Google Partners: Chromebook Sales Take Off For Education, Not Ready For Enterprise

In its latest earnings call last week, Google touted a "record quarter" of 1 million Chromebook sales in education, but VARs say they don't see demand for Chromebooks stretching beyond the education space anytime soon.

On the education front, Google VARs agree that there is huge opportunity for Chromebook sales. Between lower hardware costs and Google promotions that give free Google Apps software to education and non-profit groups, a combination that Google says can save more than $5,200 per device over three years, it's a no-brainer, they said. On top of that, Google has seen huge popularity since the release of its Chrome Management Console.

"If you're coming from the desktop're still paying a few bucks. Now everything is completely free and the hardware is half the cost. You'd have to be crazy to ignore that in the education space," Lane Campbell, CEO at Chicago-based Syntress, said.

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While market-research firm Futuresource Consulting found that Chromebooks accounted for one in four mobile devices going into K-12 schools in the fourth quarter on 2013, a number that has growth immensely over the year before, other research shows that the same jump in demand is not happening elsewhere. According to IDC, Chromebooks only took up 1 percent of the overall PC market last year.

The problem for enterprises and other businesses comes when they have to make the switch from legacy Microsoft systems to Google Apps under the Chrome OS. Without legacy systems and a lack of remote support capabilities, Campbell said that it is difficult for business clients to want to make the move. Campbell said that he has seen a lot initial interest, but the Chrome ecosystem is "just not there" from a legacy system or support standpoint for most clients.

"It's sort of like if you want to play in the Chrome world, you can't be stuck in the Microsoft world at all," Campbell said. "A lot of our corporate customers are just so stuck in the Microsoft ecosystem. They're really reliant, be it for legacy purposes, be it for cost reasons, they're stuck. It's not that they're ignoring what Google has to offer," he said.

Dave Monk, CEO of Berkeley, Calif.-based ArcSource Consulting, said that he sees Chromebooks appealing to many different industries, the problem is that very few companies can fully convert all of their staff over to Chromebooks. While there may be select employees that can fully function on Chrome OS, Monk said that there are very few companies not in the education space that could do a full migration.

"That’s the kicker," Monk said. "The big picture is, business adoption is absolutely anemic and education makes total sense why it's going well. And among the many reasons why it's not working well in business is that there's industry specific or user specific applications that they can't run," he said.

On the other hand, some VARs are even saying that they aren't seeing growth at all for Chromebooks, even in the education markets.

"Homeland Secure IT is handling more business from the education segment than ever, but we have not seen any Chromebooks in that market at all here in South Carolina. In fact, just today is the first time a customer brought one into our shop," John Hoyt, CEO of Greenville, S.C.--based Homeland Secure IT, said in an email to CRN.

NEXT: Slow Demand Outside Of Education Today Won't Last Forever

However, slow demand outside of education doesn't mean Google is out of the running forever, solution providers said.

"We are seeing some increasing interest in Chromebooks on the business side. It is still in its infancy, however, and there are factors that will make it easier for businesses to move to Chrome devices going forward," Allen Falcon, CEO of Westborough, Mass.-based Cumulus Global, said in an email.

Campbell predicted that the industry would start to see an enterprise move to Chromebooks and Google Apps within the next 10 years as more legacy apps make the transition to web-based applications, which could use used through the Chrome OS. He compared it to how, 10 years ago, all businesses used Microsoft Outlook for email, but have since undergone a slow transition to letting employees use their webmail accounts.

"Every application that businesses use would have to go through that transformation before a Chrome OS device can takeover in the business world," Campbell said.

Google is already in the running for businesses with Google Apps, Monk said, which he said he doesn't even lump into the same category. He said that he sees a lot of penetration into the business market by Google Apps, though he said he usually doesn't see it running on Chromebooks.

"They're certainly related products, but Google Apps is broadly appealable to anywhere," Monk said.

The bright side for Google pushing forward in the education space, Campbell said, is that students are growing up used to Google Apps and the Chrome OS, whereas most employees in the workforce today grew up on Microsoft products. Campbell predicted that when it comes time for those students to purchase their own first laptops, they will be more familiar with and more inclined to choose a Google-based product.