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HP's Questionable Server Update Policy Backfires Twice

By - Source: Toms IT Pro

Hewlett-Packard is clearing up some confusion around its new policy on firmware updates after a blog posted by an HP exec received negative comments. While the company is not reversing its position to charge for firmware updates after warranty, the new information does clarify some issues that customers have brought to light.

[ RELATED: HP Adds Restrictions on Server Patching ]

The original blog post titled Customers for life, written by Mary McCoy, VP of HP Servers Support, went live on February 9, indicating that HP will be providing access to firmware updates only to customers who had a valid warranty or had paid for HP's Care Pack Service or a support agreement. The policy will take effect on February 19, 2014.

In this blog post, McCoy indicated that "Our customers under warranty or support coverage will not need to pay for firmware access, and we are in no way trying to force customers into purchasing extended coverage. That is, and always will be, a customer's choice."

As questions arose and negative comments surfaced it became clear not everyone agreed with, or was happy with, McCoy's announcement. Other sites also commented on what some believed were inaccurate statements made by McCoy, especially her assertion that the change in policy "aligns with industry best practices."

In response to these comments, McCoy provided some clarification in a follow-up blog entry yesterday. Note that the blog appears to have gone through some edits today based on the time stamp, so some information may change over time.

McCoy's response was in a FAQ format; here's the abbreviated version:

     Q: What other HP products will be impacted?

     A: HP ProLiant servers only. We are only entitling ProLiant system ROM and complex programming logic devices (CPLD) firmware.

     Q: Will we charge for firmware updates after warranty?

     A: Yes.

     Q: If I am out of warranty and don't have a service contract, how will I get access to security and safety patches?

     A: Updates addressing security and safety will be provided to all server users.

The initial blog post did not specifically identify Proliant servers, so that clarification was useful information. However, HP did not reverse its position of charging for firmware updates after warranty. Additionally, McCoy's response regarding security and safety updates is unclear since many updates are cumulative and could include both security related as well as bug fixes within the same release.

Most companies buy maintenance on hardware at the time the hardware is purchased. Although it can be pricey, it is generally less expensive than paying out-of-pocket fees for parts and service calls to have a mission critical server, or other device, repaired. It is not much different than buying insurance. It would be great if it was never needed, but if something major breaks down then the IT staff should be glad it is in place.

However, there are times when it is not worth renewing extended maintenance. If a device is not mission critical, if it is close to end-of-life and is scheduled to be removed from service, or if replacing it would be less expensive than repairing it are all valid reasons for considering to put a device on "time and material" and forgo an expensive maintenance contract.

Maintenance and support is essential and most businesses are willing to shell out the money for a maintenance contract to cover hardware failures. HP's position that paying for firmware updates is "an industry best practice" is not standard across all vendors.

Being coerced into paying a fee to obtain something that was previously provided free will always create tension. What makes it more difficult for a business to accept is when it appears the vendor is simply leveraging a situation in an attempt to bump up their sales revenue by selling maintenance contracts.