There is more than one way to deliver applications and data. The term “cloud is opaque” (when it comes down to actual user experience) can mean different things. At the core, cloud hosting involves applications or data hosted in a datacenter which is then delivered to users in remote locations. This is a broad definition. Because there are so many different use cases for cloud technology, and several different technical ways to deliver the cloud, the general definition needs to be broad. When it comes down to selecting which type of cloud and which provider is best for your firm, specificity is required. Xcentric is focused on delivering a custom cloud designed and engineered specifically for CPA firms. There may be various methods of cloud delivery that work better for different niches and different business models, but hosted application delivery has been proven over time to be the most effective means of cloud delivery methods for CPA firms.
Why not hosted desktops or VDI?
A quick review of general hosting providers will show that many providers offer hosted desktops and not hosted applications. Why doesn’t Xcentric follow suit? In short, there are a few shortcomings inherent to hosted desktops when they are compared to hosted applications in a CPA environment. Years of experience in the industry led Xcentric to this conclusion, and years of success delivering hosted applications to CPA firms has confirmed it.
NOTE: There are different ways that desktops can be virtualized and delivered to end users. This article is about the philosophical differences between desktop and application delivery and not about the technical back end. For a comparison of some virtual desktop technologies vs. virtual applications, read here. We also find it significant that we have not seen VDI implementations work well for CPA firms.
- The end user experience provided by virtualized hosted applications is simply better than the experience provided by hosted desktops. It makes more sense for CPA users who don’t need to be bothered by the technical concerns of managing two desktops. Users are not forced to work in a “desktop on top of a desktop” environment with a defined dividing line between the two. Instead of working off of two desktops, users can work in a more familiar setting where their applications simply run in the taskbar of their traditional desktop.
- Multi-monitor management is easier and more flexible when using virtual applications. Users can simply drag, drop, and resize windows across their monitors instead of resizing the virtual desktop to match their physical monitors first and then moving windows around. This leads to less confusion and less of a learning curve. Workflow is improved when users have access to seamlessly work simultaneously both in and outside of the cloud. Some workflows or applications are better utilized when running locally. Online meetings, VOIP, personal web browsing, and work chat provide better performance when they are not redirected through the cloud. Graphical and performance improvements can be expected when these types of applications are allowed to connect directly to the Internet from a user’s local workstation, instead of being forced through the cloud. Using hosted applications gives users a clear path to work in both worlds, both securely and efficiently.
- Hosted applications in the Xcentric Cloud environment provide an extra layer of security from web-borne threats when compared to virtualized desktops. With virtual desktops, users are commonly directed to perform all web browsing, both personal and business related, through the hosted desktop. This is done because there is not a clear way for users to browse the web locally and work in the cloud on their applications at the same time. Unfortunately, this opens up users and the network as a whole to virus and hacker threats that come from the web. When users browse locally, the chance of a virus from the web infecting the whole network is greatly reduced. Any potential virus or hacker threat would need to make it past the local workstation antivirus software and then make the jump from the local workstation to the cloud before it could affect other users or cloud data. Additionally, clean up and recovery time is much faster since it’s only the local workstation that does not contain company data that needs to be inspected and cleaned.
- Virtualized applications give users the ability to interact with a custom portal in a way that hosted desktops simply won’t support. The Xcentric Cloud Portal simplifies the CPA end user experience and brings IT needs to one place behind a single sign-on. Xcentric has aggregated all the IT assets that firms commonly use into one central location. Applications and data, an in-and-out board, firm user contact information, online support ticketing, spam filter access, OWA, firm-wide messaging, and a learning management system are all built into the custom Xcentric Cloud Portal. With everyone’s eyes brought to the same place on a daily basis, the Cloud Portal provides a unique environment to promote firm culture and collaboration. Every user across the firm has the ability to work from the same customizable dashboard regardless of location or office. Simple, hosted desktops can’t provide this unique feature that reduces IT headaches and improves workflow for CPA users.
- Why then are hosted desktop models still in use by some CPA firms and providers? The answer depends on the situation, but we have identified a couple reasons to be common.
- Hosted desktops require less experience and less time to implement. Hosted desktops are the more “out of the box” option for providers or IT staff who are looking to provide a remote cloud experience to their end users.
- On its face, the idea of hosting a desktop might appear to some to be an option that gains the benefits of cloud hosting while retaining the more familiar end user experience of working off of a desktop. Unfortunately, this is an oversimplification based on the preconceived expectation that doesn’t often play out smoothly in reality.
- Additionally, the custom CPA-specific Cloud Portal that Xcentric has developed to complete the hosted application experience is technically out of reach for many firms who handle their own IT or work with a non-CPA specific provider.
Years of development focused on the Xcentric Cloud Portal and an economy of scale have allowed Xcentric to provide the Xcentric Cloud Portal to CPA firms of all sizes working within the Xcentric Cloud. For firms looking to work in the cloud, hosted applications integrated with a custom portal provides the end user workflow and experience that allows users to take full advantage of working in the cloud.