Lenovo Joins Chromebox Parade With New ThinkCentre Offering

On Monday, Lenovo unveiled new Chromebox hardware at its Accelerate 2015 Partner Forum in Las Vegas, joining the ranks of market share leaders Dell, Acer and Hewlett-Packard. Called ThinkCentre Chromebox, the hardware is specifically designed to integrate into Lenovo’s Tiny-in-One workstation. The 7-inch-by-1.4-inch-by-7.2-inch box is available in June and runs $200. A ThinkCentre Tiny-in-One will also be available at $280.

Lenovo and Google partners say Lenovo’s timing is perfect, as they are just beginning to see interest in the diminutive all-in-one systems start to take off.

’We are starting to see more RFPs for Chromebooks,’ said David Hoff, senior vice president of technology at Cloud Sherpas, an Atlanta-based cloud solution provider. Specializing in Salesforce.com and Google Apps implementations, Cloud Sherpas has been selling Chromebooks and Chromeboxes for years.

[Related: Lenovo Must Up Its IT Game After Year Of Massive Change, Partners Say]

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Hoff said Chromebox sales have started to take off in the past six months, offering his company better margins than Chromebooks. ’We like Chromebox sales because they require creative work and project work. Chromeboxes' deployment is as much about the service as it is the hardware. With a Chromebook, you enroll it and turn it on,’ Hoff said.

Cloud Sherpas anticipates doubling its Chromebox business over the next 12 months. ’It’s still a tiny fraction of our business, but we'll take it,’ Hoff said.

Lenovo’s Chromebox hardware, which runs Google's Chrome OS, has four USB 3.0 ports, a full-sized HDMI jack and integrated DisplayPort and Ethernet jack. With the Chromebox release, Lenovo said, it is targeting the education and small-business market eager to move to a cloud-based and space-saving solution.

Lenovo is entering a challenging but growing market, say analysts.

Compared with Chromebooks, Chromebox sales have significantly lagged. Only 50,000 Chromeboxes were shipped in 2014, compared with 134 million PCs shipped in the same time period, according to research firm IDC. Leading Chromebox OEMs were Dell, Acer and Hewlett-Packard, IDC said.

’Chromebox sales are a rounding error compared to overall PC sales,’ said Rajani Singh, senior research analyst at IDC. But Singh said Chromeboxes have been gaining traction in the financial, retail and digital signage verticals. ’Chromebooks have a definite appeal. Similar to the thin client, they offer affordable options to SMB market and better security than a PC because of Google’s cloud-based centralized management,’ Singh said.

But despite those small shipment numbers, IDC forecasts strong Chromebox growth, albeit from a tiny starting point. IDC forecasts 400 percent growth in Chromebox sales, totaling 225,000 shipments, compared with 128 million PC sales overall in 2015.