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Just a couple of months ago, Intuit announced that they would stop selling many of their Desktop edition software subscriptions at the end of July 2024. While this doesn’t affect existing subscribers (or businesses with QuickBooks Enterprise), it signals to everyone that QuickBooks would probably prefer for you to move to their cloud at QuickBooks Online. Today, we’ll discuss some pros and cons of moving one of the most important databases on small- and medium-business’ networks.

The Platforms

QuickBooks would probably like for you to pay monthly for your subscription, which is why they would cut off some of their desktop users and make it the only option. It likely isn’t too bad, as far as pricing goes. However, in our experience, many people who have switched from the desktop edition to the online edition have been unhappy with the experience. The two major issues we hear about are 1) a redesigned interface and 2) a lack of some of the most important features for small and medium businesses. This second item is because the ability to do payroll is an add-on in QuickBooks Online, and that’s just one example.

Because of these drawbacks, we can’t say that we’ve ever heard of a small business who was happier with Online than with the Desktop or Enterprise editions. There might be some situations where it’s preferrable to use QuickBooks Online, but if the idea is simply to have more access and collaboration due to the cloud hosting, there are other options to consider that give you the same remote access but without the loss of functionality.

On-Prem in the Cloud?

Of course, any mention of the cloud is going to spark a discussion of “where” the services are. An often-used phrase about cloud computing is: “the cloud is just someone else’s computer.” While that’s an oversimplification, it’s also the core truth behind cloud technologies: rely on a provider to host some data or software on your behalf. What’s less commonly mentioned is that most businesses have all they need to set up their own cloud.

In a private cloud setup, you can use your existing business network and host your own resources, databases, and software, such as the Desktop or Enterprise editions of QuickBooks. This could be as simple as using VPN technologies or remote desktop protocol (RDP) to access your QuickBooks. In this scenario, it’s typically as easy to reach your QB instance as it is to get to the rest of your business network resources. With the right setup, you can access your accounting software without trouble from anywhere.

There are some licensing limitations that come up here. It should be possible for multiple users to access QuickBooks, but to do it simultaneously, they’ll each need licenses; users who don’t have to have it open at the same time can share licenses/accounts. The number of users will dictate which product you need: Desktop Pro allows you to have 3 users, Desktop Premier is for 5 users, and from there you’ll need Enterprise for anything between 5 and 30.

The main concern with private cloud setups is security. Securing your on-premises servers and files isn’t exactly simple, requires maintenance, and should be done by experts that can guide you on best practices in networking security. Patching, refreshing end-of-life network devices, monitoring and logging… these are the cybersecurity strategies and practices underlying a viable security posture and enable you to keep your data safe.

Your IT team will need to be able to solve the common problems that QuickBooks encounters, but for the most part, these issues are related to typical database-style problems. When hosted on your own server, the most typical problem will be that the program’s services get hung and need to be restarted. Having a responsive and experienced team on your side can get you back into business as usual quickly.

Public Cloud Solutions

There are plenty of ways to use a public cloud to store your data. The most obvious one would be going with a big cloud provider like Amazon or Microsoft and creating your own server in the cloud. It may be a little counterintuitive, but the public cloud is what most people refer to when they say “cloud.” This doesn’t mean that your data is public, but rather, that the infrastructure provided by the host is made available for purchase by any organization. The big players—AWS, Google Drive, Azure—host your data in logically separated data stores on their servers.

The major trade off here is cost: using these cloud services can be pricey per month, but you don’t incur the cost of buying the infrastructure for yourself up front. Managing these solutions also takes quite a bit of expertise on your own IT team. Instead of paying for a generic solution then engineering it into something tailored to your needs there are specialized public clouds for QuickBooks. These services, like Rightworks, specialize in hosting QuickBooks in the cloud specifically. They have dedicated support for access issues and can be a way to offload some of the management of your QuickBooks instance.

One of the trickiest parts of deciding to go to the cloud is understanding the risks to your data. While the term “public cloud” doesn’t mean that everyone has access to your data, it does signal something important about your security responsibilities: no matter where you store your data, its security is still your responsibility.

Managing Risk in the Cloud

A lot of people seem to think that once the data goes to the cloud, it’s the responsibility of the cloud provider to keep your data secure. This is true in one sense: cloud providers need to keep their reputation high by providing security, and they need to secure their own infrastructure based on the inherent risks of hosting other people’s data. On the other hand, big data breaches do happen, and regardless of the service level, there’s no way for them to guarantee the security of your data to a level of 100%.

Beyond leaks, there’s also the question of availability. Back in 2019, a QuickBooks host named iNSYNQ suffered a sophisticated ransomware attack that left their clients without access to their books for 10 days. Ultimately, the attack didn’t lead to a leak of the information, but a disruption to their service left their clients without any recourse while the company restored their data from backups.

Understanding the risks of any of these different configurations is crucial to understanding what is right for your organization. There are always tradeoffs between security and convenience, and no security can be total. As with the rest of your data protection and cybersecurity postures, the idea is to find a balance between costs, risks, and convenience. Your financial information is one of the most valuable and useful kinds of information that your organization has, so no matter what your requirements for access are, it’s important to have an IT team that can advise on how to best stay ahead of the bad guys.

-Written by Derek Jeppsen on Behalf of Sean Goss and Crown Computers Team