Ghirardo Client Story
Ghirardo CPA Moves to Netgain’s Azure Cloud
Ghirardo CPA is the largest privately held CPA firm in Marin County, in the northern San Francisco Bay area. Over its nearly 30 years of existence, Ghirardo CPA has experienced growth spurts, technology challenges and advancements, and more tax-law changes than they can count!
Ghirardo CPA’s commitment to client service is reflected in their investment in the many degrees and credentials of their team members in taxation, accounting, auditing, planning, real estate, bookkeeping, and wealth planning.
As a growing CPA firm, Ghirardo has always stayed abreast of new technologies, considering technology an enabler of business productivity and competitive edge. In the early days of cloud computing, Ghirardo CPA’s IT Director Jon Diercks evaluated the cloud and determined the firm’s network connectivity was not reliable enough and also felt that the cloud was too immature to trust the firm’s most critical assets. As a result, Diercks managed server virtualization in-house, which served their firm well for about five years.
After implementing on-premises server virtualization for several years, Diercks again found himself evaluating cloud four years later when the firm was outgrowing its existing infrastructure.
“Most of the barriers to cloud have been overcome and it now offers the best combination of benefits we were looking for,” Diercks said.
Diercks managed the entire IT environment by himself with minimal help from an outside consultant when needed. Rarely taking a vacation, Diercks felt like he was on call 24×7 and the pressures only mounted during the busy tax season, when productivity and system performance could not be compromised.
“Having a full-time dedicated IT person is actually considered a luxury for some firms of our size, but it could also become a liability,” Diercks said. “I was the only one who knew the system inside out, so there was a huge pressure on me and my time.”
It had been about four years since Ghirardo had last refreshed the virtualized server environment and the infrastructure was starting to show its age. The hardware was outdated and some of the environment was running on versions that weren’t being supported anymore. They faced a critical decision: reinvest in upgrades to the on-site infrastructure or move to an outsourced model.
Deferred software updates
Some software updates had been deferred for the purpose of preserving important compatibility dependencies and ensuring that updates were timed strategically for minimal disruption. One such application was CCH® ProSystem fx® Engagement, which was the lifeblood of the firm’s accounting services. With new tax laws being released every year, Ghirardo CPA knew they needed to prioritize these updates to ensure they’re always running the latest version.
Concerns over potential impact of downtime
While Ghirardo had internal business continuity and disaster recovery policies in place and they were quite confident they could execute their continuity plan if needed, they also knew that in an extreme case, the recovery time would be longer than desired. Cloud hosting helped them ensure a much more optimal time-to-resolve goal.
In true accountant fashion, Diercks and his firm’s Partners created spreadsheets with projected costs in the different IT environment scenarios such as purchasing new equipment in-house, hiring additional team members, hiring a managed services firm and outsourcing to the cloud. They also considered the path with the least disruption to the users, optimized performance and a platform that would position them for future growth.
“There was no way to compare apples to apples,” Diercks said. “There was just so much more that we were gaining by moving to Netgain’s cloud platform that we wouldn’t have gotten with the other options we considered.”
After completing demos and conducting testing, Diercks called Netgain’s references, which really confirmed in his mind the decision to partner with Netgain. “We knew moving to Netgain wouldn’t be an immediate net savings compared to our other options, but the long-term benefits were so much greater,” Diercks said.
Private cloud environment, powered by Azure
Netgain and Ghirardo CPA began the migration process to a private cloud environment, built, managed and protected by Netgain and powered by Azure. After determining their deployment timeline had the potential to overlap into busy season, Netgain accelerated the timeline to ensure minimal disruption to users.
“That was an extra precaution we had to take, and Netgain understood that,” Diercks said. “We had to be fully up and functional before things got busy.”
In migrating all of their applications to the cloud, Netgain worked with the third-party software vendors to ensure the right resources were allocated to deliver optimal performance in the new environment. “Netgain’s agility and knowledge in the system and working with third-party software titles was so critical,” Diercks said.
Ghirardo’s email server was a long-standing pain-point for the firm that was resolved with the migration to Netgain’s cloud environment.
“We had an email product similar to Exchange, which looked and functioned like Exchange, but on the backend it was different. Netgain presented us with an Office 365 solution that made it a no-brainer. Netgain has an engineer that specializes in Office 365 and email servers and he helped us move our whole email system over – distribution lists, email rules, all of it,” Diercks said.
Microsoft Azure partnership
One of the discussion points in pre-sales meetings with Ghirardo CPA was performance. Having everything on-site meant that they never experienced latency issues and they wanted assurance that they would not experience slowness in a cloud environment.
Netgain’s partnership with Azure enabled their private environment to be built in an Azure Data Center, located within miles of their headquarters. This alleviated the performance concerns they had, and ensured their user experience would be as good, if not better, than their previous on-site performance.
Accomodating Maintenance Windows
Diercks had previously received complaints about his maintenance window of 9 pm on Monday nights, because many accountants were still working, especially during busy season.
“Netgain understands our business and is able to accommodate the craziness of our schedule,” Diercks said. To minimize disruption, Netgain has scheduled Ghirardo CPA’s maintenance window for 2 am – 4 am, and Diercks says he doesn’t get any complaints about that.
Though Diercks is still the only dedicated IT person on-site at Ghirardo CPA, he knows he has Netgain’s team of specialized technologists to troubleshoot day-to-day issues and monitor the environment to get ahead of problems before they become issues for his users.
Since moving to Netgain, Diercks has been able to let go of the tedious day-to-day tasks, which frees him up to work on initiatives that advance their overall corporate goals. For instance, Diercks recently implemented online payment capabilities, enabling clients to pay their invoice online. This initiative had been placed on the back burner for months because of time constraints, and now he was able to complete this project.
Though Diercks hasn’t taken any big vacations yet, he says he feels he has more freedom to be away from the office and less pressure to always be available, which was especially appreciated during the busy season.
Poised for Growth
Ghirardo’s new cloud platform positions them for flexibility and scalability in their IT environment. Adding users, locations or applications will take a fraction of the time it would have with their prior on-site infrastructure.
“The cloud foundation is a better solution for us and offers scalability and demand benefits that we didn’t have before,” Diercks said.
“There’s an overall confidence in the partnership,” Diercks said. “We have confidence in Netgain’s team, their ability, and their promise to do what’s best for our organization. We’re all in. Netgain is our infrastructure and we’re not dependent on anything in-house anymore. It was a good
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