A Basic Roadmap for Cloud Migration

Aug 4th 2016
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I can make this column very simple. Do you or your clients need to work some place other than the office? For most of you this answer is simple: Yes! The next question is also pretty simple. Do you need to run traditional desktop solutions, or is a solution available that runs in a web browser?

If everything in your world runs in a browser, then any computer will work, and you can be done reading this post. However, if you or your clients have any desktop solutions that need to run remotely, you will need a hosted option for that application. You can host applications privately or publicly.

Defining the Landscape

Before we go any furuter, a few definitions may be in order:

  • SaaS (Software as a Service) – applications that run in a browser. Typically, SaaS applications are multi-user and multi-tenant.
  • On-Premises – traditional desktop and network applications.
  • Hosted – running traditional applications in a data center or colocation facility (COLO) = public cloud. If the computer doing the hosting is not in your office, it is public. You may be the only company using the resources (single tenant) or one of many (multi-tenant).
  • Private cloud – running your own hosting facilities from your own premises with tools like Microsoft Remote Desktop Services (RDS), Citrix XenApp, or Citrix XenDesktop/VMWare View to have a full virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). These software products enable remote access of traditional applications over the Internet.
  • Remote access – You can achieve remote access with your own private cloud or you can add one of dozens of browser-based tools for remote access. Examples of browser based-tools include: GoToMyPCJoin.MeTeamViewer,WebExBomgar, and (one that works notably well for QuickBooks)MyQuickCloud. These tools frequently have a monthly fee, and use a technology to set up a remote connection from one computer to another.
  • SLA (Service Level Agreement) – guarantee of uptime.
  • Hybrid – mixing one or more of the techniques above to solve a business problem.

OK, wait a minute, all those definitions make things sound a lot more confusing. Yes, they are potentially confusing, but not if you keep your needs in mind. True, there are a lot of options, but you need to ask: What am I trying to accomplish?

What Are You Trying to Accomplish?

If you have occasional remote access needs, a browser-based option should be sufficient. Yes, there will be some integration issues, screen and mouse incompatibilities, and – at times – delays in what happens on the host machine (where the application lives) and what you see on your machine.

If you have the need for multi-site access most of the time, you’ll have to pick a solution with more capabilities, like MyQuickCloud or Citrix, and you and your clients will have some ongoing monthly charges as a cost of doing business.

A new approach this year is to replicate the data automatically, as we see in the Sage 50c solution, where applications run locally in multiple locations (office, home, accountant) and the data is updated via the cloud with SageDrive (see illustration). If you have far more frequent access, you should consider one of the public or private cloud (hosting) approaches.

How to Gain Multiple User/Multi-Site Access

While we like a broad number of SaaS solutions, many of you make our living with QuickBooks Desktop. The primary ways of gaining multiple user/multi-site access include:

  1. Browser-based tools
  2. Multi-user relay (MyQuickCloud/Pertino)
  3. Remote access technology, including Microsoft Remote Desktop Services and Citrix XenApp
  4. Authorized hosting, represented by those listed at Intuit Hosting Program

In regard to number 4, remember that these are the only companies that have the authorization to host Intuit QuickBooks. Typical fees vary from $30-$50 per user per month. There are some options where you can wholesale the service and resell it to your clients.

To keep this in perspective, the typical hosting company charges $50/user/month, and in a typical five-user environment, you or your client would spend $250/month. If the client can run on QuickBooks Online Premier, the charge would be $39.95/month. Other SaaS competitors typically charge $9.95 per month, so five users would be $49.75 per month.

Currently, one real value in the SaaS space is Sage One, which allows accountants to buy licensing for 25 full year client subscriptions users for $25. In effect that means you can give clients access to Sage One for $1/year! Alternatively, Sage One is sold for $5/month or $60/year, similar to the 50% discount Intuit offers for QuickBooks Online clients who are invited into a QuickBooks Online Accountant Edition (QBOA) portal. Remember, you may have to add other SaaS tools to get a complete solution.

Only certain products are supported by authorized hosting companies. You’ll want to give careful thought to who you recommend, and make sure that the product is supported by the vendor recommended. For example, a popular QuickBooks hosting vendor, Right Networks, supports many different QuickBooks desktop products, including Results CRM. However, Results CRM is not supported by every QuickBooks Desktop hosting company.

Companies like Results Software are responding by making a SaaS version of their software available, which no longer requires hosting by an authorized hosting company. On the other hand, companies like AvalaraBill.comBillQuick (BQE)SmartVault, and TSheets only have SaaS versions of their products, and can integrate with premises-based, private cloud, or public cloud hosted versions of the products.

Develop Your Specific Expertise

One caution on any of these third-party product hosting/integration approaches: You need to ensure that the performance is acceptable for you and your clients. In most cases this is not a problem, but take enough time to test the combination of products you recommend.

In prior posts, I have recommended that you consider “verticalizing” your practice and select a number of third-party products while developing an expertise in specific industries. I still believe this is a viable strategy. If you are completely SaaS-based, you are counting on the vendors to do the testing and technical work to make the performance acceptable. Most of the time this is true, but you should test vendors’ claims to make sure this is the case.

In other cases, not every solution you need for your client base will be available via a cloud service, but some form of a private cloud will allow you to solve the client’s problem while demonstrating that you have the consulting expertise to make this all possible.

Note: Cloud strategies mean different things to different people. SaaS, PaaS, IaaS, Hosted, On-Premises, Hybrid, Public Cloud, Private Cloud, and VDI are all examples of options in cloud technologies. Are you satisfied with where you are in your cloud strategies? Lots of vendors will try to convince you that their way is “the way,” but don’t buy that. The right way is the best way that fits your business and client needs.

Randy Johnston is a well-known technology expert, consultant, trainer and speaker. He will be speaking at the upcoming Accountex USA 2016(formerly SleeterCon) event, Nov. 15-18 in Las Vegas. The original post appeared on the Sleeter Group blog. AccountingWEB and Accountex have partnered to bring you this content as we share a belief in the furtherment of the profession through greater insights.

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