QuickBooks Virtual Server

I install a lot of software, sometimes on a very large scale. My software installation best practice requires that anytime I install software for a client, I review release notes and minimum systems requirements from the software manufacturer. It’s not uncommon that major changes occur between version updates that will impact an installation that I’m doing.

Recently, I encountered a situation that challenged my default server installation methodology to the core. This challenge will prove to impact the way I look at QuickBooks in the future.

My server installation best practice requires me to consider virtualizing any server environment before I consider using a physical server. Virtual technologies integrated with RAID storage arrays are mature and as common as Ford trucks. Only a few architectural instances dictate a physical server; an on site domain controller and a network fax server using multi port pots lines come to mind.

My back up and disaster methodology depends upon continual data protection, continually writing an updated virtual server image to local and offsite storage. CDP is pretty much the norm in the industry today.

My most recent QuickBooks installation environment revolved around the role Remote Desktop Services plays in reducing costs and increasing manageability. It’s almost a no brainer to build a  thirty user QuickBooks Enterprise 13 set up with Server 2008 R2 Remote Desktop Services on top of VMware, using Acronis to write a virtual image into a datacenter. However, QuickBooks release notes and latest system requirements stopped me dead in my tracks.

First, I came upon QuickBooks system requirements and Intuit’s concept of “natively installed” splattered all over the Intuit QuickBooks Support Systems Requirements page. I had not seen these requirements in the past. Check these out:

System requirements for QuickBooks 2013 and Enterprise Solutions 13.0  Native Installed

Apparently, Intuit does not recommend or support QuickBooks installation on a virtual server. An IT person might say, “so what.” My experience tells me that only a fool will run a large QuickBooks environment without a yearly Intuit QuickBooks Support Contract. There are always reasons to get Intuit’s assistance to keep your QuickBooks operational.

Secondly, if the failure to support QuickBooks installed on a virtual server is not bad enough, Intuit states that “QuickBooks will work with systems running RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks) but this is not recommended because performance issues may cause QuickBooks to operate slowly.”

Essentially, Intuit prefers that the two pillars of server technology, virtualization and RAID be completely avoided, to the extent that Intuit will not support you if you deploy virtualization and RAID. This strikes me as a large problem or a great opportunity.

How might this situation effect you?

Time To Chose A QuickBooks Hosting Provider

If you are tackling a new QuickBooks server installation, consider this story line.

Let me be honest with myself here. I would like to have a five user QuickBooks installation that allows me the same functionality as a commercially hosted QuickBooks setup, one that would run me $250 per month.

Actually, I really want to recoup my cost by hosting a few of my clients for $50 a user. I know of twenty clients that I can host right now. It can’t be that hard, as I find myself opening up my new $1000 Dell server I succumbed to purchasing online.

Much to my surprise, the server sets up almost automatically right out of the box. My new copy of QuickBooks Pro sets up quickly. Within a few hours, I’m up on the network and sharing files and QuickBooks with my other two employees. So, I’ve decided to add a couple more employees and set this server up for a few customers. Although sharing QuickBooks with a few employees and customers sounds simple and straight forward, this story usually ends with many unhappy customers and a project that turns into a money pit.

Consider the real gotchas.

The $1000 on sale server might be enough to share QuickBooks among three employees, but it won’t live in a situation that demands any more stress. Options like virtualization, redundant power supplies, redundant disk arrays, multiple processors and up to 32GB memory for multiple application loads do not come standard on a $1000 server.

Terminal Services, a necessity for running QuickBooks in a multi user remote access environment requires additional Microsoft licensing to be purchased. Microsoft states, “In addition to a server license, a Windows Server Client Access License (CAL) is required to access the Windows Server software. If you wish to utilize the RDS functionality of the Windows Server software, an incremental Terminal Services Windows Server 2008 Terminal Services Client Access License (TS CAL), or the new Remote Desktop Services Client Access License (RDS CAL) is required as well”

Intuit will not support QuickBooks Pro in a Terminal Services environment for end user customers. One will lose access to any support help from Intuit unless the Enterprise version and Enterprise support are purchased and run exclusively.

The typical software architecture to add multiple secured users to Windows Server is not possible, when clients require any third party add on software or integrated FEDEX or UPS shipping functionality. Virtualization of QuickBooks and the underlying server software established itself as a mature technology long ago. Third party software is expensive but an absolute must.

Recently, Rick Fallahee, CEO of NovelASPect, offered some great advice about choosing an application Hosting provider. One of Rick’s suggestions is spot on. “When searching for an application hosting provider, make sure they offer Citrix.” Microsoft Terminal Services presents a “remote desktop” to the end user. But software designed to virtualize applications such as QuickBooks and Peachtree often finds its way to the cutting room floor in order for hosting providers to cut cost. Citrix removes boundaries imposed by default Terminal Services and allows effortless printing and scanning from USB devices such as POS devices, webcams, microphones, scanners, digital cameras, and more. Citrix facilitates access from many types of devices like Apple MACs and smart phones. Invest your $250 a month (a typical five user hosted application) in a solution with Citrix.

QuickBooks Enterprise retails for $3000 for a five user version. A fully virtualized and redundant server setup from Dell with appropriate licensing runs well over $20000. I don’t think I’ll be offering up my $1000 server to host QuickBooks Pro and Premier to my customers anytime soon.

If you need QuickBooks hosting or Peachtree hosting, contact me. I can help out.

New Company File in QuickBooks

I start out each year with a new company file for QuickBooks. It seems perfectly reasonable because my QuickBooks complexity does not effect my process of creating the file. Starting with a new file keeps QuickBooks operating fast and error free. I’ve always taken my process for granted because is as simple as exporting lists and templates and beginning with opening balances in the appropriate accounts. Also, I export my financial statements and compare year to year trends in Excel. I’ve read several places that creating a new company file each year is a best practice.

I can see multitudes of problems for companies that have more complex requirements for QuickBooks than I have. In the past, I argued that creating a new company file each year was best practice. However, I now know that extenuating circumstances can prevent a business from creating a new file every year.Here’s what Intuit has to say about it.

If my business were more complex, I would have serious concerns around the limitations that payroll and time entries, online banking and comparative yearly reports have on my ability to mitigate performance problems with QuickBooks by creating a new company file every year. The large company files as well as the database serving methodology employed by QuickBooks seriously impacts QuickBooks Multi User performance.

I regularly upgrade networks to gigabit to mitigate the QuickBooks performance situation, something I do not do with Peachtree companies. I’m not recommending that you move to Peachtree. But, I am concerned that QuickBooks client server software architecture needs to be reevaluated, de-bloated and moved to a 21st century state of the art client server design. If my business’s accounting needs depended upon application performance and tight integration between payroll, time entry, banking and year to year comparative reporting, I would have to seriously consider something else other that QuickBooks Multi User.

Intuit’s efforts in licensing and improving Hosted QuickBooks and QuickBooks Online are admirable. But, hosted solutions are not the answer to every businesses’ requirements. Tell a doctor I know that’s office has no Internet connectivity, that he needs to move QuickBooks 2006 to QuickBooks online for the latest features and you’ll know what I mean.

The current state of QuickBooks client server performance needs a hard look by a few good client server architects. I don’t think I’m alone in my opinion. What do you think?