Sunday 18 May 2014

Chromebook surprise

Like many people I've taken a quick look at the Chromebook and dismissed it as a nice idea, but unlikely to gain wide acceptance. However necessity is changing my mind. As mentioned in an earlier post, we've recently started a sideline business of holiday homes. I want to be able to offer guests the facility of a computer to enable web browsing if they've not brought their own device with them. Providing WiFi service is now a ubiquitous part of the service for a UK holiday home rental.

For tidiness I've decided the device should be a laptop computer or a notebook. A tablet computer is a possibility but some people are uncomfortable with a device which does not have it's own keyboard. The second factor in the decision process is the ability to control what data and programmes are installed on the device. We need to be able to reset the computer at the end of each weekly rental to remove any data or programs which may have been installed.

We also need to be able to lock down the computer and prevent re-use in order to discourage theft of the devices. Coupled with this we need a low cost device in order to keep the rental fees and security deposits charged to clients low. In fact many of decision points are those faced by IT managers in the choice of devices for their mobile workforce.

However those running holiday homes are not in the business of running server farms and PC support teams to support PC's in the field. We can't afford the fees of contracting the devices' support to a third party company.

After quite a lot of research and a serendipitous webinar from Google/Citrix I decided to take a closer look at the Chromebook. What attracted me was Google's Chrome Management Console with Google Apps. The Citrix side of things will be useful for businesses who want to provide remote access to their existing Microsoft Windows applications, but is not relevant to my immediate requirement.

The Google Management Console provides a ready made solution to the control of a remote laptop rented to our holiday home clients. It is a cloud based service so there is no investment in servers or management software. Above all it is inexpensive, particularly when combined with a Chromebook device.

I have purchased an Acer C720 Chromebook for evaluation. The retail cost including VAT was £199. Google's Chrome Management Console is £90 per user, though at present I've taken advantage of a special offer of £30 per user. Google Apps works out at £3.50 per user per month and provides most of the data storage and software that an average casual user would require. All of the device Operating System and Application updates are automatic. Gmail includes anti-virus and very good spam filtering.

Let me clarify those figures: One-off cost £200 (ex-VAT); on-going monthly support cost £3.50 for an effective, attractive and working laptop device complete with application software and remote management.

At the moment I'm waiting for the Google licence to arrive and I'll start the trials in full. I've had an initial play with the Acer Chromebook and so far I'm impressed. The C720 is lightweight at 1.5 Kg and has a battery life of around 8 hours. In common with most Chromebooks it boots up in less than 10 seconds.

More news to follow in this Blog. Here's the experience of a large school using Chromebooks. The interesting comment in there was: "While cost savings can be made on the cost of the hardware alone, the majority of the cost savings originate from savings made from infrastructure and device management.

Edit: 16/5/2014 later in the day: Received the Management Console licence from Google. I followed the clear instructions and no have a remotely managed Chromebook. It is now locked down to named users.

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