Networking

Four things you should know before you deploy Chromeboxes

Before you perform a mass deployment of Chromeboxes in the enterprise there are some important decisions to make.

You can read specs and reviews of the Chromebox elsewhere. Suffice it to say, I'm a fan of both the Chromebook and Chromebox. The Samsung Chromebook Series 5 550 with 3G is my only laptop; the Chromebox has become my primary desktop. As a Google Apps user who moved all of my applications and data online, both work well. I recommend Chrome devices to any Google Apps user whose applications and data are 100% online. People who need locally installed applications or data should consider other options.

Chromeboxes

However, there are at least four things technology managers should consider before a mass deployment of Chromeboxes in the enterprise.

1. Video adapters

I'm sure most users would be happy to have the latest 30" monitor with Displayport connections that support the Chromebox's maximum resolution of 2560 x 1600. HP and Dell monitors fitting those specs cost $1,200 or more.

If you're not lucky enough to have a newer monitor with a Displayport connection, you'll need an adaptor. The Chromebox includes two Displayport connections and one DVI connection, but no HDMI or VGA options. Adapters for Displayport / DVI to HDMI / VGA connections generally cost less than $15. For large deployments, the cost can be significant.

2. Headsets and/or speakers

The Chromebox has a built-in speaker, but no built-in microphone. Fortunately, the audio port works well with smartphone headsets, such as the Etymotic HF3 headset I use. Plug your smartphone headset into the front-facing port on the Chromebox and you're ready to listen to music or participate in a Google Talk voice conference.

One word of caution about speakers, though. I plugged a Dell monitor soundbar speaker into the Chromebox and the audio worked. However, when the Chromebox enters sleep mode the speakers emit a startlingly loud buzzing sound. This can be fixed by adding a ground loop isolator inline, with costs ranging from $10 to $30. If you plan to use external speakers, buy the isolator; it will make external speakers usable. (For my own use, I simply unplug my speakers if I don't need them.) This is an issue that Samsung really should address.

3. Network management and enrollment

If you use a standard retail Chromebox, WiFi security settings are not retained across guest mode sessions, which is a good practice to improve security. However, this also means that guest mode users have to enter wireless authentication passwords every session to access secured wireless networks. (You could permit guest mode users to connect to an unsecured wireless access point. I don't recommend this, though.)

Users who login won't encounter this issue. Wireless authentication settings they have been configured are retained across device sessions when users login with an account.

The simplest way to resolve this is to connect the Chromebox to the network with an Ethernet cable. That way, when people login to a Chromebox in "guest mode", no authentication is necessary. Click "enter" on the screen and you're in Chrome OS.

For most enterprises, though, you'll want to connect the Chromebox to the organization's Google Apps account. Google calls this enrolling the Chrome device in the organization's domain. Once enrolled, an administrator can then configure a Chromebox's wireless settings to permit guests to access secured wireless networks.

As of August 2012, automatic enrollment is only available for Chrome devices purchased directly from Google. Devices from other authorized resellers will need to be manually enrolled. This is not a complicated process, but can take a few minutes. If your organization plans to deploy more than a few Chrome devices, purchase directly from Google to reduce enrollment setup time.

4. Keyboards

Chrome device keyboards are different than standard Windows or Mac keyboards. Most notably, Chromebook laptops have a dedicated search key, instead of a caps lock key. The search key opens a new browser tab. (Shift + the search key toggles caps lock on and off.) Chrome keyboards also have a row of dedicated keys instead of the traditional function keys.

Share Google's Chrome keyboard features guide with users. While I don't typically recommend printing, you might print out a customized version of this guide for frequently used functions. Make sure users know that [Ctrl]-[Alt]-[?] displays an on-screen display of keyboard shortcuts.

If you've deployed Chromeboxes in your organization, what other tips have you learned?

Also read:

About

Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.

12 comments
Mah
Mah

1) Regarding video connection, you can simply buy a DVI-I to VGA converter dongle, DVI-I to DVD-D cable, DVD-I to DVD-A cable, DisplayPort to DVD-D cable or DisplayPort to HDMI cable, or DisplayPort to DisplayPort cable to plug into any display with a VGA, DVD-D, DVD-A, HDMI, or DisplayPort connector (make sure you get the right gender though). You can pick these up on Amazon or other stores for about $7 to $35. 2) The Chromebox jack is intended for earphones and headphones rather than external speakers, and the jacks impedance is not correct for speaker jacks. I don't use an amplified speaker, but I believe a ground loop filter will solve the problem - http://www.ebay.com/itm/MINI-3-5MM-NOISE-FILTER-GROUND-LOOP-ISOLATOR-CAR-AUDIO-/260741338139#ht_3540wt_1141 3) If you want to allow guest accounts to use, then on a non-enterprise Chromebox, you just log in as the main user or administrative user, select settings and help -> Wifi, and check the "share this network with other users" checkbox, and guest users will use the WiFi without having to supply WiFi security key credentials.

