It's time for the enterprise to start taking Google's cloud-centric Chromebooks seriously, according to a recent Forrest Research report, but the research firm, according to some VARs, has its head in the clouds.
In a Thursday report, Forrester said the time is right for stripped down "laptops" that run the Web-centric Chrome OS to make it into SMB and large companies.
"Ignore the naysayers," wrote J.P. Gownder, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, in the report. "It's time to take a fresh look at whether Chromebooks might fill a legitimate computing niche for your company," he said.
But, it's going to take a lot more convincing for some VARs to become Chromebook believers.
"Chromebooks aren't even part of the conversation with our customers," said Howard Bergman, director of infrastructure practice at New York-based Net@Work.
The hardware, according to some solution providers, is still too difficult to integrate into a company's infrastructure dominated by Windows and legacy applications. "It's a great option for companies ready to leap into the world of cloud computing, but right now most companies aren't ready to make the jump," said Larry Velez, CTO and founder of Sinu, a New York-based MSP partnering with both Google and Microsoft.
Companies, the report said, can fill a "post-PC" niche allowing a certain segment of a workforce to be more productive. "Chromebooks won't replace all or even most Windows PCs, Macs, and tablets," wrote Gownder. But, he said, for companies with "segmented" workforces and firms that have deployed Google Apps, Chromebooks are an affordable alternative to expensive hardware reliant on Microsoft software.
Introduced in 2011, the bare-bones Chromebook laptops are priced between $200 and $300. Sales of the laptops in the last eight months have been strong, according to market research firm NPD Group. According to NPD, Chromebooks are the fastest-growing part of the PC industry. Most of those sales have been to consumers who have been buying them from approximately 6,600 retailers including Best Buy, Wal-Mart and Staples.
"Our customers still have a deep dependency on Office and legacy software applications," Velez said. Companies are still hesitant about a stripped-down PC after underpowered netbooks left IT departments underwhelmed just a few years ago, he said.
For Net@Work and its customers, Chromebooks and Google's cloud infrastructure are still an unproven quantity. Net@Work Director of IT Ronnie Parisella calls Google's cloud offerings a "grossly insecure platform." He said there is a time and place for Google Apps, but Chromebooks lack fundamental business functionality and cloud data protection. Headaches, he said, also include lack of Java support, VPN access to corporate networks and Google Apps compatibility with legacy software such as Microsoft Office programs.
But that could change, said Velez, as companies see Chromebooks as a viable alternative not to business systems, but rather to tablets. For its part, Google has been trying to warm up to enterprise customers.
Google in May inked a deal with Citrix Systems and VMware to bring enterprise applications to Chromebooks.
Forrester's Gownder said Chromebooks "aren't for everyone," but for those companies that migrate away from Outlook to Gmail and start using Google Drive, Chromebooks might be a natural next step, he said.
PUBLISHED JULY 30, 2013