Hosting QuickBooks Pro: An Introduction
It’s no secret that when it comes to companies with complex accounting needs, QuickBooks Online (see our review) doesn’t hold a candle to its locally installed forbearer. Forums, social media, and accounting sites are rife with the questions and complaints: “I just want the software I love accessible from anywhere! How hard can it be?”
Harder than you think. Hosting providers have to deal with a number of challenges when it comes to QuickBooks, and they generally come down to the fact that it was never intended to be a cloud-based program. But the demand is there, and many companies have risen to the challenge.
It’s worth noting that hosting QuickBooks is a much more expensive proposition than subscribing to QuickBooks Online, especially if you want multiple users to be able to access the program simultaneously. Nonetheless, if you want the benefits of the traditional QuickBooks software in a more mobile and accessible format, QuickBooks hosting is the way to go. Using a hosting service, you can access QuickBooks for Windows from a Mac, a computer running Linux, even a tablet or phone. While the interface isn’t optimized for mobile use, it’s still workable – and the sheer number of hosting providers who’ve partnered with Intuit says something about how many companies have found hosting services a worthwhile option.
We’ll take a quick look at what’s out there, as well as the questions you need to ask when considering a solution.
You can choose from 30 Intuit Authorized Hosting Providers: 14 Standard and 16 Commercial. You can also purchase a QuickBooks license and hosting service together from Intuit’s website (exclusively from Right Networks).
- Standard Hosting Providers – If you already have all the QB licenses you need, then you can go to a standard hosting provider. These companies won’t be able to give you a new license if you want to add a new user — you need to deal directly with Intuit for that.
- Commercial Hosting Providers – These are hosting providers which can rent out QuickBooks licenses on a month-by-month basis. Many of them also provide standard hosting services for companies which already have all the licenses they need.
- Right Networks – Right Networks is listed among Intuit’s authorized commercial hosting providers, but it has a special relationship with Intuit. If you purchase a hosting option directly from Intuit along with your software, you’ll be working with Right Networks. This offers a few advantages. First, you can get discounted rates on QB and hosting bundles (though it’s also worth pointing out that Right Networks hosting plans cost more than some of the alternatives). Second, Intuit and Right Networks conduct product testing together before product launches, which gives them the opportunity to correct problems before you ever see them. And finally, some aspects of customer service are integrated, which can make for a smoother experience when you need to contact tech support.
What about unauthorized hosting providers?
There are companies which offer to host QuickBooks but don’t have a relationship with Intuit. However, there are several problems with using one of these. First, Intuit hasn’t authorized them to host its program, which means you’re not going to be able to get support from Intuit if anything goes wrong. Also, any authorized company must meet certain security, customer service, and performance requirements. An unauthorized company has no such obligations, and while they may adhere to high standards in all three areas, they may not. Finally, while Intuit can inform authorized hosting providers of changes to the program which may require modifications from the hosting end, unauthorized providers are left to their own devices on that count. While some companies have reported positive experiences with unauthorized hosting providers, it’s generally safer to steer clear.
Factors You Should Consider
There are a number of factors that should go into choosing a hosting provider. Many of the available plans look similar on the surface…but there are some key differences. If you take a look at each of these elements before you make a decision, you can save yourself some regret (and money) in the long run.
While prices for hosting services vary, you’ll generally be looking at something in the ballpark of $40-$55/month/user for a basic plan. This includes a $5/month/user Intuit hosting fee which you’ll pay with any Intuit-authorized company — though it’s worth checking the fine print, since most hosting providers do not include the fee in their posted prices. You’ll also need a licensed copy of QuickBooks Pro for every user who’ll be accessing the system.If you want to rent your licenses, it’ll cost an additional $10-$20/month/user for Pro or $15-$25/month/user for Premium.Some companies offer discounts on larger packages (for instance, 5+ users), so if you have a large number of QuickBooks users in your company, it’s worth contacting providers to find out if they offer special pricing.
You’ll also want to pay attention to any other charges. Some companies charge a setup fee (usually per user); others do not.
- Contract and termination
Many QuickBooks hosting providers offer their services on a month-to-month, pay-as-you-go basis. But others include longer-term contracts with penalties for leaving early. And some offer a month-to-month option, but also offer significant discounts if you commit to a year’s subscription right off the bat. Make sure you fully understand the terms of the contract before you sign — and that you know that hosted QB Pro is what you want.Most companies have free trials, or at very least an evaluation period during which you can get a refund if hosted QB Pro turns out not to meet your needs. It’s always a good idea to test the service before making a long term commitment.
- Shared hosting vs dedicated server
Shared hosting is by far the more common option, and for many users, it works just fine. But if you will routinely have a number of users working in QuickBooks at once and have concerns about speed, it may be worth looking into a dedicated server option.A dedicated server is about what it sounds like; it’s dedicated to your company, and no one else is using it.
How running QuickBooks in the cloud affects speed varies widely. Some companies report that the program runs significantly slower than when they had it locally installed; others say it runs noticeably faster.It’s not a bad idea to test out the speed — while multiple users are active in the program — during your trial or evaluation period. If you’re consistently having problems with speed, you probably need to upgrade your internet service, switch to a dedicated server, or switch hosting providers.
What is it you’re looking to get out of QuickBooks? Do you need access from tablets and phones? Support for dual monitors? Are there other programs you want to host as well, such as MS Excel or your full MS Office suite?All of these things are possible, but they’re not included in every plan. If you don’t need mobile access, you can save some money with a basic plan that doesn’t support it — just make sure that the plan offers everything you do need.
- Reliability and uptime
One of the most important criteria to consider is the hosting provider’s availability. If your hosting provider’s servers go down, you can’t access QuickBooks or your company file. So this is critical. Don’t just look at the number, look at the wording. A 99.999% uptime figure (a number you’ll see on several sites) is fantastic, but does the site say their average uptime is 99.999%, or that they aspire to 99.999%? It’s a small difference in wording, but a significant difference in meaning.Read the fine print and understand both the company’s guarantees and its average uptime over the last few years.
- Tech support
A big advantage to using a hosting service is that a great deal of the IT work goes with it. However, that does mean that you’re relying on the hosting provider to help you if anything goes wrong. Many companies offer 24/7 technical support, but some only offer full support during business hours. Consider when you might need help — and whether the company is in your time zone — to narrow down your options.And, as anyone who’s ever dealt with tech support knows, it’s not just availability, but quality, that matters. Check what your proposed hosting company’s users have to say on that score. Were problems fixed quickly? What seems to be the general sentiment regarding the hosting provider’s IT personnel?
- Security and backup
Any Intuit Authorized Hosting Provider is required to meet Intuit’s security standards, and your data is likely to be safe with them. Backup policies vary quite a bit, though, so that’s something you’ll want to investigate before you make your decision. Check both how often your data will be backed up, and how long those backups will be retained.Some providers offer enhanced security measures, such as two-factor identification. If there’s a specific security measure you’re looking for, it’s always a good idea to check with the company before signing up.
Intuit has made huge strides with its cloud-based version, QuickBooks Online, over the past couple of years – but longtime users of the classic desktop program may find it too basic or inefficient for their needs. While paying for hosting services for a locally installed QuickBooks version will cost more than the QBO subscription, there are cases in which it’s money well-spent – and if your company is considering shifting all its programs to a hosted service model rather than a locally installed one, the IT and equipment savings can be significant.
More questions about QuickBooks hosting providers? Any positive or negative experiences with specific companies? Let us know in comments.