Dell’s Latitude Chromebook Aimed at New-Gen Enterprise

eWEEK NEW-PRODUCT ANALYSIS RESOURCE PAGE: Chrome-based devices haven't yet caught fire in the enterprise. So what’s different this time around? Call it a generational shift in the ways that organizations and workers are approaching personal computing.

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It’s no surprise that personal computers and personal computing have continuously evolved during the past four decades. But due to the new innovations Microsoft and Intel continuously delivered, the dominance of Wintel PCs among businesses and their employees has never been seriously challenged.

Sure, a handful of alternative vendors and compute models have successfully found places in targeted applications and settings, notably Apple’s Macs in high end graphics applications and zero/thin clients in call centers and school labs.

But significant threats to Wintel? Not really, at least until recently as desktops, notebooks, tablets, convertibles and other devices leveraging Google's Chrome OS increasingly find happy homes among large, high-profile enterprise customers. That's made PC vendors, including Dell, sit up and take notice.

The new Latitude Chromebook Enterprise solutions and Unified Workspace offerings that the company announced this week at VMworld 2019 are designed to help businesses utilize the notable value of Chrome while supporting business-class endpoint computing, deployment, security, management and support processes.

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Let’s take a closer look at Dell’s new Latitude Chromebooks and Unified Workspace and consider how they might impact enterprise computing customers and markets.

Google Chrome Shines a Light on Windows

Though Chrome-based devices have achieved their best results in primary and secondary schools, past attempts to promote them for business use have never caught fire. So, what’s different this time around? Call it a generational shift in the ways that organizations and workers are approaching personal computing.

First and foremost, operating system (OS) and user interface (UI) heterogeneity is now the rule rather than the exception. For decades, vendors emphasized--and commercial customers believed--that supporting a single, homogenous OS and UI was good business. But as smartphones and other mobile devices came to the fore, it was clear that end users were easily and effectively adapting to multiple devices and platforms, so why not their employers? The Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) programs that arose a decade ago formalized that point, and vendors rushed in to help businesses cope with the inevitable complexities of managing and supporting multiple platforms.

In addition, vendors increasingly came around to Google's longstanding strategy of distributing, managing and supporting software via the internet. That had long been the case for operating system updates and niche applications, such as antivirus and other security software. But in 2011, Microsoft's launch of Office 365--the online version of its ubiquitous business productivity suite--marked an essential shift in both the company's software strategy and how customers' IT departments worked.

Finally, the popularity of cloud computing and cloud-based services highlights the degree to which companies and business processes have become both internet-enabled and dependent. "The network is the computer" is an IT industry chestnut often attributed to Sun Microsystems founder and CEO Scott McNealy (it was really coined in the mid-’90s by John Gage, VP, Chief Researcher and Director of the Science Office for Sun).

Today, it would be more accurate to say that “the network is the business” and internet-enabled desktops, notebooks, smart phones and other devices, along with operating systems and applications are critical tools workers need to do their jobs. That means that companies must choose the solutions that best fit their own and their employees’ needs, including business-class Chromebooks.

Dell’s Latitude Chromebooks

How well are Dell’s new Chromebooks positioned to take advantage of these trends? Overall, very well. By leveraging the Latitude brand and ecosystem for its new solutions, the company is emphasizing that the new notebooks are designed and intended for global enterprise environments. The new solutions are immediately available in 50 countries and are configurable with 10 localized language keyboards.

Dell’s Latitude Chromebook 5300 2-in-1 (pictured) and 5400 are highly configurable, meaning that systems can be ordered to meet the requirements of specific individuals, work groups or business processes and applications. Options include:

  • 8th-gen Intel Core i5 and i7 CPUs (up to i7)
  • Up to 32GB of DDR4 memory
  • Up to 1TB SSD storage
  • 3- and 4-cell battery options (including optional fast charge capabilities), and
  • Standard Ethernet, wi-fi and Bluetooth connectivity technologies, as well as optional mobile broadband (up to 450 Mbps)

The new Latitude Chromebooks are also optimized for Dell's Unified Workspace and ProSupport solutions for automating the deployment, security, management and support functions for business endpoint environments. That's a critical point for enterprises that need to support secure, manageable and reliable endpoints for employees. Dell's Unified Workspace also helps IT organizations to more effectively focus on strategic priorities rather than being overwhelmed with support requests.

Customers can upgrade to Google Drive Enterprise to take advantage of collaboration features and access to productivity tools, including Docs, Sheets and Slides. As an option, upgrading to Google G-Suite offers access to additional apps, including Gmail and Hangouts.

Final Analysis

What’s the takeaway from all this? First and foremost, Chromebooks are entirely suitable for enterprises and other businesses and are especially compelling for organizations that need the benefits of integrated, cloud-based productivity applications but are seeking lower costs and less complexity than Microsoft Office offers. Over time, Google has made the investments needed to make Drive and G-Suite a suitable choice for businesses and employees.

That's not to say that adopting Chromebook devices will be headache-free. For many organizations, choosing Chromebooks over Wintel PCs will involve the impediments and headaches that are common in most IT migrations. However, those challenges aren't inhibiting Chromebook adoption by large, name brand enterprises. Google notes that Verizon has migrated 150,000 users to G-Suite and Colgate Palmolive has deployed 28k G-Suite seats. Plus, Netflix, Starbucks and Sanmina have adopted Chromebooks as their endpoint platform of choice; Salesforce purchased 10k business-class Chromebooks and signed a strategic partnership with Google to integrate the devices in the company's ecosystem.

So, what unique elements and benefits does Dell bring to the table? By developing the new offerings through its Latitude organization, Dell is signaling that its Chromebook notebook and 2-in-1 solutions are made to meet the robust needs and discrete requirements of businesses. That is further highlighted by the Unified Workspace and ProSupport services the company is offering in concert with the new systems. Some may consider that to be little more than Dell marketing-speak, but one look at the Latitude Chromebooks’ spec sheet and available options should make believers out of most doubters.

Those are key practical points, but to my mind, the new solutions also signal how deeply Dell understands the evolution away from homogeneous business endpoint computing and how committed the company is to supporting customers making that transition. I expect that over time, Dell’s Latitude Chromebooks will help enterprises and other organizations continue and accelerate their endpoint computing evolution.

Charles King is a principal analyst at PUND-IT and a regular contributor to eWEEK.  © 2019 Pund-IT, Inc. All rights reserved.