Netbooks pushing into enterprises in Asia

Analysts say economic climate may drive more in region to leverage netbooks for enterprise use, but IT users say not all are suited to adopt these devices.
Written by Vivian Yeo, Contributor

Analysts believe the current economic climate will drive adoption of netbooks for corporate use in Asia, but IT users say netbooks are not yet positioned as enterprise products and therefore lack necessary vendor support.

Reuben Tan, senior manager for personal systems research at IDC Asia-Pacific, said in a phone interview, the time was right for netbooks to enjoy a bigger presence in the corporate market.

"Now if you talk about IT managers spending x amount of dollars to upgrade their IT infrastructure--that's being scrutinized very carefully," he pointed out. Netbooks, compared to ultramobile portables that cost S$3,000 (US$2,000) or more, offer "very attractive price points" of below S$1,500 (US$1,000), making them more palatable to chief financial officers, especially in the current climate, explained Tan.

Concurring, Jeff Morris, Dell's director of client product management for large enterprise and public sector in the Asia-Pacific and Japan, said in an e-mail: "Business customers are expected to deliver more with smaller budgets so it's natural that IT departments may consider deploying such devices in areas where users are not heavily multitasking between applications.

"We anticipate more businesses to evaluate this form factor, considering the economic climate today."

Accenture's executive partner for communications, media and high-tech Ng Kuo Pin, was also optimistic about the use of netbooks in the enterprise environment. Netbooks, he added, appear to be more suitable for on-the-move job functions. "I can certainly see mobile workforces going in this direction."

According to Ng, backend support is not an issue as netbooks typically come equipped with standard operating systems which can run most corporate applications. In fact, he pointed, netbooks paired with wireless broadband present a "powerful combination".

Concerns over netbook performance, vendor positioning
IT heads ZDNet Asia contacted shared their experiences about evaluating netbooks for their enterprises.

James Loo, chief information officer of logistics and supply chain company YCH Group, said the firm is already using netbooks of some executives, but pointed out that this was not a result of the economic downturn.

"It [was] a trend [that started catching] on last year when our road warriors need lighter and easier-to-carry machines to work with while they are traveling," he explained, adding that such smaller form-factor notebooks were especially useful for those that frequently go on short trips and at the same time require e-mail and Internet access.

According to YCH's standard procedures, such machines need to be "checked in" or registered with the IT department, even if they are personal devices. "We want [them] to be checked and configured properly--with proper software licensing and proper antivirus protection. Therefore there is a register to log their machines, to keep all of them [in] tip-top operating condition and to avoid unnecessary calls to the [IT] support hotline."

To gear up for this, YCH had "invested heavily" in its last three-year IT plan "to re-architect our enterprise applications", said Loo. Companies that may not have done so, he noted, "might have a hard time trying to make access possible with such lightweight machines without affecting performance". The information may also not be in sync and could result in inaccurate information or no visibility on shared data.

Loo concluded: "Our guideline is to [clearly] list out the Do's and Don'ts...as to when it is appropriate for such machines...what tasks the users may have to perform et cetera. This takes away the frustration and sets the right expectation on the netbook's performance and, of course, reduces unnecessary [IT support] calls."

Over at the Hong Kong Jockey Club, its executive director of IT Sunny Lee said the majority of the organization's users use desktop PCs. "We do not see netbooks will replace desktop PCs when we refresh them simply because [netbooks are] still not mainstream for corporate use, he noted.

According to him, the organization will consider netbooks as an additional option for non-business critical notebooks, as it feels that the performance and the security are comparable to notebooks it currently uses. With the increases in CPU power, memory and storage capacities of netbooks, HKJC does not see any performance issues "when running enterprise applications" compared to PCs or notebooks, added Lee.

However, he pointed out that all major vendors currently position netbooks as consumer devices. Only when the netbook is positioned by vendors for enterprise use with corresponding enterprise support and maintenance programs, will HKJC consider it for mission critical enterprise use, said Lee.

IDC's Tan warned, however, that performance issues are a real problem in the current market. "If you want to use [the netbook] as your main office notebook, then obviously when you start to multitask and run six, seven applications in the background, we could get to certain [performance] issues."

Most netbooks are equipped with Windows XP Home version, which is "not an ideal OS for the corporate environment", said Tan: "If you decide to run Vista…you will have issues with performance. If you run the upcoming Windows 7 version for netbooks...I believe it's also limited to [a maximum of] three applications at any point in time.

"Ideally in the corporate environment, you would want something that allows you more flexibility," he pointed out.

Tan added that there have been companies that trialed netbooks thinking that these machines would be suitable for them, and attractive from a price point of view. "[They] realized that after [they] load on [applications such as Microsoft] Outlook, antivirus and [Linux OS]…and everything's running in the background, the performance just doesn't cut it. I guess the concept is attractive, but in reality [it's a] different story.

Having said that, there are some examples where such rollouts have been successful, but it's just not meant for everyone and [every] organization," said Tan.

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