Case studies: Cloud hosting in 2018

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The meaning of cloud hosting as a service has changed over the years, but its usefulness persists — providing data redundancy, security and flexibility to mix and match whatever types of programs a firm needs to use, all accessible from any location. In these case studies, Accounting Today brought together a mix of new users and early adopters of cloud hosting.

Plug and play

Product: AbacusNext

Firm: Platform Tax & Consulting

Staff users: 22

Start date: 2017

Cost: Contact vendor

On the record: Managing director Daniel Spencer

Selection: Platform Tax & Consulting technically started its cloud-hosting relationship with AbacusNext through Cloud9 Real Time, but the former bought the latter last year and has been transitioning customers over onto its platform since then. Spencer selected AbacusNext because of its ability to host everything the firm used in the cloud, as opposed to a select few apps and programs.

Implementation: “AbacusNext was in a transition period with having newly acquired Cloud9 and at first it was a little bit rocky as they were trying to get everything going and up to speed,” Spencer said. “The reality is, accountants function a lot different than attorneys — they were in the attorney space for a while — and it seemed like we needed more resources than what they were putting on servers. It took some time until everything was running smoothly. We’ve had a few servers built by them now, and they’ve got the process down. One we just recently set up from start to finish took half the time than it took before.”

Being an “early adopter” of AbacusNext’s venture into the accounting space had its advantages, Spencer added: “We were able to be involved in a lot of changes they were making. It was easier to help them understand what we really needed, versus just assuming, ‘Oh, you’re a professional firm, you need this because that’s what all professional firms need.’”

Highlights: Customer support is one of the biggest highlights of working with the cloud-hosting provider. “Even when the problem is on my local machine, oftentimes what happens with support people is they love to pass the buck off to someone else,” he said. “With AbacusNext, over and over again they take ownership of the issue.”

Challenges: At first, the resources on the servers were adequate but “not quite what we needed,” Spencer said. “As accountants, we often have three, four or five software programs running at the same time, which take a lot of resources from a server. They’ve since changed their pricing model/plan so now you get more resources with every user than you did before.”

AbacusNext’s security system is robust, Spencer said, but there’s a tradeoff for tight security — the more there is, the less “freedoms” the customer has to, for instance, update their own software.

“I have to call into support during tax season sometimes two or three times a week to update our tax software,” Spencer said. “That causes everyone to be out of the system while that happens. Oftentimes I do it early in the morning or night. What they’re doing is protecting us from other people doing something stupid on our server that would affect their server in some way. It’s a positive thing, because here on our local machines our employees have the potential to download something that could take down the whole system. With AbacusNext I don’t have to worry about that.”

Firm growth: “AbacusNext has given us the remote capabilities we’ve been looking for,” Spencer said. “We have standardization — every office is going to function the same way, which as far as training goes is very helpful. It is a little easier to grow as well in the sense of when we move into a new city, no matter what that office had as their setup, we can recreate our standards inside of AbacusNext. It’s like plug and play. It makes it much easier”

The sandbox in the cloud

Product: Right Networks

Firm: Siegel Solutions (an Intuit solutions provider)

Staff users: 12

Start date: 2003

Cost: Starting at $50 per user per month

On the record: Owner and partner Jeff Siegel

Selection: Siegel Solutions started using Right Networks as its cloud-hosting provider back in 2005, and was a very early adopter of cloud hosting in general.

As his firm was growing, founder Jeff Siegel recalled, he and his staff found it challenging to move client files back and forth. He started hearing about the ability to access computers remotely, and looked into doing it himself. Eventually, it was too difficult to manage on his own.

“This was not the type of business I wanted to be in,” he said. “I just didn’t have the expertise. If my server went down, or if I wasn’t backing up, I’d get nervous; the client could feasibly see other clients’ files; there were a host of problems.”

So Siegel did some research and found Right Networks, which was one of the only companies that said, “We’ll manage it completely,” Siegel said. Right Networks was originally built as a cloud-hosting provider for QuickBooks Desktop, and Siegel is an Intuit solutions provider.

Implementation: Implementation was very easy, Siegel said. His firm gave Right Networks the QuickBooks programs it was using and their license numbers; his staff were given user names and login information, and within 24 hours, they got an email saying everything was ready to go.

But 2005 is not 2018 — Siegel said that over the years, with the many software updates and changes in the technology landscape (for instance, Siegel Solutions provides many cloud-based applications, including QuickBooks Online, today), Right Networks manages the changes: “We don’t have to really do anything.”

Highlights: “The support is great,” Siegel said. “There’s both email and a help-desk link right on your desktop when you log in. There’s instant chat, which is really important to me.” There has also been very little down time, Siegel said, over the 13-year relationship.

