If there's one thing that I am finding more and more common amongst my clientele, it's the need to run QuickBooks. Not just in a standalone environment, but with two, three or even more users accessing the data simultaneously. Working in a multi-user QuickBooks environment tends to introduce certain challenges that you wouldn't normally have in a single-user environment.
For the purpose of this post, I will be focusing solely on QuickBooks for Windows. This is not because I don't think QuickBooks for Mac is a valid financial tool, but because not a single one of my clients uses QuickBooks for Mac. It does tend to be limited when compared to QuickBooks for Windows (this is something that Intuit needs to correct). As a result, it's normal to run VMWare Fusion or Parallels with Windows and QuickBooks (allowing the users to still enjoy the benefits of using a Mac while using QuickBooks for Windows).
The first challenge is deciding where you want your QuickBooks data file hosted. You can either host it on a client machine, or ideally, on a server. The reason a server makes more sense in most cases is because client computers are designed to go to sleep, be restarted, or be even shut down from time-to-time. This is normal and encouraged, but if you expect to host centralized data on these systems, you need to know that these systems can't go down. A server is better suited for this task because they're designed to be on all the time.
The second challenge in a multi-user environment is performance. This isn't necessarily network performance, but performance with how QuickBooks accesses and reads their own data files across a network. In my experience, working with any size QuickBooks data files when stored locally (meaning when the file resides on the same computer that is accessing that file) runs really well. The problem is that when you open these same files across a network connection, performance suffers. This is especially true for larger files (greater than 50 MB). Common symptoms include application sluggishness, application time-outs and even possible data corruption. Believe me, this can be frustrating to work with.
To make matters worse, I have had nearly a dozen phone calls with Intuit support staff to see if there is anything that can be done to eradicate this painful problem. The answer in short is... NO! In fact, several of these support agents have told me that I just need to "deal with it". Yikes!
Fortunately, there are ways to resolve this issue, but it may require you to roll up your technical sleeves and get your hands dirty (or call us to do the dirty work for you).
The solution that I have in mind requires hosting your data files on a Windows Terminal Server, then running the QuickBooks software directly from that virtual instance. A Terminal server is essentially a computer that "lives" somewhere else (whether on your local area network or in the cloud), and you simply remotely control that computer from your Mac. There are upsides and downsides to this:
- Doesn't require you to install and run VMWare Fusion or Parallels on your Mac
- Doesn't require you to install and run Windows within your virtualized environment
- Performance is much, much faster
- The entire setup is simpler to manage
- If you host your own Terminal Server, there is some complexity to the setup and maintenance
- If you use an outside hosting company, there is a monthly hosting fee
For most situations, I don't recommend building and maintaining your own Terminal Server in-house. Between the cost of maintenance, licensing, etc, it can be more expensive than outsourcing it.
How does QuickBooks Hosting Work?
Every QuickBooks hosting company is a little different, but they all have the same general characteristics. They offer you space on one of their virtual servers to run QuickBooks and host your data files. When it comes time to access the software and data, you simply run a free program on your Mac (this program varies depending on the hosting company), enter the address given to you by the hosting company, and log in. Within a few seconds, you are running a virtual copy of Windows and QuickBooks on your Mac (with a very small installation footprint, I might add). Because only screenshots of the software is sent back and forth to your Mac (instead of your data files), speed is no longer an issue. Access time is usually very fast.
My intent here is not to endorse a specific QuickBooks hosting company, but to simply encourage you to spend five minutes exploring QuickBooks hosting options. A quick Google for "QuickBooks hosting" will yield plenty of options for you to choose from. My advice? Take the time to call a few to see which one is right for you. Those two or three phone calls could save you a lot of pain down the road.
At time of post, typical outsourced QuickBooks hosting services will cost you from $25/month and up (depending on features and licensing options).
Of course if you're still in need for expertise, give us a call. We're always willing to help get you to an ideal setup.