School system CIOs are sold on Chromebooks

That support is giving Chromebooks a market anchor, with 5.2M expected to be sold this year

David Andrade, the CIO of Bridgeport Public Schools in Connecticut, has deployed 11,000 Chromebooks over the past year and plans to add another 5,000 in the next 12 months. It's a major deployment, but not unusual.

Other school systems are doing much the same thing. The Cherry Creeks School District in Greenwood Village, Co. deployed 18,000 last year, and Boston recently announced a deployment of 10,000 Chromebooks.

These rollouts by school systems may be why the Chromebook is surviving, thriving even.

Gartner on Monday said that sales of Chromebooks will reach 5.2 million units worldwide this year, with more than 80% of the demand in the U.S. That's an 80% increase in sales from 2013.

But this demand was driven almost entirely by education last year, which accounted for nearly 85% of Chromebook sales, according to Gartner.

Andrade said the Chromebook was attractive to the school system, especially because of its management, cost and low maintenance. "Adding 11,000 devices would have killed us if they needed a lot of support," said Andrade.

Google has created a centralized management system that allows for rapid changes, with no reimaging, and controls that allow a school system to restrict website and network access.

Although Bridgeport has penciled in a refresh cycle of four years for its Chromebooks, "as long as there is no physical damage, these things can go on forever," said Andrade of the Chromebook. It is using systems from Samsung, Hewlett-Packard and Acer.

Acer Chromebook

Andrade isn't really suggesting forever as an option. But the school system, which owns its Chromebooks instead of leasing them, will keep these thin-client devices in service as long as they are useful. And that may be well past four years.

"The Chrome operating systems doesn't bog down like Windows does over age," he said.

The plan is to give high school students the latest systems first, since they have the need for the most performance. The school system provides Chromebook access to students beginning in the third grade and operates on a policy that charges students for any damage. That typically involves screen breakage because they have either grabbed the screen by its corner or knocked the machine over.

The machines cost from $250 to $300, with screen replacement totalling about half that cost.

This policy of charging students for damage is similar to charging them for lost or damaged textbooks. For now, the Chromebooks remain in the schools, but if students are eventually allowed to take them home insurance programs may be available, said Andrade.

For its part, Google has been trying to do all it can from a software perspective to make education deployment attractive. It offers Google's Apps for Education and its collaboration tools for free. It also recently introduced Google Classroom, which is designed to help teachers keep track of assignments and other classroom management needs.

Gartner analyst Isabelle Durand said education is the big driver because Chromebooks are easy to manage, boot rapidly, and connect immediately to the Internet.

But additional demand could come from consumers.

"Vendors should not ignore the consumer market with their Chromebook offerings, because after education it represents a sizable opportunity," Durand said via email. "There is a good portion of the consumer market that will look for low-cost computing devices that [are] both easy to carry but can also help with productivity tasks besides browsing and checking e-mails."

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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