You know how every year or so we write an article about what would make the ultimate thin client? Last year, it was Jack’s article about Windows 10 on cheap PCs. The year before that it was wishful thinking about the thin client capabilities of Apple TV. Before that we had Google TV, another about Apple TV, Android sticks, various thin clients and zero clients, and, of course, one of the most read articles ever on BrianMadden.com: If you spend more than $15 on a thin client device then you are a fool!
Then there are Chromebooks. Every time I’ve written about Chromebooks, the article ended with some kind of negative attitude (or in this case, started with one). That sends folks in the education market through the roof because, as we all know, Chromebooks are awesome for education. The problem is that Chromebooks have yet to find a place in the enterprise. It has been suggested that Chromeboxes, basically the desktop counterpart to the Chromebook, would make a decent solution, but the last time we touched on the topic Chromeboxes weren’t easy to come by.
Today, that’s changed, and there are several models available that range from $169 for a Celeron-based device to $700 for an Intel Core i7 device. You’d still need to provide management, and odds are the low end box isn’t going to do what you need, but the option is there.
Introducing Neverware CloudReady
But there’s another option that Jack and I just became aware of. On Monday, we spoke with Neverware, and their product, CloudReady, converts just about any x86-based device into a Chromium OS-running, fully-managed device. So far they’ve had plenty of success in…wait for it…education, but they’re looking to branch out into other areas, and they’ve made decent start.
CloudReady is available in four different editions: Enterprise, VDI, Education, and Home. The Home version is free to download and use, though it doesn’t come with management. The Education edition is kind of an a la carte offering that can have management, but since many institutions and school systems already have management subscriptions with Google, Neverware will build a custom bundle for each situation. CloudReady Enterprise is their full Chromium OS offering that includes full management and full OS functionality, and CloudReady VDI is a lightened version of the Enterprise product that is intended for use as a thin client.
Before we get too far in, it’s worth noting that Neverware isn’t a company that decided to shove a square peg into a round hole like we’ve seen with other products. Android-on-a-stick comes to mind, and the “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” experience you may have seen with that might leave a bad taste in your mouth. Android was never meant for a desktop form factor, though that didn’t stop people from trying.
Neverware has been around for three years, and CloudReady is installed on over 1.5 million devices. From the beginning, they’ve been working with Google to ensure that their goals line up with Google’s plans for Chromium OS. With Google’s support, Neverware created their own branch of Chromium OS, and when needed, Google has stepped up with support. The end result is that Neverware has certified CloudReady on 200 different x86 capable desktops and laptops. You can read about their certification process here.
Back to the product
CloudReady VDI is intended as a way to convert x86 devices, including Macs, PCs, thin clients, and tablets, into cloud-managed, secure, encrypted VDI endpoints. Those endpoints are updated automatically, and can be configured with policies from the Google Management Console.
CloudReady VDI devices support accessing virtual desktops running on Citrix, VMware, Microsoft, and AWS platforms via various Chrome OS apps that are available. In some cases Chrome OS apps don’t run on Chromium OS, but desktop virtualization clients don’t leverage the Chrome OS-only features that could cause problems with an app, so it’s ok.
CloudReady VDI can be installed via USB stick, or it can be deployed using Ghost, Windows Deployment Services, or FOG. Users log in with Google credentials, which enrolls and configures the device, after which they are ready to go. You can even have the device dual boot, so BYOD end users can have both environments available to them.
As mentioned, the VDI edition is limited to being a VDI endpoint (it would work for RDSH-based connections, too, so don’t get wrapped up in the name). CloudReady Enterprise, on the other hand, is a full Chromium OS experience with expanded management to complement the larger amount of capabilities. With Cloud Ready enterprise, you can provision Chrome OS / Chromium OS apps to users, connect the devices to Google Drive, set bookmarks, wallpapers, allowed websites, assign printers, configure security, and more, all through the Google Management Console.
The CloudReady lineup of products is pretty interesting to me. I’ve been trying to find a Chromebox solution that’s viable in the enterprise for years, and I think we finally have it. It comes with management, and since it’s certified on notebooks, desktops, and thin clients, you can use it to put a modern OS on existing hardware. As you add hardware, you can choose from any of the devices that support CloudReady (though I imagine you can try your luck on your own, too).
CloudReady VDI edition pricing starts at $49 per device for an annual subscription. This price includes support, and the management license. It’s also transferrable to other devices, so you’re not locked into a single device for an entire year. If it breaks, replace it, and the license moves to that device.
CloudReady Enterprise pricing starts at $99 per device for an annual subscription. The primary difference in price comes down to functionality of the OS and enhanced manageability. To be clear, you get everything that’s relevant with the VDI edition, but with Enterprise you need more management functionality (which means more overhead for Neverware) to support more features.
For what it’s worth, I’m actually more interested in the CloudReady Enterprise solution. There are so many x86-to-thin-client conversion tools out there that, while I’m sure it’s great, at the end of the day it’s just another thin client. CloudReady Enterprise could be the desktop OS of the future. Like…the way distant, Windows as middleware, future.
I certainly want to try it out, and with the Home version available as a free download, it’s easy for anyone to try.