Google Partners Eager For Google Chromebooks, But Channel Has To Wait
Andrew R. Hickey
Google will keep sales of the upcoming Chrome OS notebooks, dubbed Google Chromebooks, direct for the time being, CRN has learned.
Google unveiled its Chromebooks plans last week at its Google I/O conference in San Francisco. The notebooks will feature the cloud-focused Chrome OS, and are expected to reach the market come June 15. Essentially, they are browser-only netbooks that leverage Wi-Fi or 3G connectivity to access cloud services for applications and storage.
Google partners and resellers have called Google Chromebooks a home run. But, according to Google, the search giant's stable of Google resellers won't get their mitts on the Chromebooks just yet.
"We currently are only offering Chromebooks for Business directly from Google," Google said in a statement e-mailed to CRN. "We plan to expand this product to sell through our Google Apps partners who provide a variety of value added services to our customers but have no other details to announce at this time."
Google would not say when its partners, which total more than 2,000, will start selling Chromebooks.
The low-end Acer- and Samsung-made Google Chromebooks notebooks will utilize 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of SSD storage, and will come equipped with the Chrome OS, the first commercially available consumer operating system relying on cloud technology. They will range from around $350 to $430.
For enterprises, Google is preparing a Chromebooks subscription service through which businesses can rent Chromebooks on a three-year refresh cycle, with support, warranty and Web-based management included for a monthly fee of $28 each. Chromebooks run the Chrome OS, and Google is teaming with Citrix and VMware to get enterprise apps working on Chromebooks.
Google partners have been salivating for Chrome OS-based notebooks since Google first unveiled the Chrome OS in July 2009.
"We've been asking for this for months: When are we going to be able to get these Chrome notebooks off the ground?" said Crisantos Hajibrahim, head of business development for Los Angeles-based Google Apps reseller ViWO Inc.
Hajibrahim said he'll wait patiently for the channel to get a whack at Chromebooks, as he sees a vast opportunity for partners to drive sales with bundled Chromebooks/Google Apps plays, plus additional services on top of it.
"Our customers are going to eat this up," he said. "This is the name of the game now."
Hajibrahim said he's confident the channel will get its hands on Google Chromebooks soon. But the sooner it gets out there, the more plentiful the opportunities will be. "They need to get it out there," he said.
Hajibrahim said one of the main holdups for getting Chromebooks to Google's channel partners and resellers likely lies in Google putting the infrastructure in place to sell and support them via the channel.
NEXT: Google Partners: We'll Have Chromebooks Soon
David Hoff, vice president of technology with Atlanta-based Google partner Cloud Sherpas, said Google's pace of innovation is swift and sometimes Google puts out products quickly and puts the channel infrastructure in place afterward.
Still, Hoff said, he is confident Cloud Sherpas and other Google partners will have Chromebooks in-hand sooner than later.
"We see the reseller channel opening up very quickly," he said. "We see the ability for us to resell them coming after the launch in the very near term."
Allen Falcon, CEO of Horizon Info Services, a Westborough, Mass.-based Google reseller, said his best guess is that a select group of Google resellers will have Chromebooks in-hand by the third quarter or early in the fourth quarter.
"Our indication is that they're working out the details," Falcon said.
Glenn Weinstein, CTO at San Mateo, Calif.-based Google partner Appirio, said the company is very interested in adding Chromebooks to its Google Apps offerings.
"Our understanding is that Google will be introducing preferred partner reseller arrangements in the next few quarters," Weinstein said.
Weinstein said he and Appirio expect Google's channel plans for Google Chromebooks to take a similar path as it did with Google Apps.
"With Google Apps, we started as an implementation partner, and there was a period of time when customers could only buy their Google Apps licenses directly from Google," he said. "They then introduced the reseller program which allows us to be a more complete solution provider. We expect a similar evolution with Chromebooks, where Google initially provides the machines to customers directly, but relatively quickly expands the partner reseller programs to include Chromebooks as well."
The channel not having immediate access to a new product, in this case Google Chromebooks, is a double-edged sword, Falcon added.
"On one hand, you always wish they'd release something to the channel at the same time they take it direct," he said. "On the other hand, by the time it comes to the channel there will be use cases and a sales approach."
With the direct-first model, Google handles the heavy lifting -- "takes it on the chin," Falcon said -- of how to sell and market Chromebooks, which the channel can leverage when they reach partners.
And despite not being able to offer the actual Chromebooks hardware immediately, Falcon said Horizon Info Services can offer support, management and services to companies who buy Chromebooks directly from Google.
"It's not that the channel is not involved," he said. For Horizon Info Services, that means offering deployment and support services and other value adds on top of the Chromebooks.
"It's really about on whose paper the Chromebooks go," Falcon said, adding that Horizon doesn't necessarily profit off of hardware sales, but the services and value add are where it will make money with Chromebooks. "At this point it doesn't matter to us if it's our paper or Google's paper."
NEXT: Google Chromebooks Create Opportunities
Falcon said he's content offering services, support and asset management for the time being, and "when we can sell the hardware, we'll sell the hardware."
As for opportunities, Falcon sees Chromebooks making a big splash in education and later in the business world. For schools, the cost savings and the ability to utilize an affordable subscription service will cheaply put notebooks into students' hands. Falcon said he's already seen interest from school districts excited about Chromebooks.
Chromebooks will also hit in businesses that are already ingrained in the cloud and they will take off once companies have their VMware and Citrix infrastructures in place to fully take advantage of Google Chromebooks.
Hoff said Chromebooks will give Cloud Sherpas the ability to offer complete management of customers' Google experience, including storage, applications and notebooks. Cloud Sherpas can be a one-stop cloud shop.
"We see being able to provide the managed Google service to be a huge opportunity," he said.
Appirio's Weinstein also said the Chromebooks will let it address a broader set of customer requirements.
"Chromebooks allow us to extend that beyond the server and the help desk all the way to the users' machines," Weinstein said. "We intend to offer a total solution -- licenses, implementation, support, and hardware -- as single bundle, priced on a per-employee, per-month basis. This gives IT a very predictable cost and allows them to focus even more on solving business problems, and less on maintaining on-premise infrastructure."
Hoff and Falcon both said they foresee customers doing initial pilots of 50 to 100 Chromebooks to test the waters, but the low cost and the cloud-based experience the Google Chrome OS-powered notebooks provide won't be too hard a sell.
"Offering full computing to a users for 28 bucks [per month] is an order of magnitude cheaper than other solutions," Hoff said, later adding "We see the hardware as the enable in getting to the 100 percent Web vision."
Hajibrahim said many of ViWO's SMB customers have already made the leap to the cloud with Google Apps. "There are all going to the Web," he said. And Google Chromebooks create a new managed services model.
Hajibrahim expects ViWO to go after existing accounts on the cusp of a refresh cycle and offering Chromebooks in as laptop or desktop replacement devices. He said they're smaller, lighter and faster, so for many businesses they'll make more sense.
"This will probably be the only piece of hardware you have, next to your phone," said Hajibrahim "What do you need a computer for if everything is on the cloud?"