You should know about Neverware CloudReady when planning Chromebook and thin client projects

CloudReady is a Chromium OS variant that you can install on existing x86 hardware, and then manage with Google Chrome Enterprise alongside Chrome OS devices.

We’ve been talking about Chromebooks and Chrome OS since they first came out almost a decade ago, but over the last couple of years, they’ve been gaining a spot in the enterprise.

A couple of EMM vendors now integrate with Chrome Enterprise, Google’s management plane; Dell and HP are making Chromebook Enterprise devices, and browser-based SaaS apps and virtual desktop clients are continuing their progress. (If you’re not familiar with all these programs and terms, see Kyle’s guide to Chromebook Enterprise and Chrome Enterprise.)

We first wrote about Neverware three years ago, before all this happened. So, when they reached out to catch up late last year, it was perfect timing.

As you’ll recall from Gabe’s original coverage, Neverware makes CloudReady, a variant of Chromium OS, the open source operating system that forms the basis of Google’s Chrome OS. CloudReady can be installed on a wide array of x86 devices (currently 350 models) and then these devices can be managed alongside Chromebooks via the Chrome Enterprise management console.

In other words, if you choose to use Chrome OS, you can make the actual hardware choice (that is, purpose-built Chromebooks and Chromeboxes versus repurposed PCs and laptops) be an independent variable from the OS choice. Neverware says that many customers run both Chrome OS and CloudReady devices side by side.

After catching up with Neverware and getting them back in my mind, it’s clear that anybody that is considering either a Chromebook or a thin client project should be aware of CloudReady.

What’s new in Neverware and CloudReady

Last year, Neverware exhibited at Citrix Synergy (in Google’s booth), and they became a part of the Citrix Ready partner program.

On the tech side, they’ve been continuing to march towards parity with Chrome OS; one recent example of this is support for speech to text dictation, via a Google API. Another big recent feature is support for mandatory device enrollment into a G Suite domain. Today, there are just a few minor differences between the two operating systems.

The team also wanted to share the word that you can run CloudReady in a VM for testing, something that’s not possible with Chrome OS. This isn’t supported in production, but it should be handy for anyone that’s looking into Chrome OS and CloudReady projects.

Strategy and direction

When we last spoke to Neverware, the big question was when they (and Chrome OS) would grow beyond education and take a significant place in the enterprise.

While Neverware didn't share specific numbers last fall, it was clear that they were getting momentum. They had plenty of enterprise reference studies, and in talking to them, their experience with a wide variety of scenarios was evident.

The day that I published this post (January 21, 2020), Neverware put out a press release with more details on their growth in 2019. Revenues from the CloudReady Enterprise edition were up 350% in 2019, and they added 80 new enterprise customers.

Neverware remains strongly allied with Google, and they got a $6.5 million round B investment from Google in late 2017, bringing their total funding up to $14.1 million, according to Crunchbase. Google Cloud, G Suite, and their EUC products like Cloud Identity keep growing. All this is also good for Neverware in the enterprise.

When it comes to enterprise use cases, Neverware said that a significant chunk involve turning laptops into mobile thin clients, with the option to use the browser as needed. Considering that VMware and Citrix now both do SaaS apps and Chrome OS management on top of remote desktops, the alignment between Neverware and the EUC space is even better than it was before. The next chunk of use cases involves kiosks, digital signage, and single-app situations like call centers.

We’ve always been curious if companies would start to move full-fledged Windows users over to Chromebooks or CloudReady. Of course, just about all companies are going to have plenty of Windows users for a long time. But, Neverware does see some customers move users over from Windows in smaller groups, say 1,000 or 2,500 users on a functional or regional basis.

Android and Linux apps always come up in any conversation about Chrome OS. (Coincidentally, Kyle just wrote about all the Chrome OS app options yesterday.) As it turns out, most customers really are just interested in the browser.

CloudReady doesn’t support Android apps, since Android support in Chrome OS is a proprietary Google thing, not part of Chromium OS. The Neverware team said that customers don’t mind, as they’re generally not interested in dealing with Android on Chrome OS or CloudReady anyway.

The consumer version of CloudReady supports Linux apps in containers, and they’re thinking about use cases where this might make sense in the enterprise. When they told me this, I immediately thought of using Linux remote desktop clients, and indeed, they’ve been thinking about that internally, as well. They’re also experimenting with Linux Flatpak support, so that apps could run natively on the hardware.

Final thoughts

I have to admit that Neverware and CloudReady weren’t on the top of my mind until they reached out, but it’s clear that they should be a part of any conversation about Chrome OS devices or thin clients.

Neverware is planning to keep riding the Chrome OS wave as the momentum grows, and again, Chrome OS has been making steady progress in the last few years, enabled by SaaS and virtual desktop trends. Wherever there are Chromebooks and Chromeboxes, there is also a place for CloudReady.

Also, consider what IGEL and Stratodesk have done with the idea of focusing on an operating system for thin clients. This is another place where we should be aware of Neverware, too.

(This article was updated at 10:00 AM PST, January 21, 2020.) 

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