Alternative Hosting: Microsoft Azure Virtual Machine

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Most of the tax software is desktop software, meaning it is not a cloud product. This means that many tax firms are still installing software on local machines and then maintaining servers for access to the tax files. I don’t need to tell you this, you already know how painful it can be.

I recently learned that Intuit is charging $120/user/month to host ProSeries on Right Networks. First off, that is extremely expensive. Second off, I thought I could figure this out for cheaper.

Microsoft offers a free year (yes, you read that right) of a basic virtual machine called Microsoft Azure. After the first year, the subscriptions range from $4/month and up. The virtual machine with the best specs for running tax software in a multi-session environment is around $100/month. Yes, you will need to update the software and install it yourself, but it is cheaper for a more powerful environment. The basic specs for a single user environment are closer to $60/month.

If you have a Microsoft 365 Business license, you can set up a virtual machine that allows multiple users! So you are paying way less than the built-in hosting on ProSeries, and you can have multiple team members utilizing the hosting. I would recommend you hire a professional to set this up for you. However, if you are inclined to set it up yourself, here are the basic steps.

  1. Create an account with Microsoft Azure at portal.azure.com
  2. Create a resource (click the “create a resource” button on the main screen)
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  1. Search for Microsoft Windows 10 and click on “Microsoft Windows 10 + Office 365 ProPlus”
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  1. You will get to a screen like this that calls out multi session!
  1. Now the fun stuff starts! Click on the “create” button
  2. You will need to create a new resource group (if this is your first Azure Virtual Machine (VM))
  3. Name your machine wisely! The default size is also great for what you would need for tax programs. You can downgrade for a cheaper instance. They will tell you the estimate of cost per month.
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  1. The username here WILL BE THE USERNAME YOU USE TO LOG INTO THE VM. I accidently named my first one “taxbitch” thinking it was the name no one would see, and I was absolutely wrong. Now my team laughs every time they log into the VM.
  1. You should leave the inbound port as “RDP” which is how you will access the VM; through a remote desktop program.
  2. The standard SSD is fine for tax program needs.
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  1. You will need to create a new virtual network as well.
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  1. Finally, you will create a diagnostics storage account.
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  1. Click on “review + create,” and the system will go through your choices to make sure you filled everything out. Afterwards, it will provision your virtual machine!
  2. Once the provisioning is done, you can click “connect” on the left-hand side, inside your virtual machine information to download an RDP file for direct connection. This makes it a lot easier to access your VM.
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  1. The final step in the equation to allow for multi sessions:
    You will need to change group policy settings in gpedit.msc as below

    Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > Remote Desktop Services > Remote Desktop Session Host > Connections

    Then you can change the following settings:
    • Restrict Remote Desktop Services users to a single Remote Desktop Services session
    • Limit number of connections

  2. It is important to note that if multiple users are using this server and it is not purely for administration changes (Think remote desktop, Terminal Services), you will need to set up a remote desktop server with the appropriate licensing per user (RDS CALs)

You can now install whatever tax programs you want! If you are less concerned about multiple users, you can follow the steps above, but you do not need to select the multi session environment. The single user environment is slightly cheaper every month.

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Liz Mason
Liz Mason is a serial entrepreneur, a giant nerd, and an involved accounting vanguard. She is the Founder of High Rock Accounting, Rebel Rock Accounting, TheDepartment.Tax, and a few other related brands. Liz speaks on a national stage, guests stars on podcasts, publishes a YouTube show (The Hot Accounts), and writes frequently. To further her passion for the advancement of the accounting profession, Liz currently serves as a Xero National Ambassador and as the Content Strategist for Tax Practice News. Liz started her career in tax at Grant Thornton (at 20) and automated a portion of her job landing her in the national tax practice. She spent a decade in large public accounting firms working on highly technical tax consulting before branching off on her own. Liz utilizes her creativity and passion at her company to uproot traditional practices and replace them with innovative concepts. She finds joy in efficient technology and her core belief is that everyone and everything can continuously improve (she says "be better" too often). When Liz isn't planning world domination in accounting, she is a die-hard skier, down for any adventure, plays the ukulele, reads everything, and has a good sense of humor. If you're looking for her, you can find her traveling the world and enjoying new food and cultures with her husband and young son. Follow Liz and High Rock Accounting on Twitter at @LizzyNorMa and @HighRockCPAs.