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Chromebooks for business gain steam

BOSTON — Chromebooks have cornered the education market, and Google has made moves to make these devices more business friendly over the past year.

These simple, portable devices are big in education because they’re designed to start up in seconds and provide basic Web-based apps. They run Google’s Chrome OS without a lot of bells and whistles, making them easy to manage. And its reliance on cloud storage lets users easily access files from anywhere.

“It’s basically a browser,” said Dennis Faucher, an enterprise architect at solutions provider Advizex. “You can’t break it.”

Faucher gave a demo of enterprise applications running on Chromebooks here at last week’s VMware User Group User Conference. The simple OS and portable design might be just the ticket for organizations that want to provide employees with a mobile workstation that IT can centrally manage.

Google has added offline apps to the Chrome Web Store, and Microsoft last year added its free Office Online apps to the store, both of which improve business productivity on the go. The Chromebook for Work program Google launched in October 2014 aims to further entice enterprise IT with features for Chromebooks and Chrome OS including single sign-on, more controls for office Wi-Fi connectivity, easier provisioning of Web apps and an option to push bulk settings configurations.

Worldwide Chromebook sales will be up 27% from 2014 to 2015, with the education sector representing 72% of the global market last year, according to Gartner.

“Chromebooks will become a valid device choice for employees as enterprises seek to provide simple, secure, low-cost and easy-to-manage access to new Web applications and legacy systems,” said Isabelle Durand, a principal analyst at Gartner, in a press release.

Chromebooks get virtual

One way to get even more functionality out of a Chromebook in the enterprise is to run a virtual desktop on the device. VMware’s new Horizon 6 client allows IT shops to deliver Horizon View-hosted desktops and applications on Chromebooks.

Deploying Horizon 6 on a Chromebook brings a lot of advantages, Faucher said. For one, it allows IT to develop a corporate app store that provides users access to all the business applications they need from their traditional desktops.

“Everyone wants an app store for their company now,” Faucher said. “The stuff you can put in it now is pretty awesome.”

Plus, providing a virtual desktop with enterprise applications — rather than having users access the local Chromebook desktop and its apps — allows IT to centralize app management. Through integration with VMware vRealize, IT can now monitor and assist virtual desktop users with problems — whether it’s on a Chromebook or any other Horizon client.

“There was nothing in VMware before to figure out problems that VDI users were having,” Faucher said.

IT administrators may also add AirWatch Secure Content Locker to users’ virtual desktops. That acts “like a secure corporate Dropbox” where users can store and share documents across the AirWatch app, Faucher said.

Despite these possibilities, Faucher said his testing of a virtual desktop on a Chromebook sometimes produced less-than-perfect results. YouTube videos, for instance, look pretty choppy when running on full screen. Users will experience some slowness due to latency when accessing a VDI session on a Chromebook, but that’s simply the nature of remote access, he added.

Plus, the Chrome OS has a slower processor than the traditional PCs employees are used to.

“I could live in Horizon on a Chromebook, but there’s nothing like a local desktop,” Faucher said.