Google, VMware Make It Easier for Businesses to Deploy Chromebooks

By Todd R. Weiss

To make it easier for businesses of all sizes to deploy Google Chromebooks to their employees, Google's Chrome team just announced a partnership with virtualization vendor VMware that will allow critical legacy Windows applications to be hosted and delivered via the cloud so that Chromebook users can access them through Web browsers.

The move means that businesses from small to large that want to offer Chromebooks to workers can do so while still providing access to core business applications for accounting, HR and more, according to Rajen Sheth, director of Chrome product management, in a Feb. 12 post on the Google Enterprise Blog.

"Cloud applications allow flexibility, scalability and security and enable a work-anywhere environment, but many of our customers still use traditional desktop applications," wrote Sheth. "Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) helps bridge the gap between the cloud and a traditional desktop by allowing you to run your traditional software in the cloud and have applications appear on your Chromebook similarly to how they run today."

The new service will be provided by the mating of Chromebooks with VMware's Horizon DaaS offering, wrote Sheth. "VMware and Google are working together to make the migration of legacy applications even easier, by using the HTML5/Blast experience from Chromebooks. This means you can work with Chromebooks and connect to a Windows experience running VMWare Horizon View," which is a virtual desktop.

The new service will initially be available to customers as an on-premise service or through VMWare vCloud Service Provider Partners, he wrote. "Users will be able to access their Windows applications, data and desktops using VMware’s Blast HTML5 technology to their Chromebook."

Caesar Sengupta, vice president of product management for Google, told eWEEK in a Feb. 12 telephone interview that the idea for delivering Windows application access for business users who needed it was hatched as more and more business and education users have adopted Chromebooks for their work.

For some business users, they wanted to move to the cloud and Chromebooks but still needed some critical or legacy applications that they just couldn't seem to live without, he said. "For those kinds of cases, this service will be fantastic and it will let them keep using this software."

Microsoft Office is not likely one of the applications that business users will use through the new service, since Google Apps and Google Docs are already available for users and meet most needs, he said. In addition, since Google acquired QuickOffice in 2012 and integrated it into many of its related offerings,  Chromebook users can already open and edit most Microsoft Office files as needed. Quickoffice apps enable users to view, create, edit and synchronize documents on a wide range of mobile devices. Quickoffice is compatible with Microsoft Office and includes apps for creating documents, spreadsheets and presentations similar to Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint, respectively.

Sanjay Poonen, general manager for end-user computing at VMware, told eWEEK that the Windows applications for businesses that want to use the new service will sit on servers and then be streamed to users via the cloud, complete with all compliance and security benefits.

"The primary use case is for businesses," especially those that want to run legacy, customized applications that have long been a part of their operations, said Poonen. In addition, a growing number of business workers are bringing devices like their privately-owned Chromebooks to work and want to know how they can use them in their jobs, he said. "Increasingly, you have to look at this because of the consumerization of IT."

The new DaaS services will be available to any existing or prospective VMware customers that want to use Chromebooks, he said. Customers can choose to run it through a public or private cloud and through a service provider or in-house.

Official pricing has not yet been announced but is likely going to be in the $30 to $50 per month range for each user, said Poonen.

Google has been busy with related Chromebook announcements in recent months. Earlier this month, Google announced its first-ever Chromebox for meetings product which brings together a desktop Chromebox along with Google Apps and Google+ Hangouts to offer an easy way for far-flung businesspeople to hold meetings with participants around the world.

The new Chromebox for meetings hardware includes an Asus Chromebox with an Intel Core i7 processor, a 1080p high-definition Webcam with a Carl Zeiss lens that supports up to 1,920 by 1,080 pixels, a combined microphone and speaker unit, and a remote control unit, according to Google. The device lets users set their meeting rooms up in minutes and manage all meeting rooms from a Web-based management console. Up to 15 people at a time can join in on a Chromebook for meetings session.

In January, Toshiba and LG Electronics unveiled new Chromebook devices at the Consumer Electronics Show, including LG's all-in-one desktop machine, called a Chromebase. The new offerings mean that eight manufacturers are now building Chromebooks around the world.

In December 2013, Dell unveiled its first-ever Chromebook that is targeted toward school students and educators, and company officials said it will release additional models in the future for consumers, small businesses and other markets. The Dell Chromebook 11 devices will include fourth-generation Intel Celeron 2955U processors, 11.6-inch screens, up to 10 hours of battery life and a 16GB embedded SSD, according to Dell. The machines will be available in two models, one with 4GB of internal DDR3 RAM, and the other with 2GB of RAM.

In June 2013, Google expanded its network of dealers for its Chromebooks by beginning to sell them through Walmart and Staples stores, raising the number of outlets for the devices to some 6,600 stores. The move added the Walmart and Staples stores to the existing Chromebook retail outlets through Best Buy and Amazon.com. Consumers are also able to purchase the machines via Staples online, while business users will be able to buy them through the Staples Advantage B2B program.

Chromebooks and their desktop brethren Chromeboxes run Google's Chrome operating system and feature a wide range of preinstalled, cloud-based Google services and products, including Google Docs and Google Calendar. Chromebooks allow users to do their work online with less need for on-machine storage for large applications and files.

In May 2013, Google began testing Chromebook-equipped store kiosks to make it easier for businesses to help their customers and employees check merchandise stock, place orders or get more information while shopping or working. The kiosks use something Google calls "Managed Public Sessions" to allow employee and customer use of the devices without the need for logging in.

This article was originally published on 2014-02-13