There are some things in life you just don’t want to go without: Seatbelts in a car. A batting helmet when you’re playing baseball. Sunscreen when you’re outside all day (well, at least for a fair-skinned chap like me!)

Same with your business computer. There are just some things you’d better have:

1. Battery backup. This is such a no-brainer. During thunderstorm season, the power in your office can go off for an hour, or a millisecond. Either way, it’s bad for your computer.

It could affect QuickBooks, or an Excel spreadsheet, or any program you’re running. If the flow of power changes, the data on your computer is likely to change too. You don’t want your data changing in random ways. (This is one common cause of QuickBooks data damage).

Good news: Battery backups, also known as uninterruptible power supplies, are widely available and inexpensive. I like APC battery backups these days, mostly because they come with software that will automatically turn off your computer after a specified number of minutes in the event of power failure. That way, it won’t use up all your backup’s battery reserve in just one incident, if you’ve gone to lunch when the power goes down.

2. Internet security software. If your computer is connected to the internet, you’ve simply got to have current security software in place. This is true even if you rarely browse the internet. The number of online threats “out there” has been rising for years, with no end in sight.

Getting online without having current security software in place is like sending your grandmother out for a walk by herself in a bad neighborhood in the middle of the night. No.

You should at least have basic (free) protection like AVG. Better yet is a more comprehensive protection package, like Norton 360.

3. Online backup service. Your computer’s hard drive is a machine, and all machines fail sooner or later. So it is wise to have something in place now for when that failure will happen. It’s not a matter of if it will fail; it’s simply a matter of when it will fail.

I talk to people all the time with nonexistent of inadequate backup systems. Sad, and unnecessary.

It used to be that a good backup system required either a very conscientious user or some sophisticated in-house IT. This is no longer true.

These days, services like IDriveGlobal DataVault, SOS Online Backup and others make it quite easy for regular, non-technical users to be well protected in case of IT disasters.

Backups “in the cloud” have a couple of advantages over local hardware backups (meaning tape backups, external hard drives, flash drives, etc.) One advantage is that you don’t have to manually maintain or rotate those drives. Online backup services do the maintenance for you and are always available (if you pick a quality service.)

Also, backups in the cloud are unaffected by problems at your location — theft, flood, fire, power surges, etc.

What do you think about my IT short list? Have any of these been a lifesaver at your office?

Posted in IT.

Did you notice that blog.quickbooksonline.com stayed up even when quickbooksonline.com and quickbooksonline.intuit.com went down?

I’m talking about those few hours on July 14 when many of Intuit’s websites and online servers were unavailable because of a commercial power failure in San Diego.

I tried several Intuit sites and subsites during the episode, and that blog was the only Intuit site I could access. (I didn’t try Intuit’s non-US sites or tax software sites.)

But blog.quickbooksonline.com never went down, and started posting helpful status updates that morning.

How did the blog manage to stay up and running? Because it’s not on Intuit’s servers. The blog’s DNS resolves to wordpress.com — WordPress’ hosted version of their renowned blogging platform.

If the blog had been self-hosted on one of Intuit’s servers, it too would have been unavailable during those hours. It was a good thing that at least part of QuickBooks Online’s web presence was located somewhere else.

Last Friday, QuickBooks Online was offline for about a half day. There was quite a bit of Twitter traffic about it — people were frustrated who needed to access their books and couldn’t.

That is the downside of cloud computing: When there’s a problem with the cloud, everybody gets rained on. (Sorry, couldn’t resist that one.)

So you might conclude that putting your accounting data in the cloud makes you vulnerable to outages like last Friday’s. And you’d be right about that.

The alternative is desktop software, like QuickBooks Pro, Premier, or Enterprise. When QuickBooks is installed on your server or your computer’s hard drive, it is under YOUR control, and any problems on Intuit’s servers aren’t going to affect you too much.

No, you then have a different set of potential issues to deal with: issues with your own system.

  • Power blips in your office
  • Hard drive crashes on your computer
  • Viruses/worms/malware on your computer
  • Backup failures on your computer
  • Theft/fire/flood affecting your computer
  • Software conflicts between QuickBooks and other software installed on your computer
  • Outdated versions on your computer

There is an extremely good chance that Intuit’s IT department is more sophisticated than yours and is better equipped to prevent these kinds of problems than you are. But if you are running QuickBooks on your own computer(s) and have a good IT plan in place, you might go for years without any problems.

So the bottomline is this: Who do you want to manage the inherent risks associated with business IT?

One final thing.  This isn’t especially a QuickBooks question or even an accounting software question; it is a question that exists for any cloud vs. desktop business app.

What do you think? Do you trust the cloud or your desktop machine more?