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How Google just won the enterprise with Chromebooks

Google unveiled a program that will basically let a business or educational institute run the entire company with Chromebooks — notebooks that are lightweight and attached to a web-based operating system — that are managed through a centralized web administrator.

Chromebooks are powered by the Chrome operating system, which is basically a suped-up web browser masquerading as an OS that gives users access to some of Google’s most popular web applications like Gmail, Google Docs and Google Calendar.

The Chromebooks are available to businesses for $28 per user per month. They’re also available to educational institutes for $20 per user per month. Google also upgrades the Chromebooks for each business at the end of each hardware cycle — for free. So there are no additional overhead costs and it saves the time and money required to bring in consultants and IT professionals to ensure the changeover happens smoothly.

Google is going to introduce a whole new class of businesses to some of the benefits of having centralized network and being able to share information and files quickly across all devices. There are a lot of web applications out there that already do that — like cloud storage provider Box.net and enterprise social network Yammer. Any of those companies can bake their services right into the Chromebook thanks to its extensive application programming interface (API) library. And even the most classic businesses that rely on massive internal networks and huge IT staffs are going to find that price tag hard to resist.

The Chromebook program ensures that administrators have complete control over every computer within their network — with no exceptions. There isn’t a way that a user can accidentally download any files that might compromise the network because the whole system is based on a web interface. There’s also a smaller chance that they will accidentally leak sensitive information because it will all have to go through a centralized administrator.

Google has been in the enterprise game for a little while, but it hasn’t been in the same league as some of the giants in the space like Oracle and Salesforce.com. They have enterprise applications — such as high-powered versions of Gmail with more governance features and more storage and some customer relationship management software options. It’s mostly served as a mechanism for companies selling enterprise software to deliver their services to other companies.

Back at Oracle Open World, Oracle’s chief executive Larry Ellison rolled a gigantic server onto the stage for his first keynote. “This is the cloud,” he said — referring to the company’s latest line of servers that are used to run private networks. And it cost around $1 million, for some of the best hardware. Oracle is targeting a bit of a different audience — Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 companies that need that kind of high-powered infrastructure to handle their computing requirements.

Google’s approach is different, but it doesn’t mean it’s trying to solve a different problem. Enterprise hardware management is a gigantic headache. Managing the software and what goes on inside the network is an even bigger headache. It’s extremely expensive — both in terms of sheer capital and in terms of the time lost to manage it.

And Google just threw out a giant bottle of aspirin.

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