use on a single-user PC environment.  The application is not well-suited to a hosted deployment for multiple users, as the software only allows one instance of itself to run on each computer.  This alone eliminates the benefits of a server-based computing model for POS, whether onsite or hosted. The multi-lane option requires all stores to be connected via the same LAN, so remotely connecting multiple locations isn’t really do-able, either.  This is why there is a multi-store option, allowing the various stores to operate independently and send the daily data back to a master location via a store transfer or email process.

In many cases, the suitable answer is to keep the POS systems running on the local computers and network, and run the accounting applications on the host. The host system, whether it be an on-premises server or a location in the cloud, could also run the software which integrates the POS data with accounting.

integratedFor example, with an installation of QuickBooks accounting the point-of-sale “master location” on the host, the core financial data is able to be secured and protected in the virtual environment without risking lost productivity (and lost sales!) due to connectivity failures at the retail locations.  The end-of-day process at each location is to then copy the POS data to the host system where it is integrated with the accounting system. If the POS system is something other than QuickBooks POS, it simply means that there is another piece of software – the specific POS integration tool – required to transfer the POS data into the accounting software.  QuickBooks desktop accounting integrations are available for most popular POS systems including Micros, POSiTouch, Aloha and others. The integration software (often just a QuickBooks plug-in) would be installed on the computer running QuickBooks, enabling the entry of the POS data into the QuickBooks accounting system.

It makes a ton of sense to centrally manage the accounting and financial data for the business, in a secure location away from the retail storefront and frontline workers.  It’s just that the accounting is easier to host and makes more sense to run as a centrally-managed, hosted solution.  POS, on the other hand?  Not so much.

For a small market vendor or the largest of retail stores, point of sale needs to be up and running at all times, driving receipt printers and cash registers/drawers and barcode scanners. Run the POS system on-premises where the action happens, but keep accounting and finance safe and secure somewhere else.

jmbunnyfeetMake Sense?

J