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In the world of business cloud computing, there are undeniably many options available to provide remote or “cloud” services to accounting firms. A simple web search will return a wealth of both technical information and sales materials for a multitude of providers, softwares and consultants, all promising remote service delivery. However, not all “clouds” are created the same, and the way they are built has a huge effect on the performance, reliability, cost, and user interface of the service. It’s helpful to know the difference between some of the most common methods of delivering remote software and services. Knowing some basics about how the different types of solutions work will help you make the best decision for your firm. This article provides a high-level overview of Terminal Services (TS), Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), and Virtualized Application Delivery.

Terminal Services (TS)…or Remote Desktop Services (RDS)

When a firm wants to give their users remote access to an application on their local network, the first attempt to offer this functionality is often through Terminal Services. Terminal Services are built into the Microsoft server operating system, and other than some network configuration, they often require minimal additional Microsoft licensing to implement. Terminal Services allow multiple users to log onto the same server, at the same time, from different locations to access applications and data. Users share the same server but access the server through independent logins or sessions. It’s a no frills solution that will give remote access. It’s often either an incomplete solution or a last minute add on to an existing network.

Pros:

  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to roll out
  • Every IT firm/person should know how to manage the environment to a degree

Cons:

  •  Not built for firms needing a “farm”
    • Hard to manage multiple TS servers and keep experience consistent across them
    • Must update applications on each TS server, if you have multiple servers this becomes a burden
    • Different servers provide different performance
  • User experience often lacks, relative to the other options in the market
  • Printing can be troublesome
    • Drivers must match on server and client or there will be font issues
  • Not a great solution for firms needing to scale quickly or want HA
  • Lacks mobile device feature sets found in other options

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)

VDI provides another avenue for remote service access. Instead of users sharing sessions on a single server, a group of servers is used to host individual virtual desktop operating systems. This means each user gets their own environment with their own dedicated resources. VDI provides a more familiar user experience than Terminal Services and more advanced features that provide flexibility in access and usability. This type of implementation does require greater licensing cost and a more substantial hardware backend than Terminal Services does, but it is a more complete solution and usually gives a better user experience than Terminal Services by itself. We do not recommend VDI because performance is simply not as fast as other options available. In addition, the number of individual desktops that needs to be managed leads to a more complicated update process and more chance for software errors.

Pros:

  • Feels more like a native desktop
  • Lots of customizations available

Cons:

  • Very expensive
    • Licensing need is considerably greater
    • More hardware needed per user
    • Lost of high end storage needed
  • Hard to find successful roll outs in CPA firms
    • We believe that with it’s many moving parts, VDI has a hard time handling the number and complexity of accounting applications found in a typical CPA firm
  • Limited availability of consulting firms who know how to do it well

Virtualized Application Delivery

Virtual Application Delivery uses Terminal Services in conjunction with third party technology to provide increased accessibility, better performance and advanced features that Terminal Services by itself cannot provide. Here at Xcentric we use Citrix Xenapp technology along with custom processes and developments to give our users the best performance, highest reliability, and most advanced features available to meet the unique demands of accounting software. It offers the advanced features that are not available in simple Terminal Services and provides better performance on the same hardware compared to VDI. It also simplifies the application update process that most accounting software’s are dependent on and lowers costs to the end user. In the same category with virtual applications some vendors offer virtual desktop publishing. Desktop publishing uses relatively the same backend technology as virtualized applications but a more desktop based user interface. We do not recommend desktop publishing because the presentation and usage is not seamless and can often be confusing to end users.

Pros:

  • Best performance
    • Speed
    • Reliability
  • Advanced features for access and usage
  • PVS server image availability
    • Simplified application updates
    • Uniformity across servers
  • Streamlined mobile device access
  • Improved printing support
  • Easily scalable
  • Simple user interface
  • Consistent user experience across firm

Cons:

  • Experience needed that most accounting firms don’t have in house
    • Implementation
    • Ongoing support
    • Accounting application specialty support
    • Application updates

Summary

Depending on the circumstances, different methods can be used to provide remote access to applications and data. Unfortunately, price and the difficulty of implementation can keep many firms from benefitting from the most advanced technology available. It’s often too expensive on the front end for licensing and hardware or too complex for many providers to implement a solution successfully. Due to years of experience in the accounting IT industry and working relationships with accounting software providers we suggest Citrix based virtual application delivery.

Ian Bennett
by
Technical Sales Specialist

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