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The Google Chromebook, Suddenly, Is An Enterprise Contender

The Google Chromebook, Suddenly, Is An Enterprise Contender

Summary: Everyone was gearing up for a Tablet Battle Royale between the iPad and the Windows 8 armada. Now comes spoiling for the fight over the enterprise is the small fleet of Google Chromebooks, led by the $249 Samsung ARM Chromebook.

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Google's Chromebook hadn't been on my radar, I confess. The first models from Samsung and Acer were so meh. And Google seemed content to quietly market them exclusively to K-12 schools. 

But the ARM-based Samsung Chromebook has my full attention. Hello, my $249 gorgeous...

 

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That caused me to belatedly examine all of the progress the Chromebook has made in the past year. Not only did I come away impressed, but Google's mobile platform moves suddenly made sense to me. Its hardware partners may disagree, but Google doesn't really care if Android makes it in the enterprise. It's a consumer platform. The cloud-centric Chrome is its enterprise play.

Let's recap:

The first Chromebook was released at $349 more than a year ago. The price was good, but not great. But Samsung's sleek new $249 Chromebook aggressively undercuts the $499 iPad on price the way many observers thought Microsoft needed to do with the Surface RT. 

Instead, it's the new Chromebook that is:

- half the price of the iPad and the Surface RT;

- half to one-third the price of Windows 8 convertible tablets (see my gallery of 17 of them here). Without keyboards, most of these Atom-based 'tabtops' or 'laptablets' run between $500 and $900; 

- one-third to one-fourth the price of Windows 8 ultrabooks, which run between $800 to $1,200. 

At these prices, what CIO or IT manager wouldn't give the Chromebook a serious look?

crazy-eddie

You'd have to be crazy not to.

The new Chromebook is also a dramatic improvement in looks - important in the age of the Consumerization of IT. Whereas the first Chromebooks were drab, stripped-down laptops, the latest Samsung model sports MacBook Air-like looks and dimensions (0.8 inches thin, 2.4 pounds). It bears little resemblance to its forebears or their common ancestor, the undersized-yet-chunky netbook. As Computerworld put it, "Make no mistake about it: This is an attractive computer."

The new Chromebook is also more powerful under the hood, being the first mobile device to sport Samsung's Exynos 5 system-on-chip. The Exynos 5 uses a dual-core, 1.7 GHz ARM Cortex-A15 CPU that can support up to 2560x1600 resolution, 1080p video at 60 frames per second, and USB 3.0.

The Cortex-A15 has been benchmarked running twice as fast as the quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3, which, coincidentally, is used in the Surface and the Google Nexus tablet. The Cortex-A15 is so fast that the iPhone 5, probably the fastest mobile device today, was initially thought to be running it.

Alas, there's theory and there's IRL (In Real Life). The new Chromebook seems to be shackled by its 2 GB of RAM, with reviewers saying that the browser becomes sluggish after you open a dozen browser tabs or so. That's annoying, but with an 11.6-inch, 1366-x768 screen, the Chromebook wasn't going to please Browser Hoarders, anyway.

(For faster performance, you can opt for the $449 Samsung Chromebook Series 5 550, which has a dual-core Intel Celeron chip and 4 GB of RAM.)

Google has also improved the Chromebook's offline capabilities so that you can read and write e-mail and Google Docs while disconnected from the cloud. Besides the 16 GB of local storage on the SSD, you also now get 100 GB of Google storage, too.

Mobile Device Management with the Chromebook

You can argue that enterprises aren't as easily impressed by price tags as consumers. What they care about is Total Cost Of Ownership (TCO), which is related mostly to the cost and time of managing devices.

Here, Google also claims its Chromebook shines, with a TCO that is just a fraction of a PC (try their calculator). Organizations can ship a Chromebook straight to an end user and auto-enroll and provision their network settings, apps and other policies the first time they log into the Web. This "zero-touch deployment" should be music to the ears of IT admins.

