Chromebooks handy for DevOps to manage other machines

Last week’s remarks on my own use of a Chromebook in datacenters resulted in so much discussion that a few more details deserve mention today.

Keep in mind that Google and most of the Chrome hardware vendors originally targeted entry-level consumers: they promote low price and ease of use. I’m not the only one to see a role for commodity desktops among sophisticated users, though. Billion-dollar provider CDW just announced sales and support of Chromebooks to its enterprise customers.

The CDW announcement is like earlier Chrome news in its emphasis on management of the worktops, including, for example, Chrome Remote Desktop. Of more interest to me in my daily work is remote control by a Chromebook desktop. This comes in five main flavors:

  • Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP);
  • Virtual Remove Computing (VNC);
  • Chrome Remote Desktop, a special variant of VNC;
  • RemoteSpark; and
  • command-line use of ssh.

ssh just works, of course, once one enables the developer switch or installs the Secure Shell app.

RDP is handy for access of Windows servers. Polished applications are available from Cybele Software, Ericom, FusionLabs, and AndroidRemoteControl. Ericom makes a point of promoting the HTML5 basis of its application. While I’m an advocate of HTML5, and the technology interests me, I don’t yet understand why it matters to me as a Chromebook user of the Ericom application. I hope eventually to interview someone at Ericom who will shed light on this.

I’m a long-time user and occasional developer with VNC, and glad that Chrome’s application store offers ThinVNC.

“Chromoting” through Chrome Remote Desktop effectively requires installation of a Chrome browser “on both ends”. I have barely begun to use Chrome Remote Desktop myself, although I can imagine situations where it is attractive.

RemoteSpark relies on HTML5 WebSockets. While I’ve written about WebSockets, and RemoteSpark has quite a few enthusiasts, I have yet to use the RemoteSpark product myself.

The one great deficiency of current Chromebooks for my own access of other computers is its lack of virtual private network (VPN) support. While I continue to suspect that ChromeOS has all the parts necessary to make, for example, functional OpenVPN connections, I don’t choose to invest any more time in it now. It’s clear to me that the management interface as it exists now is only a primitive experiment, and I’ll confine my own VPNing to conventional desktops until ChromeOS advances more. VPN, incidentally, is part of why the CDW announcement mentioned above is so intriguing: CDW’s corporate customers will surely require VPN, and perhaps CDW’s commitment foretells more progress with VPN for ChromeOS.

2 Comments

  1. Dudley Roberts says:

    VPN’s are fully supported in Chromebooks. Check the settings thoroughly, I have about 4 stored in my settings and can connect with a single click now!

    • Cameron Laird says:

      Thank you for your report, Mr. Roberts. I’m glad it’s working for you, and I salute you for letting the rest of us know. Perhaps later I’ll make time to present part of what I see that is not “fully supported”. For now, I’ll summarize at a high level that I find the GUI for VPN management primitive (no ability to *delete* an unused definition!?), and, although I’ve already invested quite a bit of time in it, I do *not* find a good configuration for connection based on an organization-wide *.crt. I’d happily pay or otherwise compensate someone who can help. Otherwise, I’ll probably wait a few months; I figure Google will continue to improve ChromeOS rapidly.

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