Google

With Chromebook for Work update, Google ups the ante on the enterprise

Google recently announced major updates through its Chromebooks for Work program. Will it be enough to entice more enterprises?

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Image: Sarah Tew/CNET

Google is continuing its campaign to make Chromebooks the thin client device of choice for enterprise users. On Wednesday, Google announced in a blog post that it was adding features and updating its pricing model for Chromebooks deployments.

According to the Rajen Sheth, director of product management, Chrome for Work, these most recent updates are geared toward meeting companies where they are at now, providing more tools and support for the systems they are currently using.

"This has been really focused on how do we integrate with the way that companies do things today," Sheth said. "That is all their infrastructure, how they want to pay, all of those things."

Companies such as Auberge Resorts have adopted Chromebooks and Google Apps, and so have a plethora of school systems, but the devices have had trouble gaining traction with large businesses.

With the latest updates, Google has focused on fulfilling requests from business customers. For example, a single sign-on capability has been added so that users can sign into their Chromebook with the same corporate login they use for the rest of their business tools. According to Sheth, this was one of the most requested features. The blog post noted that the feature utilizes the security assertion markup language (SAML) format and is compatible with identity tools such as Okta, Ping Identity, SecureAuth, SiteMinder, and Microsoft AD FS, among others.

A multiple sign-on feature was also added to allow users to easily switch between their personal and work accounts on the device. Google made a similar play with Knox integration in Android, which offers separate access to work and personal data.

This ability to separate environments will play a key role in Chromebooks and BYOD, or the reverse where a user wants to use a work computer to access personal information. Sheth said that the user data is separated and encrypted in different places, and the applications are kept separate from one another.

"You don't become a different user when you go home versus when you're at work," Sheth said. "You want access to all of that information wherever you happen to be, and you want to have access to it securely."

Part of the appeal of Chromebooks, or most thin clients for that matter, is the ease of deployment in regard to provisioning. The potential time and money saved from imaging machines or configuring devices for a company network is one of the biggest reasons that some SMBs and mid-market companies have made the switch.

The Chromebook admin console gives administrators the ability to install or block specific apps, set up user groups, change settings and network access for users, and customize the homepage design. Now, Google has given administrators the ability to manage even more settings and push bookmarks to users, even on their mobile devices.

Google also updated wireless network certificate management for Chromebooks, being that admins can now provision Chromebooks for 802.1X EAP-TLS wireless networks and mutual transport layer security (TLS)-protected web resources.

"Using the Admin Console, IT admins can pre-configure their secure networks, push certificate management extensions and pre-select certificates to be used with certain websites and networks," the blog post said.

Two of Google's strategic partners for virtualization on Chromebooks have been VMware and Citrix. Earlier this year, at VMware's Partner Exchange, a partnership was announced between Google and VMware, centering around the use of VMware Horizon DaaS for Chromebooks. Google also recently partnered with VMware and NVIDIA to make it easier to build graphical intensive applications for Chromebooks.

Citrix announced its Receiver for Chrome in a blog post in September, giving Chromebook users yet another option to access Windows apps in a virtual environment.

While this is a great option for companies looking to make the transition and maintain access to legacy systems, it's unclear how it will stack up to the recently announced Windows connected laptop, the HP Stream, which obviously runs Windows apps natively.

Google also changed its Chromebook pricing model to be more friendly to enterprise customers. Chromebooks for Work users now have the option of a subscription price of $50 per device, per year. This gives businesses more flexibility in how they pay for their licenses.

"We had gone with a one-time perpetual license model for the advanced features and the management support, and that's been in place for quite a while," Sheth said. "That's worked really well for places like education where you budget one time and you need to apply it, but in an enterprise environment you'd rather pay as you go."

This new pricing option will hit the US and Canada first, but will eventually make its way to other markets. Google also mentioned that it is now supporting licensing portability, meaning users can port an existing license to a new device if their Chromebook is lost or stolen.

"You're seeing that we are very serious about Chrome being a great platform for businesses, and this is just the beginning of many things that you're going to continue to see us do to make it an even better platform," Sheth said.

Security is also essential for an enterprise play and Google seems to be taking security seriously as this week it just ponied up more than $75,000 in bounty rewards to take care of 159 security bugs through its Chrome Reward Program.

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About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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