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Four questions to ask before using Chromebook thin client devices

Using Google Chromebooks as VDI clients can save organizations money and simplify IT management, but they're not the perfect fit for every company.

Google's Chromebook laptops are an attractive option as VDI clients given that they're cheap, portable and most desktop virtualization vendors support the Chrome OS operating system in some form.

The Chrome browser is the only software a Chromebook runs locally. It accesses any other applications and data via the cloud or a virtual desktop instance, but no data ever lives on the device. Chromebooks' simplicity and affordability makes them appealing to VDI shops. So why doesn't every VDI shop use them as thin client devices? Besides a below-average keyboard and a bulkier build than most thin clients, Chromebooks also don't provide the best performance for graphics-heavy apps because of their resource limitations, including minimal storage.

Learn more about using Chromebook thin client laptops for VDI, including how they automate some IT management processes and lower hardware costs.

How can IT set up a Chromebook remote desktop?

IT administrators have two options when they set up a Chromebook thin client: use a VDI vendor's Chrome OS client application or set up an HTML5 browser client.

IT could realistically connect a new Chromebook thin client to a remote desktop in five minutes.

Citrix offers a Receiver for Chrome client app for XenDesktop, and VMware has the Horizon Client for Chrome OS for Horizon View deployments. If available, IT can install a client app for their VDI platform from the Chrome Web Store.

The second option is to set up a URL for an HTML5 client. One major concern with Chromebooks is that they do not have a full operating system (OS), and only a few VDI vendors provide a fully native Chrome OS client. Fortunately, even midmarket VDI vendors now offer HTML5 clients that work well on Chromebooks.

Once that is done, IT can configure users' settings and applications, which will follow them to any Chromebook thin client.

How do Chromebook thin client devices simplify life for IT?

Chromebooks make IT's jobs easier in a lot of ways, including simplifying endpoint management and improving security. Admins need to patch, update antivirus software, run security audits and take software inventories -- all of which takes a long time and is operationally expensive. Chromebooks automate many of these tasks. For example, whenever a user logs in to Chrome OS, the Chromebook device automatically updates the operating system.

Device-based security problems such as keystroke logging can still be a problem with VDI, because the spyware can log users' keystrokes even without access to their actual virtual desktop sessions. To combat this risk, Chromebook devices perform verified boots every time a user logs in, which essentially creates a checkpoint to see if anything tampered with the system. If something is wrong, the Chromebook automatically resets itself.

What are the cost benefits of using Chromebook laptops?

Chromebook devices are inexpensive compared to regular PCs because the initial hardware costs, maintenance costs and management costs are all generally lower. Chromebooks also have a very fast time to value. They require almost no provisioning which makes them easy to set up and deploy immediately. IT could realistically connect a new Chromebook thin client to a remote desktop in five minutes.

Chromebooks make lost devices a much less dire financial situation because replacing one every now and then is not going to hurt the company's wallet too much -- many are priced between $150 and $400. As an added benefit, no corporate data lives on a Chromebook device, so whoever picks up the lost or stolen device cannot access any sensitive information.

When are Chromebooks a good fit, and when are they not?

Companies thinking about using Chromebooks as thin clients need to consider their cost, manageability and application support. Chromebooks can be particularly useful as temporary devices for users who are not usually mobile. They are also a good choice when users work with a lot of Google Apps for Work applications, such as Gmail, Google Drive or Google Docs. Chromebooks can also run remote Windows apps. For users with spotty internet connections, Chromebooks are one of the only thin clients that can connect to the web through 3G/4G wireless.

Chromebooks are not always an ideal fit. For example, if users work with graphics-intensive apps, Chromebooks can lack in terms of performance. They also feature limited offline capabilities and VPN connectivity options.

There are pros and cons to using Chromebook laptops for VDI, but in the right situation their low cost, easy setup and portability can benefit IT and users.

Next Steps

Compare top VDI client options

Consider an iPad as a VDI client

Explore HTML5 browsers as VDI clients

This was last published in June 2016

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Do you think Chromebook laptops are good endpoints for VDI? Why or why not?
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Although many relatively simple native, offline apps are available for Chrome OS, the article incorrectly asserts only work when connected to the Internet. Applications that are intensive in either CPU or GPU usage (e.g. AutoCAD) won't run well in virtual machines on Chrome OS. However, these can be be converted into Web apps, in which case, Chrome OS is the perfect client. See for example, https://www.onshape.com/3d-cad. Chrome OS is likely to be the future of computing.
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