HP's Sudden Firmware Update Policy Revision Shakes Customer Trust

NEWS ANALYSIS: HP said some things that were just plain silly when it announced that it would require an active support agreement for ProLiant server firmware updates.

When a big company such as HP needs to issue a clarification in response to customer outrage over a new policy, you can bet at least part of the outrage was due to a lack of thought somewhere in the process. Let's face it, big companies don't get big by infuriating their customers, and HP is among the biggest.

What happened with the ProLiant firmware debacle is a series of poorly thought-out events on the part of HP vice president Mary McCoy who is in charge of supporting the company's server products. It's easy to follow the missteps. First, the company issued a new policy on support without warning. Longtime customers were accustomed to receiving certain types of free updates. Now suddenly they weren't.

To make matters worse, the announcement took place only a few days before it took effect, leaving HP customers with no time to make adjustments. On top of that, the blog entry that McCoy used to make the announcement was poorly worded, and made statements there simply weren't true. If you parse the blog entry, it looks like something written here in Washington, DC, by a bureaucrat that's raising your taxes while claiming that they're being lowered.

Making matters worse was a clarification that was long on excuses and short on actual information. