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VMware AirWatch will support full Chromebook management

Google’s Chrome Device Management is quite powerful, and this is the first time it is being opened up to an EMM partner.

If hearing about VMware, AirWatch, and Chromebooks together in an announcement sounds familiar, you’re right, we have heard about this before. However, today the relationship is taking another step forward: VMware AirWatch will now fully integrate with Google Chrome Device Management. Let’s take a look.

The latest step in the Google/VMware partnership

VMware and Google first jointly declared that VDI and Chromebooks are a good pair back in 2014, and then added Workspace One to that message earlier this year. On the device side, AirWatch has had a degree of Chromebook support via a Chrome extension, but it’s quite limited.

Google’s Chrome Device Management is a cloud-based management console which has been around for a while and is very full-featured. As of today’s announcement, Google is opening up APIs to the console, and AirWatch will support them. Chrome Device Management will effectively act as middleware, and customers will be able to take care of all their management tasks in the AirWatch console, instead of going back and forth. AirWatch’s support will become generally available on September 19, and they’ll be the exclusive EMM partner, at least for a while.

Customers will have to pay for a Chrome Device Management license in addition to their AirWatch license. Google doesn’t publish the price, but from what I could find at resellers, it runs $50 per year per device, or $150 perpetual for the life of a device (or a replacement device of the same model). Education and non-profit licenses are $30 perpetual, and kiosk-mode licenses are $24 per device per year.

Chromebook management tech

If you haven’t looked at Chrome Device Management (which admittedly I hadn’t until last week), you might be pleasantly surprised to learn that it’s quite robust and covers a wide range of scenarios.

You can find more details on the support pages (here and here), but here are the highlights:

  • It covers typical productivity devices, single use devices (like digital signage), and public kiosks.
  • All the controls that you would expect are there, including browser settings; device customization; management for Chrome apps and extensions; WiFi, VPN, and certificate settings; Android app management; encryption; screen lock settings; and control over Chrome OS updates. Some of these controls apply to the device; others are associate with users and come down when they log in.
  • Chrome devices have a TPM chip and support Verified Boot, with Verified Access.
  • Devices have to be manually enrolled, so there’s no out of box experience (like iOS DEP), but that should be the only time IT has to touch them. Devices can be locked into management, so users can’t just erase them and steal them.

All Chromebook users must have an Identity in G Suite, so customers will have to set up Google’s directory sync tool (which supports LDAP and AD), or use a SAML identity provider (like Workspace One). Users can log into devices with their usual corporate credentials, and then get SSO to other resources once they’re in.

Is this finally the big enterprise push?

For years, the common knowledge around Chromebooks has been that they’re big in education, but we’re still waiting for them to take off for typical enterprise users. One of Google’s big pushes over the last year or two has been around kiosks, digital signage, retail, and similar use cases.

However, there certainly is an enterprise EUC push, too. On VMware’s part, having full AirWatch support for device management—on top of Workspace One for identity and Horizon for VDI—should be the final step in creating an attractive package to encourage Chromebook adoption.

Also, if you haven’t looked recently, the selection of Chrome devices is pretty good, including devices that are oriented towards meeting room, signage, and thin-client use cases. (Plus, you could also look at something like Neverware Cloudready, a Chromium-based OS that can run on just about any old x86 device.)

I’ve always been a strong Chromebook fan, and opening up device management is always welcome. Today’s news, combined with the ongoing march of SaaS web apps and desktop virtualization, is another appreciated step to the future.

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