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Looking for any advice re: RDS servers

Hi everyone,

I would really appreciate any advice that anyone in the community would be willing to share re: their experiences with RDS servers to facilitate an accounting practice.

Our firm has about 25 people in total including admin staff, etc. Right now we run a more conventional setup of having a local server, and PC workstations that have software installed. The server is essentially network attached storage, and also facilitates remote desktop services that allow us to log onto the individual workstations.

The server is running windows server 2012 essentials, and we find that the remote desktop functionality is useful while out of the office, but a bit cumbersome/laggy versus working in the office where the software is installed right on the PC you’re working on.

Quite a few of our regular workers are external contractors that work outside of the office through busy season. Our current server is having some performance issues, and our IT consultants are recommending an upgrade to an on-prem RDS server so that these contractors can collaborate with us more easily, and our remote sessions when we work from home will also be improved. To my understanding this means that the PC you’re working on is just a “thin client” (i.e. has nothing other than the O/S installed, does no processing), and essentially all of your work is done through remote desktop sessions powered by the server, which can handle many concurrent log ins. They are recommending turning all of our office PCs into “thin clients”, at least over time.

I’m IT literate, but have never worked with an RDS server, and it seems like a pretty extreme change versus our current setup so I worry about potential downsides. Outside of collaboration with contractors, our IT consultants point to some other pros of everyone automatically running the same versions of software, and not having to run 20 updates each time say TaxCycle puts out a new version. They also claim it will be lower cost in the long run.

Our partners at the firm and a number of our employees are not IT saavy, so we would likely not be interested in moving ahead if there are significant functional changes, or additional complexity from a user experience perspective.

If anyone can share their experience with these types of servers, and pros/cons of transitioning to them from a more conventional setup, your advice would be invaluable and very much appreciated!

Rick

We have a smaller office than you, but have been using the set up you describe for about 8 years now. We do not have any problems with it and our non-tech-savvy staff has not had problems. It has definitely reduced our cost of hardware and has reduced time spent updating software on PCs. We also enjoy being able to access our system anywhere in the world we can get internet with it looking just like at home. The upside of this is that I was able to complete a file review on a recent vacation as if I was in the office. The downside is that I was able to work on vacation :wink:

I believe the key to making it work is making sure that the server you set up has the resources required to host the number of people logged on. And for remote workers, the key is a good internet connection. We are on fibre with 200 up and down.

Our system runs on in-house hardware - one server with three virtual machines. If we ever decide to quit maintaining our own hardware, we will be able to transfer the virtual machines to a private cloud with no noticeable changes or re-installation of software.

Hope that helps some.

My virtual server is hosted by Welcome Networks. I have no server of my own, but it works exactly as Matthew has just described. I don’t have near the internet speed as Matthew (I think I’m at about 60) and have no problems whatsoever. There are small idiosyncrasies, but nothing insurmountable.

25+ people, all with company-supplied laptops and docking stations. Servers all virtualized in the cloud (with a local domain controller as backup). Printing is local. Laptops are all encrypted, and can connect either directly via VPN or Remote Desktop. No (well, very little) locally-stored data on laptops. People can take their laptops home at night (or vacation!) and easily work remotely. Office 365 and Google Apps throughout and remote backup of course. Servers can be instantly resized if need be. Minor CapEx (laptops and internal office network and printers etc.) and mostly OpEx for rented server space, OS and software. Accessible 24/7 from anywhere in the world unless restricted by IP geolocation. All managed by external IT consultants.

Problems? Transitioning from a CapEx-intensive system design to an OpEx one is a challenge, but somewhat less expensive and more robust in the long run. Minimal upkeep of user laptops, and access via remote software for IT team takes care of most of that. Servers still need OS patches, but system hardware issues (mostly) go away. Lower attack surface for hackers/intruders if company-managed routers (Ubiquiti or Meraki) at user homes, too.

Add to the security if desired with company-owned and managed phones. NO email or data is outside company bubble and traffic encrypted.

I also use Welcome Networks. I work from home a lot and also while wintering in Texas. I only have four staff. I transitioned four or five years ago and I have to say it’s the best “infrastructure” change I’ve ever made for my office. Easily changes for number of users. And I never have to deal with software and IT issues.

Thanks everyone for the replies - all this info is very much appreciated!

@matthew - I’m impressed that you’ve been running this setup for 8 years! I’ve only started hearing about it more recently, primarily via some cloud providers like Welcome Networks. I feel your pain with regards to vacation - at least your desktop comes through nicely though! Our RDP sessions through our current server are pretty cumbersome, makes it even more painful to work out of the office, which is one of the reasons I was doubtful with this tech. I think we’ll definitely look to upgrade our internet connection if we do go this route - long overdue I think, as we seem to be getting hosed for the speeds we have versus what we are paying. I’m thinking that a good first step will be an on-prem solution, and then a few years down the road we could flip it into Azure or another cloud service provider with them having another 5+ years to mature so eventually we won’t have to worry about hardware. Didn’t even think about how easy that could potentially be - I’ll make sure to discuss it with our IT consultants so we have that lined up down the road. Thanks again for your input!

@byron.johnson - thanks for the reply. I was contacted by Welcome Networks a while ago, but was hesitant to move ahead with any discussions because they don’t (or at least didn’t) have an office in Calgary. Sounds like it’s been quite smooth for you even at 60Mbits.

Is there any chance you could elaborate on the idiosyncrasies you’ve experienced - even just a few words to point me in the right direction to look into them further (as I’m sure the issues are common)? I’ve heard print forwarding can be a pain in particular, which would effect us (we have quite a few small USB attached printers in offices to supplement our main high volume copiers). Thanks again for your comments.

Thanks @SmallBizGuy. Sounds like your office is a similar size, so good to hear the volume gets handled OK and you seem to be having a positive experience overall. Do you use Azure for your cloud provider? There is certainly some sticker shock with the on-prem setup that might be easier to handle if it was a cloud delivered OpEx pricing model.

@evan a decrease in IT issues sounds enticing. I’m no expert, but because I’m moderately IT literate I’ve become the de-facto IT guy around here! Would save me a lot of time if things were streamlined with less issues/easier help from our consultants. Thanks again for your input.

Can anyone recommend an online consultant to help setup the RDS system? We have some of the pieces but have not been able to make it work. If you could reply directly to me it is likely more appropriate garth@walshnemeth.ca
Thanks

Garth

IT people are big Google fans (I am most definitely NOT!) but all is hosted on a combo of Google back end (mail /Gsuite / fileshare / archiving), Terago hosted servers (for material that MUST remain in Canada and some stuff that is useless in the cloud, like Sage 50), local DC.

Azure would have been better IMO, as the shop is mostly a Microsoft/Office 365 one, but it ultimately wasn’t my decision as the retiring guy.

The good is that the hardware maintenance largely goes away. No more bare metal server restores (I’ve done that twice now). The OpEx sticker shock is a bit hard to swallow and the transition costs can be high. But no CapEx, so better from a tax perspective, though it’s pretty hard to define exactly “what” the cost savings are.

Don

Well, there certainly may be things that I just cannot remember because I have gotten use to them, but here are a few things that come to mind:

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