IT managers can later update the OS, track assets, push updates and block apps, apply group policies etc. all via Google's Web-based management console. Security is a no-brainer, says Google, since it installs security patches to the Chrome browser quickly and behind the scenes.

If you prefer to outsource management and support, Google will do it and charge you a flat fee of $150 per Chromebook for the lifetime of the device. For schools, it's just $30 per Chromebook.

Stealth Uptake

With all of the publicity around the iPad's success in education, it's little known that the Chromebook has also attracted more than 500 school districts in the U.S. and Europe. They include:

- Richland School District 2 (SC) - 19,000 Chromebooks

- Council Bluffs Community School District (IA) - 4,300 Chromebooks

- Leyden Community High School District (IL) - 3,500 Chromebooks

There is also Hanover School District (PA), University of Connecticut and Kingston University in London, and the schools shown on this map. 

I must've really been asleep at the switch, as the Chromebook also has won some mainstream enterprise users. They include Mollen Clinics (4,500 Chromebooks), California State Library (1,000 Chromebooks), the Dillard's Inc. retail chain, test prep provider, Kaplan, Logitech, the city of Orlando, the U.S. Army. See this map for testimonials and MSPMentor for excellent coverage.

What if you're a company that doesn't want your investment in Windows applications to go to waste? Well, there are third-party tools like Citrix Receiver and Ericom AccessNow that let you remotely access Windows applications running on desktop PCs or servers. Trucking firm, Quality Distribution Inc. (QDI), and the aforementioned Richland and Hanover school districts, Kingston University and the University of Connecticut all use Ericom's Accessnow. If don't want the hassle of managing that data center, there are also cloud services like nGenx that can host those Windows desktops or applications.

Chromebooks can also be great for organizations with slim capital budgets. You can rent Chromebooks from CIT Group for $30 a month with no long-term commitment.

Who Should Get The Chromebook?

Chromebooks won't be right for every organization. For enterprises that are standardized on Windows and an Active Directory-based management infrastructure, Google's MDM solution will feel like an extra fee to pay and an extra dashboard to manage. That's what Microsoft and Windows 8 proponents are betting upon.

Also, I would argue that Google's TCO figures are overly-optimistic, as they assume companies will standardize on the Chromebook for mobile. That's unrealistic, if you want to be at all responsive to the needs of your employees, partners and customers. In many companies, Chrome would be a 3rd or even 4th mobile platform. Those enterprises will need to invest in cross-platform MDM AND Mobile Enterprise App Platforms.

With that in mind, I think Google would be smart to start working on integrating its Chromebook management console with mainstream MDM or PC management software. Or, at the very least, opening up the APIs so that other software can do the heavy lifting.

Also, even with its slightness and 3G option, the Chromebook is fundamentally more of a laptop replacement option for white-collar employees and other workers who rarely stray away from their corporate campus and its Wi-Fi network.

The Chromebook is NOT a true mobile device for field service and any jobs involving extended time away from a desk. Here, I include repairmen, store employees and doctors, and many many more. For them, touch-enabled tablets or convertibles make more ergonomic sense, IMHO.

But I could be wrong. Do you think enterprises should adopt Chromebooks? Why or why not?

Topics: UberMobile, Cloud, Google, iPad, Microsoft, Mobile OS, Mobility, Samsung

Eric Lai

About Eric Lai

I have tracked technology for more than 15 years, as an award-winning journalist and now as in-house thought leader on the mobile enterprise for SAP. Follow me here at ÜberMobile as well as my even less-filtered musings on Twitter @ericylai

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45 comments
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  • Enterprise contender ??? In what world

    Anybody who thinks that a mostly useless device (thanks to a mostly useless OS) is "enterprise quality" is completely delusional. The device is pretty much a $250 web browser.

    Unless everything in your company works straight out of a web server (don't know of any that does), this device is completely useless. For $50 more you can get a fully functional (real) LAPTOP with a fully functional OS (Windows or Linux), that won't require you to be on-line to do work and has enough local disk space where you can save your work data.
    wackoae
    • Making Chromebook a serious enterprise play

      Citrix Receiver
      JNavas2
      • To save $50 .... spend $5000+ on a Citrix server?

