Report: Google Chromebooks Have a Place in the Enterprise

A new report by Forrester Research outlines the business case for organizations to use Google Chromebooks, which run Google's Chrome OS cloud-enabled operating system.

Google's approach with Chromebooks varies somewhat from a traditional PC or Mac client computing model since the applications used on a Chromebook are services that are accessed remotely in a browser-like experience, rather than being installed on the device. The devices haven't always received positive press, according to lead author J.P. Gownder, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research for infrastructure and operations professionals, in a blog post.

Gownder noted that this new report, published Monday and titled "It's Time To Reconsider Chromebooks," is Forrester Research's first major study of Chromebooks in the enterprise. The report is based on Forrester's conversations with CIOs and buyers of infrastructure, looking at their use cases.

Chromebooks hit the market about two years ago, and since that time organizations have grown more accustomed to using Web-enabled applications, Gownder explained. Organizations that support mixed-device environments with different classes of workers may benefit from using Chromebooks, although these devices are not for everyone, he noted.

"[The Chromebook is] not a Windows killer or a Mac killer -- client-side computing is not going away -- but it is a piece of advice that we are offering to infrastructure buyers today," Gownder said in a phone interview. "There could be a business case for moving part of your organization's workers to the Chromebook under the circumstances that are laid out in the report. Larger organizations that have certain classes of workers may be able benefit from this, and, in fact, it can be very cost effective. It lowers help desk cost. It lowers the cost in terms of imaging PCs or deploying applications."

Organizations that are already using Gmail may be ready to adopt Chromebooks for some workers. Chromebooks tends to promote collaboration through Gmail and other Google applications, Gownder noted in his blog post.

Gownder described IT support for Chromebooks as being similar to the general movement toward supporting tablets in the workplace.

"The world is complex now," he said. "It's not going to be one platform in the future in any event. But coding for a browser can be easier. Also, from a management perspective, if you are dealing with Chromebooks, you are really lowering your security costs for those particular machines. You're making it easier for one user to turn that machine over to another user. You're looking at lower cost hardware."

It's simpler for IT to support a Chromebook than an Android device because of the security challenges associated with the Android operating system. For instance, organizations may need mobile device management support in order to use Android devices in an enterprise, Gownder noted.

Chromebooks are still a small part of the overall PC market, but they've defied the general sagging PC market trend, especially compared with low-cost laptops, according to a recent Bloomberg report. Chromebooks are not conceived by Google as just for consumers as Google has a professional enterprise group that's been selling Google Apps and "thousands of devices" to organizations, Gownder noted.

One sign that Chromebooks are gaining some traction is the government of Malaysia, which went completely Google, buying large quantities of Chromebooks for schoolchildren, Gownder said.

Other Forrester Research analysts have added their perspectives on how Google will address the enterprise space. Organizations may encounter apps that aren't fully tested and that change "in a piecemeal fashion," noted Dan Bieler, a principal analyst at Forrester for CIOs, in a blog post. He also noted that large enterprises tend to want to deal directly, instead of going through channel partners. The USA PATRIOT Act raises questions for organizations relying on cloud services. Lastly, Bieler questioned Google's enterprise orientation.

"Going forward, I see a challenge to Google's enterprise ambitions in the potential conflict of interest between Google's core advertising-funded business model and the subscription-based enterprise business model," Bieler stated.

There also can be "unexpected costs" to using Google Apps, which is priced at $50 per user per year, as well as unexpected Office 365 costs. For instance, it will cost more to add services such as security, storage, data retention, and disaster recovery, according to T.J. Keitt, a senior analyst at Forrester for CIOs, in a blog post.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.


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