Google has scored a major win on the back of Microsoft’s Windows XP support cut-off, as the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham has started a major migration project to Chromebooks and Chromeboxes ahead of the 8 April deadline.
The council was previously running 3,500 Windows XP desktops and 800 XP laptops, and is currently in the process of retiring these in favour of around 2,000 Samsung 303Cs Chromebooks and 300 Chromeboxes, mainly for meeting rooms, reception areas and libraries across the borough.
Barking and Dagenham has already rolled out around 350 of these Chromebooks to its staff, and expects to deploy the remaining machines by early June, partly driven by the XP support cut-off date.
It expects to make savings of around £400,000 compared with the cost of upgrading to newer Windows machines, from a combination of the lower hardware costs, lower support costs and more energy-efficient devices.
Rupert Hay-Campbell, ICT and information governance officer at the council, explained that Barking and Dagenham is paying around £200 per Chrome device, compared with £500 to £600 for a Windows laptop and £340 to £350 for a standard Windows desktop. V3 estimates this at a cost of around £460,000 for the new Chrome devices.
Hay-Campbell added that the council has also made savings as the overall number of devices is lower, as most staff have just a laptop rather than some individuals having both a desktop and a laptop.
Sheyne Lucock, head of the council's outsourcing contract Elevate East London, explained that the Windows XP support cut-off was the catalyst for the migration to Chrome devices.
"Our strategy is based on the browser. We believe all our business systems, calendar, email and other productivity apps, will be browser based in future," he explained.
"But in the meantime we had the deadline of Windows XP going out of support, and even if there's an extension to that it's still going to go out of support. It's only a reprieve and therefore we needed to look at whether we continue with an estate that is largely Windows desktop based, so rather sedentary with lots of PCs sitting on lots of desks, or whether we look at this as an opportunity to do IT a little bit differently."
Hay-Campbell noted that the move to Chromebooks was helped by guidance from the government’s IT security body CESG, which was published in the autumn of 2013. "This clarified how to do this kind of stuff securely. It gave us confidence that the Chromebooks weren't going to give us problems in terms of connecting onto the central government networks," he said.
When it first started deliberating a move from XP last summer, the council considered Windows 7 and virtual desktops, but did not investigate a possible migration to either Linux or Mac. "I wouldn't have expected the Mac to compete on cost with the Chromebooks," Hay-Campbell noted.
Lucock added that the council exited an enterprise agreement a couple of years ago, which left it with a number of Windows 7 perpetual licences. "Windows 8 was never on the cards, as that would have meant reinvesting in Windows licensing," he explained.
One key difference from the previous Windows XP setup at the council is that the Chrome devices will require a constant wireless connection for staff to be able to use them due to the Citrix remote desktop system in place. However, Lucock said Barking and Dagenham has invested in its wireless infrastructure to support this, and also wants its staff to take the opportunity to work remotely using home broadband or other connectivity.
There is some good news for Microsoft and PC vendors out of the Barking news, as the council is planning to invest in 600 new Windows desktop machines at a cost of around £340 each. These will be for staff with accessibility requirements who need specialist software; or for those needing to run complex or niche applications such as AutoCAD or streetlight-management systems, which are not currently available via the Citrix desktop.
The council is also still using Microsoft's productivity and communications tools - for now.
"At this stage we're still going to be using Office, Outlook and Exchange, but we're planning to look at a move to a cloud-based productivity and email tool later in the year and that would clearly be an evaluation of Google Apps and Office 365," Hay-Campbell said.
"That is definitely the next piece of work, it fits more logically with the model once we have the Chromebooks. That would take a fair chunk of our users off the Citrix environment fairly quickly."
The council hopes to see further savings from reducing the need for Citrix licences. Lucock explained: "In the short term, staff will use their Chromebooks to access their work applications via Citrix. But our aim is to move as much as possible to work within the browser, and so less and less users would need to use Citrix in the future, requiring less investment in Citrix."
Barking and Dagenham worked in conjunction with Google enterprise partner Ancoris on the Chromebook project. David McLeman, Ancoris managing director, said the Windows XP support deadline has prompted growing interest in rolling out Chrome alternatives from a broad range of organisations.
“The council’s deployment is our first substantial desktop replacement, but we’ve got smaller projects with libraries and local authorities, along with projects in the commercial world, not only for desktops but also kiosks,” he said. “There’s such a huge proportion of organisations with XP, migration isn’t a this-week event, it’s something we’re going to see throughout the year.”
Madeline Bennett is editor of V3 and The INQUIRER. Previously, she was editor of IT Week. Prior to becoming a journalist, Madeline was an English teacher at a London secondary school. Madeline is a regular technology commentator on TV and radio, including Sky, BBC and CNN.