In addition, Right Networks’ printing feature has been a godsend for Siegel. “Printing is sometimes overlooked — you don’t even think about it,” he said. “But I can log in from any computer, any place, whether it’s a Mac or Windows, and print to the local printer sitting next to me. If I’m at a client’s and I have to jump on Right Networks and print something, it’ll find the printer in the office I’m sitting in. I don’t have to install anything. A lot of people don’t think about it, but if you can’t get data out, it’s an issue.”

Finally, Siegel appreciates Right Networks’ permissions structure. Siegel can set up different access levels so certain staff can or cannot view certain files. In this way, Right Networks is “really good with helping us structure our environment,” Siegel said.

Challenges: A challenge that Siegel said has both negative and positive sides is how thoroughly Right Networks vets its applications. “Right Networks really vets the apps that they host,” he said. “This could be both good and bad — sometimes a client will need something hosted that Right Networks doesn’t currently host, and they have to test it first. This may take some time, but the good part is you know they’re not putting something up there that’s going bring down the environment. There have been other industry examples of hosting networks that have had issues with ransomware.”

Firm growth: “We continue to add users to Right Networks, but the other thing we do is we’ll use Right Networks as our sandbox,” Siegel said. “Even if a client isn’t using Right Networks, we are, so we’ll take a client file, throw it up there, and use QuickBooks and some other apps we have hosted, and we’ll do our consulting work right on the Right Networks environment. We’ve actually moved off our own servers completely and use Right Networks as our own network. So we have a bunch of stuff up there for the firm only and not for clients, so we’re able to work more virtually, and work on client files without hosting them locally.”

“I think it’s a great product,” Siegel concluded. “I have other hosting companies come to me and pitch me, but even if the price is different, the service is so important with Right Networks. Support is really key. It’s solid. It feels like a tank.”

Loyalty wins

Product: Cloudvara

Firm: Daily Balance

Staff users: 6

Start date: 2012

Cost: $49 per user per month, with volume, pre-payment and nonprofit discounts

On the record: President Sydney Highley

Selection: Syd Highley was an early adopter of the concept of hosting accounting software on offsite servers. He had a professional relationship with the founder and president of Cloudvara, James Zachman, since well before Zachman founded Cloudvara in 2012. When Zachman left his previous company, which Highley was using as a cloud-hosting provider, to start his own venture, Highley went with him.

Cloudvara, unlike the previous company Highley used, had all its servers located within the United States. This gave Highley a “warm and fuzzy feeling,” knowing that if any legal, compliance or security issues were to come up, Cloudvara would, in his estimation, be subject to U.S. law. That made Highley feel more secure than having servers located offshore.

Implementation: “I didn’t have to do any of the heavy lifting,” Highley said. “Jim [Zachman] had access to all my data, so he just migrated it over and I just proceeded and carried on. I don’t even remember being down for any period of time.”

Upon the transition, Highley noticed that Cloudvara’s servers were much faster than the previous company’s.

Highlights: Highley noted that Cloudvara’s tech support, which is available 24/7, is very good. He also said that over the many years he’s worked with Cloudvara, he’s never experienced an outage. “If you can imagine all the businesses we deal with, we have responsibilities on a daily basis to our clients, so we can’t afford to be down for even half a day. Up-time with Cloudvara has been almost 100 percent.”

There was a big improvement with service when Cloudvara built a dedicated server for Highley’s practice. This made it possible to customize the server’s resources and capabilities.

Challenges: “The biggest challenges have been in the area of printing,” Highley said. “Years ago, the technology did not exist, to my knowledge, that allowed for a secure printing environment. For instance, I might print out a payroll check for someone who got terminated for my client, and a simple mistake could send it to the wrong client’s printer.” Cloudvara has now implemented a software program that prevents this from happening.

“Other times, we’ve had issues, mainly with QuickBooks software,” Highley added. “There was a time when they changed the format of their W-2 form, for instance, and it wouldn’t print correctly with the numbers showing up in the right boxes. That was a frustrating time period, but we were able to work through it and fix the situation.”

Firm growth: Highley said Cloudvara has been “pivotal, even key” to Daily Balance’s growth. “Cloudvara has competitors in the marketplace that may spend a lot more money in advertising and marketing than it does, but working with Jim, someone I can trust, has provided for a very stress-free relationship. It’s also allowed us to onboard clients very quickly.”

Cloudvara has also enabled Daily Balance’s staff to work almost 100 percent remotely, only coming in during tax season to meet with clients.

“It’s allowed us to deploy our business model and be successful,” Highley concluded.

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