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Life As Google's CIO

Ben Fried explains the unique experience of running Google’s corporate IT, from constant online software upgrades to a homegrown videoconferencing system.
Google Chrome OS Promises Computing Without Pain
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While Fried may be expected to have a taste for his company's cloud-based Kool-Aid, the ostensible savings offered by Google Apps is a flavor that appeals to some cost-conscious CIOs. "[Google Apps] is incredibly compelling," insists Fried.

Google would like to see browser-based apps make the operating system a commodity -- Google Apps works just as well on a computer running Linux, Mac OS X or Windows, not to mention iOS or Android. And Android on its way to becoming the commodity mobile operating system. Google is also backing a research initiative called Software Defined Networking (SDN) through an industry non-profit with broad support from other large tech companies. Fried sees work on SDN leading to the commoditization of the network gear, by reducing the need for specialized chips (ASICs) throughout the networking hardware stack.

Fried argues that CIOs should embrace the commoditization of technology because it brings pricing leverage.

And if you accept that viewpoint, you may share his excitement about other Google initiatives outside Google Apps, namely the rise of Google's Android mobile operating system and the imminent emergence of Chrome OS, Google's Web-oriented operating system, both of which promise -- perhaps more than they deliver at the moment -- good things for businesses.

Android is now an operating system for both mobile phones and tablets, both of which Fried says will be increasingly important to enterprises, particularly following the addition of enterprise features to Android last fall and in April. He sees Android offering the same kind of standard that has existed in server hardware, a standard suitable for multiple hardware makers. He expects that Android will accelerate the adoption of mobile devices and tablets in enterprises "because they'll come in at a much better cost structure than you can get when you have a single provider."

For the words "single provider," feel free to substitute "Apple," the one and only provider of the iPad.

Fried said he was also excited by Chrome OS, which he described as a "game-changer." While he acknowledges that some people will need continue to need full-blown PCs, he also insists many users can get by with just the Web. And he points to other benefits of Chrome OS, like less need for expensive hardware, less risk of data loss and malware, and less need for user maintenance.

Trite though it may be to put it this way, the Chrome OS value proposition might best expressed using the phrase "less is more." (Google won’t say how many of its workers regularly use Chrome OS netbooks, though a company spokesperson insists some use Chrome OS exclusively.)

"It scratches a deep, deep itch for the enterprise," said Fried, explaining that the issue for companies is not just the cost of the hardware but the lifecycle cost. "Our experience is that the support costs of [Chrome OS devices] are dramatically lower and support costs are a huge component of the lifecycle cost of a PC."

Fried's excitement about Google Apps, Android, and Chrome OS is balanced by the pressure of being a manager at a large company. There's always another issue to address. Fried says he spends most of his time thinking about and worrying about Google's growth.

"As IT, you're at the inside of this company, and you see all the different parts of the company, and you're the people who can bring technology, which is a powerful, powerful tool," he said. "And I think our job is to remove the friction, to take the friction out of being a big company. One of the things I aspire to is making the big company seem small."