There’s no question that Google thought its Chromebook would be thedarling of the enterprise. That just shows how little the designers of the device know about how enterprise IT works in the real world. It may be a nice play for consumers, assuming you can pry them away from their iPads and Andoid tablets, but even there it’ll be tough sledding.
Thehurdles the Chromebook faces in the enterprise start with the lack of manageability. In short, enterprise IT and security managers won’t be told when updates are coming, they won’t be able to manage which updates are installed and which are held for further testing and which are rejected outright. This is a significant blunder on Google’s part.
But there are other blunders, too, starting with the cost. To many people, the $28 monthly corporate-lease price tag seems low, but that doesn’t cover communications charges if you get a 3G version. When you compare it against the price of a Windows laptop, it’s pretty steep. HP, for example, will lease you a business-class laptop for $16 per month, including Windows 7.
When you start adding a lot of devices, that price difference adds up. In fact, even if Google Apps is included in the price of the device, it’s still expensive. Add the local access impact and its more expensive yet. In other words, theChromebook really doesn’t compute.
The automatic silent updates are probably the biggest problem for any but the smallest businesses. The reason is that IT managers are charged with making sure that their computing environment is both secure and functional.
This is why many large companies handle their own updates; before they allow any operating system updates, they test them to make sure they don’t break any mission-critical applications, including custom-developed Web applications. These managers also need to make sure that the new updates work with the existing security systems and that the update process doesn’t create any avoidable network impact.
So if Google sends out a Chrome OS update that works fine with Google Apps, but doesn’t work so well with Microsoft Office 365, there’s a problem if the company is a Microsoft shop. Likewise, any internal applications that the company is using in the course of its business must work with the update or it can’t be installed. Problem is, Google isn’t giving any choice to the IT manager in this. The devices will be updated as Google chooses without notice to anyone.
Chromebook Costs Dont Add up for IT Managers
Another problem for IT is that theChromebook requires some kind of wireless access to function. This means that companies will have to either ensure that there’s full WiFi access in every location within the company or the company is going to have to decide that the Chromebook can only be used in some places. Despite the hype that you hear from nearly everywhere, remarkably few companies actually have WiFi or 3G available throughout their buildings. For this to happen, the company may have to make a significant investment in upgrading its wireless network. This adds even more cost to the Chromebook.
The reason for this need for a wireless network is that the Chromebook, while it has a small amount of local storage (about as much as your digital camera), keeps its applications in the cloud. So while you might have data you need on the device, you can’t actually look at it without a wireless connection.
Then you come back to the price. Corporate users are going to be paying $28 a month for the device. That adds up to more than $1,000 over the three-year life of a Chromebook, which is in reality a diskless netbook computer. For that, you could buy a very nice notebook computer with a hard disk, Windows 7 and Microsoft Office. Or you could get the Windows computer from HP for $16 a month. Add to that the $50 dollars a year that Google charges for Google Apps and you’re up to $20 a month.
So, then, IT managers will have to consider that the Chromebook costs $8 per month per device more than a full Windows 7 notebook computer and that they’ll probably need to spend significant capital on network upgrades while also losing control over security and perhaps the stability of your critical applications. Add in any communications charges if you get the 3G version, and you have a question: Why would any IT manager do this? For that matter, why would any CFO allow this to be done?
The only possible reason may be that when one of those silent Google updates comes along and the company’s mission-critical software stops working, the IT manager can point to Google off there in the cloud and say it’s their fault. My suspicion is that the IT manager who tries this will find the boss is unconvinced. Whoever approved the acquisition of Chromebooks will be scrambling to keep their job.