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This is my first post with Tech Soup. So you'll have to be patient with me. :-) I'm the treasurer with Friends of the Children of Haiti. (www.fotcoh.org). We operate a clinic in Haiti that provides medical support for the people of Haiti. Our US operations are based in Peoria, IL. We are all volunteer organization.
I'm looking for adivce on our techonology problems....And I'm equally interested in how impliment your recommendations (i.e.....who can we hire/outsource to perform the services recommended?)
We have two problems we are trying to solve:
1) Because we are all volunteer we do not have a central US "Office" in which most of our information is stored. We are looking to centralize our information, make it more accessible, and reduce the number of "version" that various members of the orgnazation have floating out in their home offices.
2) We have a moderately heavy amount of book-keeping work (more than 1 volunteer can handle). And as such we are trying to "divide" the workload amongst 2 (possibly 3-4) people who can play a role in assiting with book-keeping (should the need arise). We currently use QUickbooks Pro 2006. And it is our best source for most of our contact information. (so we are hoping to make it accessible to as many as 5-7 people in the organization).
So we need to share regular files and we need to share quickbooks.
Here are some of the other important features we need the solution to have:
1) Minimal cost - roughly speaking we could devote up to $2000 in hardware (if absolutely necessary). And up to $40-50/month on and Monthly service fees (like file hosting etc.). This would be at the upper end of our abilities to pay...and we may have trouble even doing these amounts.
2) Easily maintainable. We do not have IT level people that can troubleshoot/maintain a sophisticated network
3) Easily accessible and updateable. Files need to be easy to access so they can be used on a day to day basis...and updated for business purposes as need. Also the interface needs to be easy enough to use for computer lay-people to interact with.
Here are some of the options we've considered so far:
1) Basic PC with GoToMyPC (or a similiar remote computer sharing service.
Problems: We have functionality concerns (will it meet our full file sharing needs). And we also have security concerns (if someone guesses the password it's open to any hackers).
2) Hosted service
Problems: Probably to expensive
3) Central PC (or Server)...with a Virtual Private Network (VPN). We have been told by IT friends this might met our needs.
Problems: we know little about how to impliment and would need assitance. Also have concerns about maintanence should something go wrong.
I also understand we would have probably have to purchase Hardware for this improvement. And I'm hoping we can do so at a discounted rate using Tech Soup as a source. But I do not know really how that would be accomplished. If someone can also provide guidance on that I would appreciate it (we have a need for a scanner/printer/fax on a completely un-related need).
Thankyou in advance for all those who are willing to help provide answers. I assure you that our organization is a very worthy cause,...and are severely in need of the help that you all provide. And truly greatly appreciate any assitance you can provide.
Thankyou in Advance!
Let me answer your QB first which you may want to use with your other files.
2. You can use a program call dropbox (www.dropbox.com). that allows you to share upto 2GB files over the internet with select people for free. The files are updates as fast as your internet connection. That would require each site to have its own QB software.
The other suggestion is to move from QB to an their online accounting software (http://oe.quickbooks.com/), that way all that is needed is browser and internet access.
The first questions provides multiple possible options.
Start off by using LogmeiIn Free (www.logmein.com) . It is like gotomypc but free. If that meets your needs then great, if not they have a variety of paid versions. I use the free version to connect to my servers when I am on vacation or alway from the office for long periods.
If you are running Microsoft Small Business Server then use Remote Web Workplace (RWW). It comes with SBS 2003/8 and allows you to access any number of domain computers and files in a secure manner. I highly recommedn trying that before using terminal server or hosting sites and you do not need to add any equipement.
There are a number of other ways to solve your issues but without a full conversation that is where I would start.
Just my 2 cents
It sounds like you have a good handle on what your needs are. What you have is a distributed organization that needs to share both information (contained in files) and an application (QuickBooks). The best option for you is something like a Windows terminal server. This solution consists of a single server-grade computer which provides a central repository and collaboration platform for your volunteers. The server will run Windows Server 2003 or 2008 Standard edition, and will have QuickBooks installed on it along with any other applications you need to share. Your volunteers can access the programs and files running on the server from their own computers, either Mac or PC. Their experience is that they are presented with a virtual Windows session, which contains all the files and programs they need to perform their activities as volunteers with Friends of the Children of Haiti.
In order to set up this kind of solution you will need an IT consultant who is expert with this type of setup. You will require several hours at first to set it up and then only a couple hours a month or so for maintenance and administration.
A quick breakdown of costs for a project like this:
Server-class computer: $1000-$1300 (Dell Outlet is an excellent value)
Windows Server 2008 STD: $40
Windows Terminal Server User Client Access Licenses: $2 per user
Symantec Antivirus Corporate Edition: $35
QuickBooks 2009 Premier: $99
External hard drive for backup: $100
Symantec Backup Exec: $59
Consultant's time to set up: 6 hours at ~$100/hour.
High-speed Internet connection in the home or office where the server is located: $60/mo.
Ongoing maintenance/administration contract: Varies by service, maybe $100/mo.
I use a system like this to share access to our QuickBooks database with our bookkeeper. Have also set up such solutions for nonprofit organizations in our area. Hope this helps and please post back if we can answer any questions for you.
President, Sarai LLC
That's pretty good Zac. I'd just make sure that QuickBooks was the multi-user version and not the single-user one.
You also mentioned that you could consider a hosted service which you should look into. The reason I say this is because I think having someone (outsourced) manage your network and or server on a monthly contract might be too much for you financially. I speak from experience because this is what my company does. On average we charge 300+/mo to monitor and maintain networks. I think $100/mo. is on the very low end of what you will be paying. Additionally, attempting to do this yourselves could prove to be more costly. One of the biggest mistakes we see are when organizations (without an IT staff) attempt to launch and maintatin a server on their own. Without an IT background you could find yourself with a misconfigured or worse a dead server as a result of something your staff did incorrectly. There are companies out there that do a very great job of hosting and we actually resell hosted Exchange, SharePoint and web services. A hosted account would provide you with secure storage, secure e-mail, and SharePoint a great collaboration tool.
In regards to QuickBooks I would definately upgrade at a minimum because 2006 does not support Vista and you might run into an issue with a home volunteer needing to access it.
Precision Web Tech, Inc.
Just my 2 cents,
"You can use a program call dropbox (www.dropbox.com). that allows you to share upto 2GB files over the internet with select people for free. The files are updates as fast as your internet connection. That would require each site to have its own QB software. "
Are you suggesting that the Company files for QB can be kept in DropBox ? And then you can work on your desktop form the application , or are you suggesting something like the application running in Dropbox?
"Are you suggesting that the Company files for QB can be kept in DropBox ? And then you can work on your desktop form the application , or are you suggesting something like the application running in Dropbox?"
I am using Dropbox to share the back-up files for Quickbooks Premiere 2010. I found the recommendation on Intuit forms to only share the backup (*.QBB) files and not the actual company file (*.QBW). This is because having Dropbox sync the company file directly might cause simultaneous writes to the company file, risking corruption.