hometoy
hometoy

Glad for the heads-up regarding the video and audio issues. Following the link for the Chromebox included in the article, it looks like it includes a DVI connector on the back. [q]DVI-I single link output (compatible with VGA)[/q] One difference between Chrome OS and Linux distributions is that the Linux distribution requires more configuration and upkeep than the Chrome-book/box. Chrome OS is a very plausible option if you go into it knowing what you are getting into. Local apps or don't have an online app/extension that does what you need it to (CAD, 3D modeling, etc.)? Then this isn't for you. I have been going back-and-forth between my Chromebook (Cr-48), Linux and Windows. While the Chromebook worked very well, my own personal network is slow and thus reduces its responsiveness.

TNT
TNT

While I largely agree with dcolbert's opinion, my department is considering loading Chrome OS on all our loaner laptops. Currently when a user's PC is going to be down for any length of time we provide a loaner laptop to keep them working. Unfortunately user's often save important files to the device, or the laptop is lost or stolen. By loading Chrome OS on these devices and requiring the user to log into Citrix desktop, the data is kept where it should be -- on the company network.

Gisabun
Gisabun

Will anyone deploy Chromeboxes? After all Chromebooks failed miserably. Even bigger question: Why did Google waste alkl this R&D money on an OS that is almost like the 100+ Linux distros out there? They'll just get a slice of the techies share. Even then, most techies will build their own system and maybe install Chrome OS on it instead. [Another mistake by Samsung while at it.]

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Have you deployed Chromebooks or Chromeboxes in your enterprise? What was your experience?

FredShmed
FredShmed

@Mah Cab the Chromebox support a 1280 x 1024 monitor?

andy
andy

We completely agree on the first two points. You need an adapter to connect a Chromebox to non-DVI/Displayport monitor, and the Chromebox audio port needs a ground loop isolator to make a useable connection to external speakers. Re: shared WiFi on Chromeboxes / Chromebooks... My experience is that changing or configuring shared WiFi settings is not simple. For example, except for the first time a WiFi connection is configured by a user, I see no user-facing way to enable "share this network with other users". The very FIRST time a connection is made that option displays. I see no user-facing way to change or enable the setting later. For busy IT managers, I recommend using an Ethernet connection, if at all possible. I expect that managing WiFi settings will improve as Chrome OS evolves. Thanks for reading! --Andy

andy
andy

The Chromebox does have a DVI-out connector for video-out only. Ideally, you'd hook a Chromebox up to a Displayport monitor with built-in audio, since Displayport supports video & audio. The issue is that the audio option (e.g., front audio port) and microphone options are limited, aside from using Displayport and/or a smartphone headset. This is a bit puzzling to me, since I would have thought Samsung and Google would have worked to make the Chromebox provide a fantastic out-of-the-box Google+ Hangouts device. It is. But it takes having the right hardware to make it so. Andy Wolber

dcolbert
dcolbert

Is it even like 100+ Linux distros out there? It seems to me that unless your org has gone "all-in" with Google Apps, a regular Linux distro offers far more end user flexibility than ChromeOS only based devices? Where is the use-model and justification for a typical organization considering deploying Chromeboxes? I have 250 user desktops. In addition to regular MS Office apps like Word and Excel, and web based apps (some of which interact with local peripherals like scanners), they access RDP and Citrix sessions and windows shares. If I were going to consider migrating, would I need Google mail corporate accounts, Google Apps corporate accounts? What are the hidden costs there being that a Chromebook is like a cloud based thin client, that requires special adaptors for video and audio, and isn't tremendously less expensive than a Dell desktop that is ready to go and includes a monitor? Am I missing something? I must be?

andy
andy

I've used Linux distros (ran it exclusively for two years). The one major difference between most Linux distros & Chrome OS is simplicity. Chrome OS provides an auto-updating browser that users would have a pretty hard time screwing up. There are more opportunities for things to go wrong in most Linux distros. The exception would be if you're running an environment that is mostly thin-client (e.g., Linux Terminal Server Project based), where everything is delivered via network boot. With Chrome OS, any device can become the "users" device simply by logging in. Setup time reduce to close to zero. In a corporate setting -- where an org is using Google Apps -- all that is needed is a Google Apps account for the user to login. Hope that helps! Andy Wolber

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