In February of 2013, I wrote about how small businesses that are addicted to desktop software should at least get their mission-critical desktop software hosted in the cloud. There are currently 14 authorized QuickBooks commercial hosting companies, and they all have similar offerings. You can see the list of companies here.
At The Sleeter Group, we moved our whole back office (QuickBooks and all of our add-ons) to Cloud9 Real Time in January 2013. It was one of those “practice what we preach” decisions, and boy are we glad we did it. Our hope was that by using a hosting solution, we could move to the cloud without having to retrain all our staff and switch to new workflows all at the same time.
As promised, one year later, we’re back to give you an update on how hosting QuickBooks with Cloud9 is working out for us. I asked several members of our team to report on some of their experiences during the past year and to give me the good as well as the bad, if any. Following is what they had to say.
Our Initial Expectations
Overall, we expected that using Cloud9 would make it easier to work remotely, that we would save on IT costs, and that most of our business processes would not need to change.
The reality is even better than our expectations. It’s easy for our users, it saves us money, and we haven’t needed to significantly change business processes. Of course, there was a very slight amount of training for our staff to get used to the idea of logging into a remote computer to do their work. Also, printing to local printers was conceptually a bit different, but the staff picked it up just fine.
The main benefit of moving the back office to the cloud is that you can provide your staff with anytime-anywhere access to do their work. For us, that was critical, because we have three offices and people spread across three time zones.
QuickBooks opens and operates much faster than it did on our local desktops. That was a huge surprise to us, because one would assume that cloud-based solutions would perform somewhat if not significantly slower.
Moving our back office to Cloud9 was like hiring a babysitter for our data. Such a calming feeling.
A growing issue for us was how we would provide consistent and reliable backups of our on-premise server data. Of course, we have systems, but it was always one of those worries in the back of my mind that someday our server would crash, and restoring all of our systems would take a week or more, even if we did have a data backup. So by delegating the entire backup process to Cloud9, we feel we’ve solved the problem well. Cloud9 has robust systems with redundancy in place, and they have 24/7 staffing to ensure things are working properly.
Cloud9 has excellent customer support, and they respond quickly to our issues. We can call them directly and, generally, someone has helped us immediately.
In the beginning, one of our staff members had a few connection issues, but Cloud9 support was quick to respond to her directly and address the issues. It’s hard to know whether the issues had to do with user error, training, our internal network, our Internet service provider, or something at Cloud9. But our staff member was really impressed that Cloud9 responded quickly and helped her troubleshoot and resolve the issue.
Printing locally works just fine
At first we were concerned about going into the transition because we didn’t know how our local printers would be “seen” by the remote servers at Cloud9. This issue is solved quite well with Cloud9’s use of TSPrint from TerminalWorks. TSPrint is a product that essentially “teaches” the Cloud9 servers how to find printers on our local network when we’re logged in. So the result is that when you want to print while logged into Cloud9, the print dialog shows your local printers. Cool!
Also, although we’re not using the feature, there’s support for scanning locally to the Cloud9 servers.
The biggest change is not being able to do things ourselves. Cloud9 “owns” our desktops, and any change we want to make goes through them. For example, if we want a program installed, we open a “support ticket,” and later that day or the next, it’s added to our desktop.
While it’s a big relief that Cloud9 is quick to resolve any issues, it can be frustrating when we have to call customer support for something as simple as saving something on a user’s desktop, mapping a drive, organizing folders, or even upgrading Internet Explorer to a later version (it required a support ticket for Cloud9 to reboot the server). Of course, this is the trade-off for having someone else be responsible to keep the systems running. If we were allowed to make any changes we want, then our users could accidentally screw up the system, install a virus, or do something else that would degrade the system. So on balance, I suppose the frustration of having to ask Cloud9 to install a program for us is worth the benefit of having stable systems that are constantly monitored for performance and reliability.
Hiccups and Hurdles
As I mentioned above, one of our users had some connection issues in the beginning, but it’s gotten much better since Cloud9 suggested opening other apps (e.g., Bill.com, QuickBase) on the user’s personal desktop instead of in Cloud9. From time to time, a user will get a “remote connection error – reconnecting” message, but it usually doesn’t last very long. It’s like a “hiccup” of some sort. But to be fair, connection issues usually have more to do with our Internet pipeline than the actual Cloud9 service.
When we first switched to Cloud9, there were some issues with QuickBooks as well as with our add-ons (e.g., there were some problems with the SmartVault drive “missing”). However, in both instances, Cloud9 was quick to connect with Intuit and SmartVault to make things work.
There also was an issue with OneNote not syncing and with Outlook not being able to send messages because it couldn’t connect to the server. In both cases, Cloud9 had to reboot the server. It probably took ten minutes for Cloud9 to do that, but the amount of time spent communicating back and forth (emailing and calling customer support) and for Cloud9 to determine what the problem was, definitely took longer than ten minutes. Since that incident, we haven’t had to ask Cloud9 to reboot again.
We were surprised at the ease with which we made the transition. Some things took some getting used to, but everything pretty much felt “the same as before” – it didn’t feel like we “converted” anything. With every IT “change,” hiccups like these are expected, so excellent customer support is vital. Cloud9 made the move to the cloud for The Sleeter Group both smooth and painless.