HP Clarifies New Firmware Policy for ProLiant Users

The vendor will continue offering security and safety patches for free, but says warranties help HP pay for innovations around firmware.

Hewlett-Packard officials are looking to clarify details in a new company policy regarding firmware updates for its ProLiant servers that has generated significant negative backlash in the media and on social networks.

In a blog post earlier in the week, Mary McCoy, vice president of support technology services for HP servers, wrote that as of Feb. 19, the company would no longer provide firmware updates for systems that are not under warranty, are not part of an HP Care Pack subscription or are not covered by a support agreement.

Previously, any customer with an x86-based ProLiant system could receive firmware updates for free, regardless of whether the server was under warranty.

McCoy wrote in her initial blog that the change was in keeping with industry standards—a point that at least one industry consultant disputed—and was made with the best interests of all parties in mind.

"This decision reinforces our goal to provide access to the latest HP firmware, which is valuable intellectual property, for our customers who have chosen to maximize and protect their IT investments," she wrote. "We know this is a change from how we've done business in the past; however, this aligns with industry best practices and is the right decision for our customers and partners."

Many customers didn't seem to agree. In comments to a previous story on the issue in eWEEK, one person wrote: "Customer for over 20 years, this is just useless. Already affecting operations in my small shop."

Another person said the move was enough to make him or her look to other server vendors.

"This is straight out an HP money grab and/or forcing obsolescence of their hardware; this 'protecting our IP' and 'aligning with industry practices' line is a laughable cover excuse," the HP customer wrote, adding that HP support contracts can cost their company as much as $250,000 a year. "Fortunately Dell, IBM/Lenovo and Cisco are smarter than to try and shake down their customers like this, so for us we'll shortly [be] looking for alternate suppliers and replacing our HP servers."

IBM—which is in the process of selling its x86 server business to Lenovo—also requires a warranty for firmware updates, while Dell allows free downloads and Cisco Systems requires the customer to log in before receiving the updates.

In a second blog post Feb. 12, McCoy said she had "been reading with interest the responses to my earlier blog on HP firmware availability" and hoped to provide more context around the decision. She noted that developing new firmware means HP has to invest in developing new IP, and warranties help pay for that.

"It is through the sales of warranty in the product, and sales of support services after the warranty, that we are able to invest to create great customer experiences with our products," McCoy wrote. "Naturally we don't ask customers to buy support as that is their choice."

She then pointed to a list of frequently asked questions that HP had put out initially, and highlighted several of the questions, noting that the vendor will continue to provide security and safety patches to all server customers without charge.