A year after Google launched a reseller pilot program for its Chromebook line, channel companies say they are building business around these cloud-centric notebooks.
Google Chromebooks, which run Google's Chrome OS, hit the market in June 2011, with Samsung and Acer releasing the first entrants. Google kicked off its channel pilot in December of that year, and in the ensuing months resellers have gained ground with the devices. Acceptance among education customers, the K-12 segment in particular, has boosted sales. The arrival earlier this year of new, more capable models – Samsung's Chromebook Series 5 550, for example -- coupled with an updated Chrome OS have also sparked Chromebook purchases.
Clients are deploying Chromeboxes for kiosks, basic point-of-sale functionality and back-office functions such as accounting.
Resellers also report customer interest in Google’s Chromebox desktop form factor. Retail is one market where Chromeboxes have gained ground. And in addition to hardware sales, Chrome device afford resellers an opportunity to offer training, consulting and other services.
"Market traction is growing tremendously," said Allen Falcon, chief executive officer of Cumulus Global, a cloud computing solutions provider and Chromebook reseller based in Westborough, Mass. "On a scale of one to 10, I'd put it between and eight and a nine. Six months ago, it was probably a four."
Google Chromebook sales: Education edge
Channel partners point to the education segment as an important source of Google Chromebook sales activity.
"There's just tons of interest there," said Tony Safoian, president and CEO of SADA Systems Inc., a North Hollywood, Calif. managed services provider and Chromebook reseller.
Safoian said his company has been responding to RFPs and working with its existing K-12 customer base. He said the Chromebook's minimal management overhead attracts school districts.
"They feel that for a very low management cost, they can get these computing devices into the hands of students," Safoian said.
Chromebooks store data in the cloud and lack traditional hard drives, thus eliminating a key point of failure and administrative burden. They also ship with antivirus protection and include other layers of defense, such sandboxing, verified boot and encryption. The Chrome OS is automatically updated.
"The management and ongoing maintenance and support costs of a laptop are just so much higher," Safoian said.
Falcon said he has seen schools replacing Windows and Apple laptops with Chromebooks, adding that the Google devices have edged out iPads in some cases. He noted that iPads have a good reputation in the classroom and plenty of available apps, but the Chromebook's physical keyboard and low price point seem like important factors in the schools' decision making, he added.
First-generation Chromebooks have been, and continue to be, popular among education customers. The original machines, although slower than the new models, get more battery life, which appeals to education buyers.
"Whereas the new machines only get about six hours, the first generation easily gets eight hours," noted David Hoff, chief technology officer at Cloud Sherpas, a cloud solutions provider and Chromebook reseller based in Atlanta, Ga. "This extra life makes it possible to have a full day at the desk from a single charge."
In schools, Chromebooks may be charged overnight in a cart that travels from classroom to classroom.
Second generation Chromebooks have more broad appeal
Other vertical markets, however, have shown less enthusiasm for the first crop of Google Chromebooks. But newer models and form factors are winning some acceptance among enterprise customers.
"The first generation machines just were not fast enough [for] broad usage," Hoff said. "The new models provide the speed/performance that was needed to address the broad market."
Falcon said businesses with multiple locations or a high number of remote or mobile workers are showing interest in Chromebooks.
"The IT people like the fact that they are not having to worry about backing up and managing updates for a high number of devices that might never come into the office," Falcon noted.
"We've seen a lot of growth in various sectors that have remote workers," added Aric Bandy, CEO of Agosto, a Google Apps and cloud services consulting firm. "We've sold a lot of units in oil and gas, especially in Canada."
Agosto is based in Minneapolis and has an office in Toronto. The company announced in February that it became a Chromebook reseller.
Chromeboxes, meanwhile, appear to be carving a niche in retail.
Bandy said his company has three Chromebox pilots underway with retail customers. He said those clients are deploying Chromeboxes for kiosks (for use by both internal employees and external customers), basic point-of-sale functionality, and back-office functions such as accounting.
Safoian said Dillard's Inc., a fashion and home furnishing retailer, is deploying Chromeboxes. Dillard's employees will use the Chromeboxes, to be deployed in hundreds of retail locations, to access Google Apps and internal applications.
Overall, the size of Google device rollouts appears to be growing. Bandy cited one deal in which a customer purchased 2,875 units. He said he was not at liberty to disclose the customer's identity.
In education, schools may initially purchase a set of Chromebooks that schools place in a cart and share among classrooms, Falcon said. But some schools are now considering Chromebooks for ubiquitous computing programs.
"Schools have experience with them [Chromebooks] and are starting to look at plans for the one-to-one type programs," Falcon said.
Service opportunity for resellers
Chromebook and Chromebox installations aren't only about the hardware – there's an opportunity to provide services as well. Channel partners, for instance, say they are training customers on the Google-provided management console for Chrome devices and are getting end users up to speed on the devices.
"We have found that the deployment success rate is lower when not accompanied by change management/training and use of the Chrome OS management console," Hoff said.
The console lets companies pre-configure devices, Hoff added. Administrators can pre-load apps and extensions. They can also use the console to set users and device polices.
Sofoian said SADA Systems packages management console training for administrators and basic user training as part of Chrome device sales. He said the company is also working with Sprint to offer managed data services on the upcoming Chrome 23.
"Chromebooks, like any other mobile device, drives mobility management consulting, security and single sign on services, and integration opportunities," Bandy said.
As for the latter, he mentioned integrating Chrome, Google sites and Google+ deeper into the enterprise.
In addition, ongoing technology management could become an adjunct to large Chrome device deployments.
"Part of a good one-to-one program will be managing the refresh cycles," Falcon said.