Google Chromebooks Seek Enterprise Blessing

Google's Chrome OS plans for the new Samsung and Acer Chromebooks received solid support from some of its business and educational partners at Google I/O May 11.

SAN FRANCISCO--Google officials made their most aggressive push for cloud computing yet here at Google I/O May 11, unveiling notebooks based on its lightweight Chrome operating system.

The Chrome OS model urges consumers, businesses and schools to store their content entirely in Google's cloud of servers, accessing Web applications such as Gmail and Google Docs from the Chrome browser on commodity computers.

Google is responsible for the software updates, which Chrome Vice President Sundar Pichai would be providing on a regular basis.

Consumers will be able to buy the Samsung Series 5 and Acer Chromebooks in the United States and in the U.K., France, Germany, Netherlands, Italy and Spain June 15 from and Best Buy.

The Series 5 is priced at $429 for the WiFi-only model and $499 for a computer with a 3G radio. Acer's WiFi-only Chromebook, which boasts fewer bells and whistles than its Samsung rival, will start at $349. Both machines boot up within 8 seconds, an impressive paring of boot time because the machines lack the typical BIOS startup process.

Google has a different proposition for businesses and educational institutions: Take these same computers on a subscription basis. Businesses may rent Chromebooks for $28 per user, per month for three years, enjoying support and hardware upgrades as needed. Schools are eligible for the same deal but for $20 per user, per month.

Google Enterprise President Dave Girouard presided over a panel of four representatives from Chrome business and education adopters, representing schools, delis and hardcore enterprises.

Echoing his pitch from the seminal launch of Google Apps four years ago, Girouard argued that the time is ripe for the fresh cloud computing paradigm to replace the sometimes-lugubrious installation, management and maintenance of computers based on Microsoft's Windows operating system, where files are stored locally on the machine.

The panel members, including Jason's Deli CIO Kevin Verde, Rachel Wente-Chaney, CIO of High Desert Educational Service District in Oregon, Sanjay Dhar, vice president of IT for Logitech, and Gordon Payne, senior vice president and general manager at Citrix, which has been testing its Receiver desktop virtualization application with Chromebooks for months.

Dhar was the most enthusiastic of the bunch, estimating that Chromebooks would be a viable solution for roughly 90 percent of his company's computing needs.

Dhar said he envisioned many employees in his company would use the Web-based Citrix Receiver, which enables users to access SAP, Oracle and other enterprise-grade business applications in the cloud on Chromebooks.

When a reporter suggested that Google's cloud model would lead organizations to jettison paid IT positions, Wente-Chaney suggested she has seen just the opposite.

She said Google's $20 per month plan will actually help retain personnel rather than forcing cost-conscious school districts to choose between IT staff or paying licensing and maintenance for Microsoft Exchange Server.

Indeed, her position dovetailed with Google co-founder Sergey Brin's argument earlier in the day that the classic business computing model is "fundamentally flawed."

However, most analysts eWEEK informally polled at Google I/O this week are taking such bold statements with a dash of salt.

They suggested Google will have a tall order convincing businesses to switch to the cloud, which Google positions as shiny and new but is really a twist on decades-old hosted computing.

Ultimately, analysts believe that while there is a lot for IT administrators to complain about with the traditional local client-server model, it's not enough to necessitate, never mind facilitate, such a change to Google's model.