The simplicity of cloud computing might be appealing to some users, but connectivity and security are still concerns. Here are five points to take on board if you're considering adopting Google's Chromebook in your business.
1. Widespread user adoption may be slow. With a Chromebook, all applications and storage are in the cloud, which means workers will have to adapt to a whole new way of computing. While most popular business apps have Web versions, their functionality isn't as advanced and users would have to learn new Web interfaces. Also, printing and uploading files requires workarounds. "It will be hard to predict the capacity issues, which will inhibit the adoption of this true cloud-based [solution]," says Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates.
2. Connectivity will affect usability. The Chromebook is essentially useless without an Internet connection, and it doesn't have an Ethernet hookup. That's a problem for road warriors trying to work where there's no Wi-Fi, such as on airplanes. Other issues: Public Wi-Fi is insecure and often unreliable, and Chromebooks currently can't connect to virtual private networks, thus blocking access to corporate apps that aren't Web-based. "If there's any question about [connectivity], you have to go with a more traditional architecture with local storage," says Kay.
3. The price is right for some users. If your users don't need deep functionality, Chromebooks may be a cheaper alternative to providing traditional laptops plus application licenses and support. You can get a Chromebook for $350 to $500, or through a subscription, which runs $20 to $33 per month for a three-year contract. Tom Catalini, vice president of technology at William Gallagher Associates, says Chromebooks are "a compelling cost environment, because you don't have to support a bunch of laptops and you can scale back your [IT] staff."
4. Cloud security is still a concern. Since everything happens online, corporate data is secure if a Chromebook is lost or stolen. But CIOs still have significant reservations about keeping sensitive company data in the cloud. "This will really test the commitment people have to cloud," says Catalini. "It seems like all-or-nothing in the way Google positioned it."
5. Support will shift. Software updates take place automatically, which means minimal IT support. Paul Lones, senior vice president of IT at Fairchild Semiconductor, plans to get a trial set of Chromebooks partly for that reason. "It's appealing that the IT group doesn't have to work very hard to support them," he says. Google provides email and phone support, along with online resources. But the company is fairly new to enterprise services, says Kay, so whether it's up to the challenge remains to be seen.