How ChromeOS Devices Are Helping This Fortune 500 Firm Save $3M A Year

By switching nearly a quarter of its computers to ChromeOS from Windows, global electronics manufacturer Sanmina has cut the total cost of ownership and support costs for client devices in half, which has resulted in an annual savings of roughly $3 million, the company’s CIO, Manesh Patel, says in an exclusive interview with CRN.


Manesh Patel said when his company’s security team fully converted from Windows computers to devices running Google’s ChromeOS operating system 10 years ago, it was a sign of bigger things to come for how the Fortune 500 manufacturer ran its IT operations.

“Going back 10 years, security was less of an issue than it is today. They very quickly recognized that this was the way to go,” said Patel, who is senior vice president and CIO at Sanmina Corp., a San Jose, Calif.-based electronics manufacturer that made nearly $8 billion in revenue last year.

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Today, Sanmina has deployed more than 10,000 ChromeOS devices–Chromebases, Chromeboxes, Chromebooks–across its manufacturing plants and operations offices, and Patel said the decision to move nearly 25 percent of its client device fleet off Windows over the past decade is paying off in a big way.

By switching a significant portion of computers to ChromeOS from Windows, the company has cut the total cost of ownership and support costs for client devices in half, which has resulted in an annual savings of roughly $3 million, according to Patel.

“We’re in a relatively low-margin type of industry, so those types of savings are very significant for us,” he said.

It’s made such a significant impact on Sanmina’s IT operations and balance sheet that Patel said the company’s management team is clamoring to transition more devices from Windows to ChromeOS.

“It’s definitely an incentive for our business to transition more and more to Chrome OS. We have our management coming to us all the time saying, ‘Hey, what can we do to expand ChromeOS?’” he said.

Google is highlighting Sanmina’s embrace of ChromeOS as part of the tech giant’s growing campaign to promote Chromebooks and other devices running the operating system as a more efficient and secure alternative to Windows computers for businesses.

“Over the last couple of years now in partnership with customers like Sanmina, we have really been able to build an endpoint solution that is so much better than what is out there in the market,” said Thomas Riedl, head of ChromeOS enterprise and education at Google.

Why Sanmina’s CIO Likes ChromeOS Devices Better Than Windows PCs

When Sanmina began to adopt ChromeOS devices 10 years ago, it was happening while the company was making its first steps to move data center applications to the cloud, which caused it to assess whether it needed Windows computers for all its client device needs, according to Patel.

“We really felt that the future was cloud on the backend or other services, even on-prem services, which are browser-based applications. You really needed a lightweight frontend, and so we saw the strategic value of ChromeOS very early on,” he said.

The issue with Windows devices, according to Patel, is that the company spends a “significant” amount of time and effort maintaining them.

“It’s just doing patching and vulnerability management and all of the things we need to do to keep that environment going,” he said.

By contrast, ChromeOS devices are “literally plug and play,” Patel said, since the operating system is lightweight and largely relies on cloud-based applications in the browser, which lets users instantly load their information and apps when they get a new ChromeOS device.

“I’ve been using ChromeOS for about 10 years. I’ve been through several laptops over the years, and every time I get a new one, I plug it in and log in and everything’s there. When I first started using it, I said, ‘I’m never going back,’” he said.

When it comes to device management, the differences between ChromeOS and Windows are “night and day,” according to Patel, with the former offering greater simplicity than the latter.

“There’s central management for Chrome OS devices, so we can see exactly whose devices, what devices we have. We can just make sure they’re getting updated and all that automatically,” he said.

“On the Windows side, it’s a lot of labor and work to just make sure all that’s working correctly as well as additional infrastructure and software to just manage that environment. So yeah, it’s a pretty significant undertaking. I don’t even think there’s a real comparison,” Patel added.

Patel said computers running ChromeOS are also far more secure than Windows devices. In fact, the CIO claims the company has experienced zero security incidents with ChromeOS devices so far, which is critical for Sanmina’s around-the-clock manufacturing operations around the world.

“We’ve not had any incidents at all. And when you think about today’s world, where you hear about these incidents every day, that’s pretty amazing. So we really feel having ChromeOS a major part of our endpoints is a big factor in keeping us secure,” he said.

How ChromeOS Devices Are Helping Sanmina Cut Labor And Software Costs

The combination of simplified management and zero security incidents mean Sanmina’s IT-related labor costs are much lower for ChromeOS devices versus Windows computers, and that is the main way Sanmina has been able to save roughly $3 million a year, according to Patel.

“We looked very closely at all of the cost elements of supporting a Windows environment versus a ChromeOS system, and so the biggest factor was really the human factor,” he said.

Sanmina’s annual cost savings from using ChromeOS devices is likely greater than $3 million a year, Patel said, because his calculations mostly don’t account for the extra software not needed for ChromeOS devices that it would otherwise require for Windows computers.

“On the Chrome OS side, we really don’t have a lot of additional add-ons,” he said.

Future ChromeOS Expansion Plans Involve Virtualization

Patel said Sanmina is keen to replace another 10,000 Windows computers with ChromeOS devices in its device fleet, but one of the biggest challenges with the continued conversion is that many of the company’s applications were written for Windows.

An emerging solution for the company is virtualization vendor Cameyo, which lets ChromeOS users access Windows applications on their devices as if the apps are installed locally.

So far, the virtualization efforts are going well, according to Patel, and he views the work as critical for how the company will continue to expand its fleet of ChromeOS devices in the future.

“We’re having a lot of success with that, and we really see that as a game changer. So to go from 10,000 to 20,000-plus, we see that as a real opportunity over the next few years,” he said.