Glenn Weinstein, CTO, Appirio
Today, Appirio was announced as one of eleven pilot customers receiving Google’s Chrome notebook devices, alongside the likes of Intercontinental Hotels, American Airlines, and Kraft. The Chrome notebook – a dedicated, secure device optimized to run Google’s open-source Chrome OS and serve as the first true “cloud computing client” – extends our vision of the “serverless enterprise” we’ve been evangelizing since our founding in 2006.
Appirio is the leading Google Apps implementation partner, having led the technical work behind Google’s six largest U.S. business rollouts of Google Apps to date. We’re also one of Salesforce.com’s top partners, and earlier this year we launched a Workday consulting practice, implementing its 100% public cloud-based human capital management (HCM) and financials packages both internally and for customers. Both our service offerings and our CloudWorks integration product line are focused on eliminating private servers and single-tenant server-side software from the corporate landscape. Followers of Appirio might wonder how a client device like the Chrome notebook is relevant to our corporate mission of accelerating the enterprise adoption of the public cloud.
The public cloud revolution has only begun to play out. As a greater percentage of applications move to the public cloud, workers will be able to accomplish nearly all tasks using only a web browser. And we already live in an always-connected corporate world. Face it – we’re already at the point where employees who lose their Internet connections are more likely to take a long coffee break than plod on, since nearly everything they need to work effectively already requires network connectivity.
True, not everything is ready to run through a browser yet. Typical business users still rely on native client apps for desktop sharing, intensive spreadsheet and presentation work, or developer IDEs. But HTML5’s rapid adoption as a standard – with its native browser support for local storage, offline capabilities, and rich multimedia user interface – will shrink the set of “must-have” native client apps. Citrix’s recent announcement that they’re developing Chrome-ready remote access in the form of the new Citrix Receiver is evidence of this powerful trend and now means that even non-web / legacy applications can run smoothly on a device like a Chrome notebook.
But computing power is not enough. Some doubt that business users can give up their traditional machines, comparing Chrome OS to attempts at introducing a network computer, like Oracle’s well-publicized late ‘90s failure. We respectfully disagree, not only because Oracle and Sun were in fact too far ahead of their time – the technology and the network weren’t ready – but because today, to a far greater degree, we’re choking on complexity. Former Microsoft chief software architect Ray Ozzie, in his farewell letter six weeks ago, wrote:
“[A]s the PC client and PC-based server have grown from their simple roots over the past 25 years, the PC-centric / server-centric model has accreted simply immense complexity… [c]omplexity kills. Complexity sucks the life out of users, developers and IT. Complexity makes products difficult to plan, build, test and use. Complexity introduces security challenges. Complexity causes administrator frustration.”
It’s time for a do-over. Consider the evolution of software-as-a-service. In the late ‘90s, vendors rushed to “application service providers” to host single-instance copies of complex enterprise software packages. It was hard to imagine a future with ubiquitous broadband connectivity, combined with an ability by vendors to build vast data centers using low-cost components to serve massive customer bases via the multi-tenant model. But these two catalysts resulted in a fundamental re-definition of what it meant to write enterprise software – a change that has dramatically reduced the complexity burden on corporate IT. The ubiquity of the browser-as-app-client (Chrome has some unique characteristics like a multi-process sandboxing architecture that make it the ideal app client), combined with the advent of HTML5 and the availability of dedicated browser devices, may herald a similar transformation on the client side.
Just as importantly for the CIO, a device like the Chrome notebook is an extension of the drive towards simplicity across the corporate IT landscape. The shift to software-as-a-service has already relieved IT of the burdens of maintaining server-based operating system and applications, implementing security across the application and database tiers, and distributing client software updates. Chrome notebook carries this philosophy to the desktop, giving IT a whole lot less to worry about. Chrome notebooks require no anti-virus updates or operating system patches, and they finally remove the concerns around security breaches resulting from lost laptops, since no data is stored on the hard drive.
The Chrome notebook is also, oddly enough, an extension of the concept that IT need no longer be in the “laptop business.” Some forward-looking CIOs have experimented with providing employees with a laptop allowance in lieu of an IT-issued machine. IT oversight of employees’ computers is a concept dating back to the era when a typical adult might not own a personal computer, so employees needed guidance in selecting the right machine, along with an internal help desk to assist with basic usage questions. But today’s workers are likely to be more familiar with their gadgets than their friendly local IT department, and they expect the gadget vendors, not IT, to provide help desk-level support. This is an incredibly healthy trend, since IT’s higher purpose is innovating with the business, not serving as glorified administrators.
These two IT trends – reducing server-side complexity, and lessening the support burden imposed by client devices – intersect at the Chrome notebook. Here is a slick new machine whose hardware and software is optimized around the browser, which places virtually no support burden on IT, and when used in combination with cloud-based services, nearly eliminates the security risk associated with traditional laptops.
We have big plans for our Chrome notebooks at Appirio. For starters, we’re hoping to give all U.S. employees a Chrome notebook to start using as their primary device. This means not just our technology and business consultants, but also our software developers, support engineers, sales people, and marketing and administrative personnel. They’ll still have their traditional laptops to fall back on, but we suspect they’ll need this option surprisingly rarely. We’ll challenge them to see how much of their work they can shift to the Chrome notebook, and report the results to you regularly via this blog. We’ll cooperate closely with Google and our other partners as we identify fat client apps that we just can’t seem to live without, and brainstorm effective alternatives. We may not ditch our traditional laptops by the end of the year, but we’ll document how close we came, and get a better picture of whether and when this will ultimately be possible.
We also plan to incorporate the Chrome notebook closely in the design of our new office. Next month, we’ll be moving our global headquarters and the new office will be “powered by Chrome” – from the receptionist check-in stations, to the hoteling cubicles, to demo stations showing off the cloud-powered enterprise, and even the conference room projectors. We expect that Chrome notebooks installed in each of these locations will reduce or eliminate the need for Appirians to tote their laptops around, since their email, chat, data, documents, and even bookmarks and saved credentials will all be readily available simply by logging into any nearby Chrome notebook with their Google Apps credentials.
Appirio has always taken pride for practicing what we preach. We’ve never owned a server, and we run our entire business on an integrated set of public cloud technologies from our SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS partners. We’re excited to take the next step in 2011 with Google, fulfilling the vision of an enterprise that’s not only serverless, but perhaps also largely free of the traditional notion of the “fat” laptop. Stay tuned to this blog for updates on how we’re doing!