Gartner reveals the cloud computing caveat to a Chromebook sales surge

Google’s Chromebooks are doing well in the education sector, but still need to gain more traction in the enterprise, said a recent report from Gartner.

The Stamford, Conn.-based research firm said that worldwide sales of the slimmed-down devices would reach 7.3 million this year, representing a 27% increase over 2014. However, most of the sales were into the education sector. 72% of Chromebook inventory is going into this sector, it revealed.

Although those figures varied across different geographies (education snapped up 60% of Chromebooks in the US) it still highlights a strong skew for Chromebook sales, and Gartner confirmed that business interest remains relatively low.

Gartner analyst Isabelle Durand said that Chromebooks would be a good option for SMBs or startups without the resources to invest much in IT infrastructure. It would have special appeal to companies that didn’t already have legacy Microsoft applications, she added.

“Google’s message for business buyers is around simplicity, manageability and the low TCO it offers, along with a growing number of browser-based applications.” She said. “Chromebooks simplify laptop maintenance for organizations when used with Google Apps.”

The low cost benefits come largely from their no-maintenance profiles. They are almost totally replaceable since all content and settings are stored in the cloud, so users need not be concerned with backup and disaster recovery, Durand explained. It also makes hot desking easier, as users are free to move from one device to another without having to port data across. The other benefit is manageability. Businesses with a Google apps domain, can easily manage their Chromebooks via a Web console (no software install is needed).

Google has tried to bolster the Chromebook’s business appeal with Chrome for Work, The company added features including single sign-on, improved Wi-Fi connectivity, and richer graphics to Chromebooks in a bid to make them more enterprise-ready.

So, why aren’t more businesses using them? One of the biggest benefits of the Chromebook is also one of its biggest challenges: it only works with cloud-based applications. It makes things more difficult for companies wanting to run Windows apps – and there are a lot of those firms.

There are options to support that. Chromebooks can support access to Windows applications via Citrix. The company provides a product called Receiver that enables people to access apps remotely, and also to integrate with Google Cloud Print and the Chrome OS clipboard.

Nevertheless, this would increase management and complexity. In any case, some companies are still wary of a device that is oriented to Google’s cloud services.

“Some enterprises have higher-grade security requirements or do not wish to save their content on the Google Cloud. The cloud-based nature of Chromebooks will require some users to develop a new approach to computing,” she said.

“Chromebooks could be an alternative to thin client devices  when deployed in centralized environments, but Chromebooks need improvements in compatibility, manageability and peripheral support,” Durand concluded.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Danny Bradbury
Danny Bradbury
Danny Bradbury is a technology journalist with over 20 years' experience writing about security, software development, and networking.

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