HP Takes Aim at Small Biz

PC subscription pricing model is geared to help small-business owners set up shop on the Web

Hewlett-Packard Co. earlier this month became the first large PC maker to try its hand at the nascent PC subscription utility-based computing model.

The Palo Alto, Calif., vendor announced several installation and support services wrapped around its hardware and primarily Microsoft Corp. software for small- to midsize businesses.

It joins startups Everdream Corp., of Fremont, Calif., and CenterBeam Inc., of Santa Clara, Calif., in the emerging monthly subscription-based pricing model for combined desktop computing and services.

HP is an investor in Everdream, which uses HP hardware in its branded offering. HPs own offerings—one for desktops and one for Web servers—will incorporate some Everdream capabilities, according to Michael Weir, general manager of HPs Small and Medium-sized Business Group, in Cupertino, Calif.

"Were leveraging [Everdreams] call management, call routing and call dispatching capabilities," Weir said. "Our service is HP. Youll get an HP rep on the phone and HP body [for on-site support]."

The HP Extended Office service, designed to support one to 20 seats, calls for the use of HP software, Microsoft Office Professional 2000 applications, Internet services and HP support. It includes Vectra desktop PCs or OmniBook notebooks.

The HP software includes automatic software updates, software management and self-healing software to simplify support. The service also includes online backup, virus protection and online training.

Round-the-clock support is provided, with guaranteed 90-second phone response or 4-hour e-mail response. The offering is priced at $169 per seat for Vectra desktops and $229 per seat for OmniBooks.

"I am [comfortable with HP], and I think theyre well-respected in the industry," said beta tester C.W. Price, IT and sales manager at Atlantic Drilling Supply Inc., in Orlando, Fla. "If it was just me and not the company, I might try [a service from an unknown provider], but I dont want to drag our company into something thats going to create more problems."

The market today is about $10 million to $20 million annually for PC subscription services for small- to midsize businesses, but that could grow to $20 billion with the right mix of pricing, features, delivery and education, according to analysts at Access Markets International Partners Inc., a market research company in New York.

The HP Web Services offering, broken down into four different packages, is designed to help small-business owners set up shop on the Web.