An Emergency Manager’s Review of Google’s ChromeOS

Posted: February 5, 2011 in Chrome, Cloud, Google

For several years Google has been developing products with an eye toward Cloud Computing. These products include web based email, calendars, and contact management as well as the Google Docs platform that includes word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and drawing tools. The idea behind all of these products is that all of your information and the applications themselves are stored in “the cloud” and a user requires only a web browser to access the applications and their data.

Many primary Emergency Management applications have also become web based over the last several years. This includes crisis management systems such as WebEOC, emergency notification systems such as Roam Secure Alert Network (RSAN) as well as federally deployed information sharing tools such as the Homeland Securtiy Information Network (HSIN). Any of these applications can be accessed by any authorized user with a web browser and access to the internet.
In order to capitalize on their Cloud Computing initiatives, Google has developed its own open source web browser – Google Chrome. They have also recently developed an open source computer operating system that is based upon the technology utilized within their Chrome browser called ChromeOS. ChromeOS is different from most traditional computer operating systems in that it does not support running programs locally and it does not contain a method for storing and accessing any files locally on the computer. What the operating system does do is provide a web browser that is designed to provide very quick access to web based applications. It also maintains a high level of security by keeping the functions of each web based application in its own “sand box”.

Over the last month I have been working almost exclusively using a prototype Chrome OS laptop, dubbed the CR-48, provided by Google. The computer is very light weight, very quick, and certainly optimized for running web based applications. Having already used Google’s Chrome browser on my other computers for the last few years, I found that upon first accessing ChromeOS all of my settings were automatically and instantly available to me. Simply by logging into the computer my email, calendar, and documents were displayed as tabs on my screen. The computer has worked flawlessly to provide fact access to not only these applications but also all of my cloud based emergency management applications. The fact that the computer supports not only WIFI but also includes a Verizon 3G data modem ensures that access to the internet is available virtually anywhere.

Perhaps one area that ChromeOS shines the most is that it has virtually no local settings, no files to misplace, and very few options to configure. In my experience one of the single largest hurdles during the initial phases of EOC activation is a scramble to provide IT support to agency representatives that are attempting to log in to their computers and access and find their data. By deploying ChromeOS as the primary operating system within an EOC, each representative can continue to access primary applications without the need for the IT support.

It is important to note that ChromeOS is not suitable to replace all computers within an EOC. Since local programs can not be run on these computers applications such as Hurrevac, ArcGIS, and others can not be run. This is likely not to be a problem for the vast majority of external agency representatives within the EOC however computers used for overhead display purposes and analytics by emergency managers will need to continue to run more traditional operating systems until such time that these applications can also be migrated to the cloud.


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