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moving school IT to the cloud with service not servers

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Want Windows - get Chrome.

Schools are using Google’s ChromeOS as a platform for delivering Windows applications, which of course makes no sense whatsoever because you can't run Windows applications directly on ChromeOS. So what's going on ?

The Windows applications in question are those packaged up using either Microsoft Remote App or (if the budget allows) Citrix XenApp. Both schools and business have been using the thin client approach for years now in an attempt to meet the demands of mobility and platform independence for Microsoft applications, so from this point of view nothing's really changed.

What is new is that ChromeOS is now being used as the thin client terminal. So whats the benefit of this?


One of the problems of the traditional thin client approach was the fact that the user device was never really that thin.

In most schools the client is a fully featured Windows PC which requires the same level of management as a device running the application set locally.  Windows workstations acting as thin clients still have to be patched, updated and virus protected. The benefit to the school lies in the ease of application deployment not device management.

For a time the answer appeared to lie with dedicated thin client terminals from companies such as Wyse and iGel which had some success replacing PC’s in the business world but never found widespread adoption in education.

Given the choice schools were understandably reluctant to swap-out functional Windows workstations, licenced under Microsoft's generous terms for proprietary hardware that wasn’t much cheaper than the workstations they were replacing.

Education also threw up another problem - inconsiderate users.

When students logged onto the thin client terminals the first thing they did was open a remote browser session and hit a website full of video content, a situation guaranteed to provide the worse possible user experience.  Why couldn’t they just run Excel and Outlook all day long like your average business user.

The Windows PC client had some drawbacks but it’s ability to run a local browser was proving an increasingly important advantage to schools. So the PC kept the job but each year it got older and slower.

So what aspects of a ChromeOS device make it a particularly effective thin client terminal?
  • Cost effective and robust.
  • Able to support a local browser and remote client software as required.
  • Modern specification for video and graphics support.
  • Easily configurable through a simple policy set.
  • Preferential licensing terms for education with no ongoing costs.
  • Support for both public kiosk mode and user authenticated sessions.
  • Very secure. No additional licensing required for virus protection or state management.
  • No hardware vendor lock-in.
  • Self managing with respect to OS updates and patches.
  • Support for standard peripherals including built-in camera and USB.
There are other advantages that are not so immediately obvious.

As well as full desktops ChromeOS devices come in a number of form factors including ultra small VESA mount devices, Chromebooks, and pen drives. all running the same software and managed in the same way which means you have the option to reuse monitors and other peripherals.
Be aware that these are modern devices which support HDMI not VGA so converters maybe required to connect to existing displays.
It's even possible to reuse the workstation itself.

CloudReady is an operating system based on Chromium OS, the same open-source architecture as ChromeOS.  which has the ability to install onto many of the common PC and Mac hardware models used in education. Once loaded with the CloudReady image and assigned a Google licence the workstation can be managed from the same console as other ChromeOS devices and present an almost identical user experience. It's a great way of  breathing a new lease of life into an aging IT suite especially if you've largely replaced locally installed apps with SaaS eqivalents.

Disadvantages of adopting ChromeOS and CloudReady include having to master an additional management console and the fact that the platform can’t actually run windows apps.

But in all other respects if you want a Windows thin client, Chrome.makes a great option.