Technology advancements allow firm to transition from in-house managed servers to Netgain’s Azure Private Cloud and then Netgain’s Azure Virtual Desktop
Ghirardo CPA is the largest privately held CPA firm in Marin County, located in the northern San Francisco Bay Area. In its over 30 years of existence, Ghirardo CPA has experienced growth spurts, technology challenges and advancements and a plenitude of tax-law changes.
In addition to being certified in taxation and accounting, the diverse team of professionals at Ghirardo CPA hold several other degrees and certifications such as auditing, planning, real estate, bookkeeping, and wealth planning. These achievements reflect the firm’s commitment to providing top-tier client services.
As a growing CPA firm, Ghirardo prioritizes staying informed 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. Diercks also had additionally hesitations about the cloud being too unsecure to trust the firm’s most critical assets to it. As a result, Diercks brought the firm’s managed server virtualization in-house, which worked well for about five years.
But once the firm started to outgrow its existing infrastructure, Diercks revisited available cloud offerings. He saw that the barriers to moving to the cloud were no longer an issue and that it offered many benefits for the firm that he had not previously considered.
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, and outsourcing a managed services provider to transition to the cloud. They also preferred a path with the least disruption to the users, optimized performance, and a platform that would position them for future growth.
And those long-term benefits proved to be very valuable. This was the start of the relationship with Netgain.
“There was no way to compare apples to apples. 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. Netgain emerged as the best fit for us in terms of the size of the company, the culture of the company, the technology stack they were working with and our specific needs at the time. 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 says.
Making the move to a 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.
In migrating all the 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 were so critical,” Diercks describes. “Moving from a Citrix environment to an Azure Remote Desktop infrastructure was pretty painless as it wasn’t a huge paradigm shift for our customers. Netgain was able to get a system set up for us that was up and running for several years.”
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 back end it was different. Netgain presented us with an Office 365 solution that made it a no-brainer,” Diercks says.
Microsoft Azure partnership
Netgain’s partnership with Azure enabled the firm’s private environment to be built in an Azure Data Center, located within miles of their headquarters. This alleviated any performance concerns and ensured an improved user experience for Ghirardo, compared to the previous on-site performance. Moving to the new cloud platform positioned Ghirardo for flexibility and scalability in their IT environment.
“There’s an overall confidence in the partnership,” Diercks shares. “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 great decision.”
Next Stage – Microsoft Azure Virtual Desktop
After Ghirardo was on the Azure Private Cloud for about three years, the team at Netgain started encouraging Diercks to look at Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD). Diercks said the motivators that tipped the scale in getting his interest were:
- Netgain recommended it as a good direction to move
- Microsoft’s corporate strategy/strategic platform appeared to be moving in that direction
- There were pricing advantages in terms of licensing and keeping costs under control
- The move to AVD was mostly a back-end change, and the impact on end user procedures would be minimal
- With AVD, users would now be able to place Microsoft Teams audio and video calls inside the remote desktop, which was not possible before
Once Diercks made the decision to move forward, “We were assigned an implementation team that included a project manager and implementation engineer – both were extremely attentive and sharp and knew exactly what resources needed to be implemented and where. We worked very closely with them to make sure everything went smoothly,” says Diercks.
The entire process started in mid-March 2022. By mid-April, Diercks had assigned a test team internally that consisted of about eight people who moved to the system so they could do real day-to-day work in the test environment and note any issues that came up. This went on for about two months. The team was able to identify things that needed to be adjusted such as plug-ins to add and software versions to sync. At the same time, since this desktop environment was being built from scratch, it was a good reason to do some housecleaning as well and make sure that things were as straightforward and sustainable as possible.
By mid-June, the firm was ready to completely switch over to AVD. Going live simply required turning off the old environment and redirecting everyone to the new environment. After starting up on the previous Friday night, by Monday morning most users were able to follow instructions and work business as usual right away. It took about a week for everyone to get onboarded and functional, “About a week into operations we declared a success,” describes Diercks. “The biggest change was really in the login. The day-to-day functionality didn’t change.”
On top of the smooth transition to a more efficient and secure IT environment, Ghirardo also further developed a strong business relationship with Netgain. In his own words, Diercks shares that, “There’s a high level of trust between us and Netgain. Netgain is responsive to our needs, and they have a broad bench of expertise. When I talk to a specialist on a particular topic, I know I am going to be connecting with somebody who’s smarter about that topic than I am, and that’s significant. I also have a personal connection with the folks that I interact with on a regular basis. It’s like I’ve hired a full IT department to back me up.”
Diercks feels there are several advantages Ghirardo CPA has benefited from because of this migration, including:
- Pricing advantages on the licensing
- Ability to do audio/video calls in Microsoft Teams
- Simpler server configuration in the Netgain environment
- Better stability and performance
- Architecture being more scalable and flexible
- More options with multimonitor configurations
- Better manageability of workstations
In addition, on the performance side, latency is down even lower than it was with Azure Remote Desktop, and there is no lag time between clicking the mouse and what you see on the screen.
“Feedback from the team on the change to AVD has been positive. Things are more stable and responsive, and we have fewer disruptions,” says Diercks.