        Yeah, that's a cost savings solution.
        wackoae
        • Re: Yeah, that's a cost savings solution.

          For anything over 100 employees, easy.
          ldo17
    • subject

      Your aggressive comment suggests he is right.
      Everq
    • Google Apps Enterprises

      It's not for you. It's for schools and companies that have "gone Google." If you aren't stuck in MS lock-in, you get just about every advantage of an AD deployment for peanuts.
      Bo Dangren
    • Enterprise Contender

      I think you've missed an important point!

      Any enterprise that runs >100's of PC's is looking seriously into VDI's. The efficiencies and cost savings are enormous
      In this world the heavy lifting is done on enterprise servers and all the users need is a good browser type portal into their Virtual machine.
      As long as the Chromebook can support a small VPN and VDI viewer, I think this is going to be a killer machine.
      Cheap, low maintenance (from OS perspective), and something that's not going to be aged out by constant OS upgrades. I see huge potential here.
      ratk12
    • Save your work data on a local machine?

      That's counter to policy in many large organizations. Here it's only frowned upon. IT support is not permitted to attempt recovery, and the employee is responsible for any work product that was lost through poor data management practices.

      I don't know that all applications are web based, given a large, multi-faceted organization, but as a member of enterprise architecture board, I haven't seen request for acquisition or of non-server-based applications in the last two years. The fat client makes less sense as time goes on.

      I just re-read your post. What justifies your double question mark??
      IT_User
    • That "useless" web

      What can't you do on the web these days? In terms of the work that the VAST majority of ordinary white and pink collar workers do?

      The marginal improvement in functionality and features provided by, say OpenOffice or MS Office over Google Docs, for instance, is not noticeable to the vast majority of ordinary end users, including in the enterprise, especially when compared to the hassle of updates, security, transitioning between devices, synchronization, hard drive failure or loss/theft of the laptop, etc. Much much less hassle with a cloud-based system.
      Carney3
      • You must be joking

        Marginal improvement?

        You mean, a system that works vs. ones that basically don't? C'mon.

        I am all for new and innovative ways to work, and the thin client, being an "everything old is new again" idea for the ages is certainly tempting in a lot of ways, but let's not kid ourselves that Google Docs (of which I have never, ever, had anyone ever send me one of, ever) is simply not an Office substitute at this time.
        x I'm tc
  • Enterprise contender?? In what world??

    Anybody who thinks that a mostly useless device (thanks to a mostly useless OS) is "enterprise quality" is completely delusional. The device is pretty much a $250 web browser.

    Unless everything in your company works straight out of a web server (don't know of any that does), this device is completely useless. For $50 more you can get a fully functional (real) LAPTOP with a fully functional OS (Windows or Linux), that won't require you to be on-line to do work and has enough local disk space where you can save your work data.
    wackoae
  • Another interesting perspective

    http://www.i-programmer.info/news/126-os/4963-a-new-chromebook-is-this-the-tipping-point.html

    This could be a spoiler in the Windows 8 launch.
    D.T.Long
    • Doubt it

      "This could be a spoiler in the Windows 8 launch."

      Seriously doubt that. I know many people looking forward to Windows 8 as yet another choice in mobile computing.

      Noen of them could care less for Chromebooks.The 2 places we deal with that did try Chromebooks are dumping them.

      No spoiler here, that's for sure.
      William Farrel
      • Pretty weak

        So you know a few shills who would choose Windows 8 over Chromebooks, and then you base your predictions on that?

        No vision, ridiculous sample size and altogether a pathetic attempt, but par for the course from you.
        D.T.Long
  • How does a device that doesnt run any enterprise app target the enterprise

    But great if you want your employees to do nothing but surf the web all day
    Johnny Vegas
    • Re-read the specs.

      It has a browser - runs the same enterprise apps the same way their current client does.

