Move toward simpler IT systems with Chrome OS

Andy Wolber believes your next system setup can be as simple as powering on and logging in.

Recently, I deployed new computers for three different organizations. The organizations have six, seven and fifteen users, respectively. All three organizations have an on-site Microsoft Windows server.

Setup of these new computers is straightforward. Connect the system to the network. Join the computer to the domain. Deploy anti-virus software. Install applications. Set up printers and device drivers. Uninstall "bloatware" if required.

Then the updates begin. Download and install operating system and application updates. Reboot. Download and install more updates. Repeat until there are no more updates to install. With a slow Internet connection, the process may take hours.

The setup process is faster for IT staff at large organizations. These organizations buy hundreds of similarly configured laptops. The IT staff creates a standardized disk image containing the operating system, applications and necessary device drivers. Then, the staff copies the standardized disk image to each new laptop. When updates are required, the IT staff "pushes" system, application, and security updates to client systems.

But small organizations typically don't have access to the expertise needed to create disk images or push managed system updates. Many small organizations don't choose to purchase these consulting services, either. So they're stuck with the traditional install, download, update, and reboot cycle.

Chrome OS drastically simplifies the setup of new systems: turn on, log in.

Chrome OS

Setup of a Chrome OS stands in marked contrast to Windows systems. Connect the system to the network and then login to the device with a Google or Google Apps account. Enable Chrome Sync and the Chrome OS updates happen silently in the background. (Extension or app updates may prompt the user to approve modified permissions.) Reboot and the updates are installed. There is no anti-virus software to install. There are no device drivers to install. And there is no bloatware to uninstall.

A successful move to a Chrome OS - Google Apps environment requires organizations to make changes in four areas: Internet speeds, data storage, application selection, and device deployment. I refer to these steps as "iDAD" - with apologies to Apple. Organizations moving from a traditional Windows client-server environment typically should address the steps in sequence:

1. Get a fast Internet connection

An organization needs to have sufficient bandwidth to access large quantities of data over the Internet. For small organizations, this typically means upgrading from a slow DSL or T1 connection to a much faster cable or fiber connection.

2. Move your data files online

Next, I typically see organizations supplement or replace their on-site file server with web-based storage. Google Drive can be an excellent replacement for a file-server for small organization. (I've also seen some organizations use Box or Dropbox.) Once files are stored online, people can access those files from a variety of traditional devices: Windows and Mac laptops, as well as iOS or Android smartphones and tablets.

3. Move your applications to the browser

Organizations next typically adopt Google Apps. For many small organizations, this is the first time that employees have consistent access to email and shared calendars. Staffs tend to continue to use Windows or Mac systems, and many also continue to run traditional Microsoft Office applications.

Organizations should carefully review applications used. Choose web-based applications when selecting new applications. And, where feasible, gradually phase out locally installed applications in favor of web-based tools.

Small organizations also should attempt to centralize user authentication. In most small organizations, staff login not only to the file server, but also maintain individual accounts on various websites. Choose apps that can be added from the Google Apps Marketplace, so that users don't have to remember additional usernames and passwords.

Typically, organizations stay at this stage for a significant period of time. Organizations have the benefit of web-based collaboration tools, in addition to traditional installed applications.

4. Deploy Chrome devices

Users can fully move to a Chrome OS device when they can accomplish their work using only a web browser. For many knowledge workers, this is possible today. Many reporters, academics, technologists, and businesses have already moved to Chrome OS. I've made the move myself: I use a Chromebook and Chromebox as my laptop and desktop, respectively. However, sometimes, this move is not possible for organizations because of software or systems required by customers or partners.

For small businesses, there is much to gain by moving to Chrome OS. No more complicated setup of new computers. No need to constantly monitor and deploy updates to the operating system, applications and anti-virus software.

I encourage you to update and reboot your infrastructure, data storage, applications, and devices for the cloud computing age. Once you do, your next system setup can be as simple as powering on and logging in.

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

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