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?

QuickBooks Multi User QuickBooks Server QuickBooks Remote Access

Not all small businesses can afford QuickBooks Hosting. But, many businesses can’t afford not to. A small business must make a solid business case to spend $50 per user on Hosted QuickBooks. Make the business case and you too can spend many years using QuickBooks Pro, Premier, Accountant or Enterprise Solutions trouble free.

If your business can’t make the case for Hosted QuickBooks, consider this unorthodox route to your own QuickBooks Multi User, Remote Access QuickBooks Server.

The process to build what you need is very straight forward. It will work for 3 user Pro or Premier. If you use a re purposed XP Pro computer, you can save quite a bit of money. The steps are below.

Build a new XP Pro or Win7 Pro computer.

Assign to a domain if it needs to be part of your domain.

Download and Install per their instructions the appropriate version of Thinstuff XP/VS Terminal Server (http://www.thinstuff.com)

Install your version of QuickBooks Pro or Premier.

Setup domain security or local user security.

Turn off any firewall software on the server or write rules to allow rdp and vpn.

Test multiuser desktop access on the local network.

Setup QuickBooks users.

Test multiuser QuickBooks access on the local network.

You now have a multiuser RDP accessible QuickBooks server.

You can use XP/VS Terminal Server to serve a desktop or TSX RemoteApp to serve only QuickBooks.

To add remote access to the server, install OpenVPN or LogMeIn Hamachi VPN on the server and on client computers. You can then access QuickBooks from anywhere you have fast broadband Internet.

Compare this to my Enterprise Solutions server by the book setup:

Remote Desktop Services with Microsoft Windows Server 2008 R2 standard with the latest Intel 64 bit processors, 32 GB RAM and 1000GB drive (not raid) for serving thirty users’ desktops, the maximum size for a single Enterprise installation on a physical server. Add a backup/recovery scheme and redundancy to power and memory to allow for maximum uptime. For a datacenter, dedicate one physical server and network segment to one unique business.

One can save a ton of money.

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.