Hosted Desktops Vs. Web-based Apps – Which is Better for Your Accounting Firm?

Alavanca Systems - IT Support for Accounting, Tax and Finance Firms

Accounting firms across Chicagoland are being pushed in many directions when it comes to the applications that they are using. Making the decision about hosted desktops vs. web-based apps is a significant choice that will have an impact on how well an accounting firm will be able to function and how easily they will be able to scale.

Just think about all the decisions surrounding your use of software.

  • Which software suite is the best?
  • Do we host it on in-house servers or host the application in the “cloud” (an offsite data center).
  • Do we use a public data center, a private data center, or a hybrid approach?
  • How do we access and use that software?
  • How can we provision mobile and work-from-home users?
  • How do we ensure security and FINRA, FTC,  IFRS 15 / ASC 606, and GDPR compliance?

As you can see, there are a lot of decisions to make before an accounting firm even inputs the first client’s data into a software suite.

This is why the decision between a hosted desktop scenario and a web application setup can be so confusing.

Let’s first give some basic definitions as we consider the topic of hosted desktops vs. web apps.

What is a Hosted Desktop?

A hosted desktop is a setup where you and your employees use on-site devices to access all of their files and software within a virtual cloud computing environment through an internet browser.


You work on your computer, tablet, or smartphone. All of the data is stored and the computing is done on a “virtual computer” housed on a server in a data center.

What is a Web Application?

A web application is software that is hosted in the cloud (usually by the provider of the software). That application is accessed and used by your staff through their on-site computer or mobile device.


A web application is software that is hosted in the cloud (usually by the provider of the software). That application is accessed and used by your staff through their on-site computer or mobile device.

Hosted Desktops VS. Web Apps – How Do They Stack Up Against Each Other?

We have created the following chart to visually display the differences between hosted desktops and web apps. We will go into a further discussion of the elements of this chart further on in our article.

Hosted Desktops

  • Is comprehensive in scope
  • Allows for load balancing across computers
  • Allows mobility
  • Allows mobility throughout all internal processes
  • Provides comprehensive business continuity support
  • Full transparency
  • Complete control (ownership) over programs and data
  • Lowers power costs
  • Centralizes systems management and maintenance
  • Enhances cybersecurity posture
  • Enforces compliance rules systems-wide
  • Works with BYOD
  • Lowers hardware maintenance costs
  • Allows for simple provisioning of full systems role-based access for offsite employees

Web Applications

  • Is easy to set up
  • Allows mobility
  • Will scale easily
  • Works with BYOD

Why Is the Alavanca System’s Team Encouraging Accounting Firms to Choose Hosted Desktops vs. Web Applications?

For the IT professionals of Alavanca Systems, helping clients make wise decisions about their technology is about looking at the big picture.

There is no doubt that it is easy to go online and sign up to pay a monthly fee for the privilege of using someone else’s software that is hosted in their data center. However, that may not be the best choice for your accounting firm.

We do take note that some of the leading software manufacturers for the accounting field have moved to a web application model that locks you into that format (at least for the use of their software). While this setup is most profitable for them, it is, in our estimation, likely not the best for your firm from the viewpoint of functionality, security, and cost.

Here are the reasons that we are currently advocating for a hosted desktop configuration for your workflow in the hosted desktop vs. web app debate.

⦁ Web Apps Present a Piecemeal Approach to Workflow.

While we don’t debate the quality of web applications available, our greater concern is the workflow diversification and distance that exists when firms use multiple web applications for internal processes. In contrast, a hosted desktop solution keeps all your software in one place and under your complete control.

⦁ Web Apps Only Provide Part of the Business Continuity Equation.

Assuming that the third party from which you are obtaining your web app is appropriately handling the security and compliance of your data, web apps can certainly play a part in a business continuity/disaster recovery strategy.

However, the role of web apps in a business continuity strategy is far from comprehensive. Web apps don’t account for data sets not utilized in that application, operating systems settings, and processes outside the scope of that application.

In contrast, hosted desktop solutions allow a firm to pick up right where they left off if something were to happen to the servers and computers at their offices.

⦁ Web Apps Do Not Give You Control.

Third-party web app providers do an admirable job of providing their services. What is lacking is granular control and flexibility for the individual Accounting firm.

  • Control to build and use workflow integrations
  • Control to ensure security
  • Control to ensure comprehensive workflow continuity and efficiency
  • Control to ensure compliance with industry standards and legislative mandates
  • Control to manage and maintain the application as an integrated part of your company’s IT ecosystem

⦁ Web Apps Don’t Provide an Easy Way to Provision Users with Everything They Need to Do Their Job.

In a hosted desktop scenario, a new employee can be provisioned with their virtual computer and all of their necessary software, databases, and credentials by simply sending a request to your IT consultant. He/she sets it up and sends the new employee his/her login credentials. Everything the new employee needs to do his/her job is on their virtual machine which they access through the internet.

In contrast, think of all the setups and passwords you have to do when you onboard an employee using five or six different web apps plus a computer, tablet, and smartphone.

Hosted desktops take the technology stress out of scaling up or down.

Hosted Desktops vs. Web Apps – Is There Never a Place for Web Apps in an Accounting Firm?

As we have previously noted, there is a growing trend by large software solution providers toward imposing the web app model on businesses today. Given this situation, there may be scenarios in which it is necessary to use a web app in conjunction with a hosted desktop solution. While this is not ideal, it is a better option than a firm using many disparate web apps to run internal processes.

Firms that choose to keep a web app usually do so either because the software is the best in the industry or because they don’t want the hassle of moving their data from that legacy software to another platform.

Want to know more about the balancing act in hosted desktops vs. web apps? We’re happy to have that conversation with you.



Ciro Cetrangolo is an IT specialist with over 30+ years in the IT services industry. Ciro has a deep understanding of the software, workflow, and underlying technology of accounting organizations and helps firms like yours achieve the secure, stable, and streamlined IT environments you need to accomplish your work more effectively. See my Amazon Author Profile