      Whats the problem?
      IT_User
  • Chromebook like devices are the future of computing.

    The author has called it absolutely right. Chromebooks/Chromeboxes aren't cheaper Windows laptops/desktops, they are a completely different computing paradigm. The connected computing paradigm is going to revolutionise desktop computing and replace PC as we now know them the same way that connected smartphones revolutionised and replaced PDAs in the mobile computing device market. That doesn't mean Windows applications will be redundant overnight - it just means that they will run virtualized on servers - which is the cheapest and most secure way of managing Windows, eliminating the high maintenance cost of provisioning Windows desktops/laptops. Fat desktop PC and laptop will continue but only as a niche. The advance of networking technology in the form of 4G mobile and Gigabit broadband and the increasing reliance on the Internet for business and communication will ensure this happens.

    As far as the ARM Chromebook is concerned, is it a game changer. Probably. The thing is that the high end Samsung 550 Chromebook at £378 isn't too costly for schools or business. Schools and businesses will pay for a high build quality and the zero maintenance - zero touch features that Chromebooks bring to client devices. This is why the Acer Chromebooks didn't sell well. The Samsumg was perceived as of better build quality and able to take the battering they will get in the hands of school kids, and they had better battery life, so most schools and businesses bought Samsungs rather than the cheaper Acers. The thing about computer hardware now is that it is dirt cheap, and labour costs involved in desktop maintenance and support is very high, so businesses and schools are happy to pay £50 - £100 more on the sticker price to get a device that will save time on breakdowns, and will make their employees more productive because they don't take up the end user's time spent on user training, support or user device management, which Windows requires. Large scale school trials showed a TCO for Chromebooks of 30% of that for Windows laptops, and increased teacher and student productivity due to less time wrestling with the operating system. That said, I think the new ARM Chromebooks will speed up the change, because while the sticker price isn't as important to businesses and schools, it is massively important for consumers. A wide uptake of Chromebooks into the consumer market will ensure that Chromebooks are more widely known about, and that developers are encouraged to develop more apps for it.

    There doesn't seem to be any downside to the ARM Chromebook. They are cheaper than any Windows PC or laptop to make (even the cheap and nasty Windows netbooks and budget Windows laptops) even with the high build quality specified, they run cool and silent and are more reliable due to no moving parts (no mechanical hard drive, and no fans), they are very light, and they have a very decent performance - pretty close to the Samsung 550 Chromebook costing almost twice as much. The instant suspend-resume capability of Chromebooks will also dramatically extend battery life since you only need to bring it out of suspension when you are actually doing something. It could easily give a real battery life of double the 6.5hours for continuous use for a normal working day.The current ARM Chromebook has a 2 cell battery and achieves 6.5 hours continuous use battery life. In future, I can see a quad core executive ARM Chromebook with 4GB of RAM replacing and outperforming the current Samsung 550 Chromebook, at lower cost and with a 6 cell battery which will allow a 20 hour continuous use battery life and two weeks suspended battery time.

    This ARM Chromebook and not Windows 8 is the most exciting development in computing this year.
    Mah
    • Well said

      It will be really interesting to see what kind of sales volume these new ARM Cromebooks can generate.

      I think MS may be vulnerable with the Windows 8 launch. For many casual computer users, the choice between a totally different looking W8 computer and a perhaps more familiar looking Chromebook, at one half to one third the price, may become relatively simple.
      D.T.Long
    • Not really, Mah

      "his ARM Chromebook and not Windows 8 is the most exciting development in computing this year."

      The biggest issues with Chromebooks are - 1) Google. 2) Google. 3)Google.

      The problem is that everything is tied to a company which has lost trust of many - Google. And they've been out for quite some time, andf are STILL trying to generate some sort of buzz.

      I predict that Windows 8 convertibles will easily outsell Chomebooks. By a monumental amount.
      William Farrel
      • Pathetic again

        So "Google, Google, Google" is the best you can come up with in response to a well written and well reasoned post?

        And we are supposed to take you seriously?
        D.T.Long