Is the Ubuntu Edge a good fit for the enterprise?

Canonical's head of engineering makes business and tech cases as to why a CXO should consider spending $80,000 on 100 unproven Ubuntu-Android 'superphones'

The tech community has been abuzz over the past week over Canoncial's Ubuntu Edge campaign -- enough so for a lively Ask Me Anything interview on Reddit with the company's CEO, Mark Shuttleworth. There's no denying that the company's vision of a cutting-edge "superphone" that doubles as a PC and that runs both desktop Ubuntu and Android is intriguing to gadget-loving geeks, open source advocates, and developers. While Canonical is understandably focused on securing buy-in from those groups, the company also has its sights set on a market that could make or break the project: enterprise users.

Just how eager is Canonical to secure enterprise backing? One of the packages (or "perks") in the company's $32 million Indiegogo campaign is called the Enterprise 100 Bundle. For $80,000, a contributor will receive "100 Ubuntu Edge smartphones, plus access to best-practice workshops and 30 days of online support to help CIOs and IT managers integrate Ubuntu for Android into the workplace."

The question, though, is whether enterprises are actually going to bite. Consider that Canonical has thus far convinced thousands of folks to fork over from $725 on up to $10,000 for individual phones -- but has not yet received a pledge for even one of the 50 Enterprise 100 Bundles it's offering.

Yes, it's still early in the campaign, and it's conceivable that a CXO or two out there is mulling the offer. But Canonical has a lot of work to do in convincing the enterprise of the business case for the Ubuntu Edge, which not only comprises a yet-unproven hardware concept -- a dockable quad-core smartphone that can double as a PC -- but that also runs a desktop OS that has barely managed to penetrate the business world.

InfoWorld challenged Canonical to lay out the business case for the Ubuntu Edge, both from a technology and financial perspective. The company's head of engineering Victor Palau (read: an actually in-the-trenches techie, not a marketing executive) accepted the challenge. What follows is an interview conducted via email between Palau and InfoWorld.

InfoWorld: Please tell us a bit about your role at Canonical.
Victor Palau: I head the engineering team at Canonical that delivers commercial projects together with our partners around Phone and Hyperscale products. Phone includes Ubuntu Phone, Ubuntu Edge, and Ubuntu for Android. Hyperscale are servers made with thousands of mobile phone chipsets.

At a high level, why should the CEO of a Fortune 500 company consider spending $80,000 on the Enterprise 100 Bundle of Ubuntu Edges?
For a simple reason: It will reduce her hardware and operational cost. Most sales executives and consultants are provided both a mobile phone (to be always connected) and an ultra-portable laptop. The laptop is normally required for productivity applications, reviewing sales forecast, writing proposals. High-end hardware is normally chosen because the user needs long battery life and a very portable solution.

A converged phone like Ubuntu Edge is a much more economical solution both in terms of hardware and for running operational cost. You can have a single data plan without having to train the user on how to set a Wi-Fi hotspot on their phones. You've simplified to only require a single device management strategy. And finally, you can remote wipe any data on the Ubuntu Edge, something which is hard to do with laptops.

How about from the CTO's perspective? What's the tech case for replacing, for example, each users' Windows laptop and iPhone with a single "super" smartphone that runs Ubuntu and Android?
A CTO will be looking at future technologies, such as OpenStack and software as a service, and probably finding that his users will be late to adopt them because they would prefer to use well-known, highly inefficient Windows clients. Ubuntu Edge is a change agent, which not only encourages higher mobility, but will also drive faster adoption of SaaS via either Remote Desktop technologies (when docked to a monitor) or standard Web 2.0 business applications like Salesforce that can be easily accessed from both platforms (Ubuntu and Android).

And from the CFO's perspective? Will this somehow make the bean counters in accounting happy? Or is this not about cost savings?
Yes, this will make CFOs quite happy. As mentioned, there are large operational and hardware savings associated with mobile convergence -- especially if you look to a future where employees are sourcing their own phones.

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