London borough to roll out Google Chromebooks to escape Microsoft's licensing costs

By Sooraj Shah
02 Apr 2014 View Comments
Samsung Chroembook 2 with faux leather lid close up

The London Borough of Barking and Dagenham is to roll out Google Chromebooks as it shifts away from Window XP desktops in what it deems the most cost efficient way possible.

The council claims it will save over £200,000 by not deploying new Windows desktops, and it has estimated a further £200,000 worth of savings on electricity costs as a result of Google Chromebooks being more energy efficient than desktop PCs.

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Rupert Hay-Campbell, ICT and information governance officer at the borough, told Computing that the council chose Samsung 303Cs as its Chromebook of choice because of its "impressive battery life and portability".

The migration project, which was initiated in mid-2013, is designed to provide an upgraded platform before the Windows XP expiry date.

The council had 3,500 desktop computers and 800 laptops for its 3,500 employees. The project means that it will switch the vast majority of these with 2,000 Chromebooks for employees and 500 Chromeboxes for reception desks and shared work areas.

The council looked at several options for its employees, including replacing its existing hardware with Windows 7 desktops and laptops, repurposing its desktop clients into a virtual desktop environment (VDI) or replacing the vast majority of its desktops with Chromebooks.

Hay-Campbell explained that the Chromebook option was the cheapest - with a major factor being Microsoft's licensing costs.

"We are in a position where our Microsoft licensing relationship means we are able to use the Chromebooks with a Citrix estate, without needing a new Microsoft enterprise agreement. VDI was working out more expensive, as we would have had to buy software assurance from Microsoft in order to run a true virtual desktop," he said.

The licensing costs were also the reason that Windows 8 wasn't considered. But when the council exited the Microsoft agreement it managed to get between 600 and 1,000 desktops with the Windows 7 operating system installed and covered under perpetual licences.

The reason the council needed machines with Windows installed was because some apps can't be delivered through the Citrix environment.

"As we are a council, we have some obscure apps that would need a lot of work to run through Citrix," said Hay-Campbell.

Another reason was because some employees needed help with accessibility through the use of screen readers and specialist peripherals.

Despite the council finding that the Chromebook was the cheapest option, Hay-Campbell said that "the saving wasn't massive compared to the thick laptop option, but it gave us more flexibility".

He explained that the Chromebook is used like a thin client which connects into the Citrix environment so that it looks like Windows. Eventually, he said, the council wants to move off of Citrix and into using the browser on the Chromebook.

Hay-Campbell emphasised that the council was keen to wait until CESG, the UK government agency responsible for IT security, had developed security standards for councils using the Chrome operating system, before it started the roll out.

The council is now in the process of rolling out an initial 1,500 Chromebooks with the help of Google Apps reseller and cloud solutions provider Ancoris and digital and business solutions provider Elevate East London, with about 350 already deployed.

There is a learning process, said Hay-Campbell, but he suggested this would be minimal because the devices look and operate like Windows devices.

"There is a bit of training initially, but once they're in, it is very much back to the Windows environment - it's not like a culture change to Google Apps or Office 365," he said.

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