IT departments are always looking for ways to make VDI more affordable, and one way to reduce costs without making sacrifices on performance is to use budget client devices such as Google Chromeboxes.
The Chromebox is essentially the desktop version of the Google Chromebook. The difference between the two is that the Chromebook is a laptop, and the Chromebox is a small form factor desktop, also referred to as a nettop. Both run the Chrome OS operating system, though, and are affordable for most VDI shops, with versions of each available for under $200. Chromeboxes are available through hardware vendors such as Asus, Samsung and Dell, and usually cost less than traditional desktop PCs.
The two main advantages to using a Google Chromebox as a VDI client are the low cost of acquisition and the low maintenance burden for IT. Most Chromeboxes are priced around $300, although there are cheaper and more expensive versions based on which features the company wants to spring for. That price often does not include a keyboard, mouse or monitor.
The Chromebox's low cost frees organizations from the hassles of hardware-level repairs. If a Chromebox fails, IT can replace it with a new unit for less money than it would cost to diagnose the problem and repair the hardware.
Chromeboxes are also self-maintaining. Chrome OS is a very lightweight operating system (OS) that sits on top of a very thin Linux kernel. The OS is designed primarily for use with web applications rather than local applications. Because Chrome OS is so lightweight, it tends to be very reliable.
Automatic updates and app support
Google automatically pushes updates such as the latest security patches to Chromebox devices, which keeps the Chrome OS up-to-date and secure. Google further guarantees device security by performing verified boots. Each time a user boots up a Chromebox device, it runs a health check to determine whether the operating system (OS) is functioning properly. If it finds any signs of tampering, the device automatically repairs itself without intervention from the help desk staff.
Chromebox devices tend to be a poor choice for general purpose computing because they lack support for some popular applications, such as Skype. If an organization delivers all its applications through virtual desktops -- as opposed to installing them locally on devices -- then application support on Chromeboxes is not an issue.
Chromeboxes are easy to manage
Another important consideration when selecting a VDI client is manageability. Some organizations use Windows devices as thin clients simply because they can use Microsoft Active Directory Group Policies to domain join those devices and secure them. Other organizations use non-managed zero clients, which contain no local storage. Consider Chromeboxes as somewhere in between these two options.
Google provides its own online management console for Chrome OS. The options that exist within this console vary depending on licensing. For example, IT can license the management console to manage user devices in a VDI deployment. Organizations can purchase licenses that remain valid for the lifetime of a device, or they can opt for a subscription-based license.
When administrators configure the Chrome OS management console, they can either allow or block certain applications and extensions. IT can effectively lock down Chromeboxes so they only run the VDI client app.
The management console also supports automated app deployment for a domain, which allows IT to automatically push the VDI client to any new Chromebox devices using the Chrome OS management console. This means IT can get a new Chromebox ready for use as a VDI client in a matter of minutes.
The real appeal of using Chromeboxes in VDI environments isn't so much that the VDI client application is different from other platforms, but rather that the device itself minimizes IT's workload and the company's maintenance costs. Google designed Chromeboxes to be secure, self-maintaining and effortless to deploy. In fact, if IT establishes the proper enrollment permissions through the management console, users can enroll their devices simply by logging in. Once a device is enrolled, the management console automatically pushes the VDI client app to the device, and applies any required security policies without any IT involvement.
There are plenty of more powerful thin clients out there, but Chromebox devices carry their own appeal based on their value proposition and ease of management.
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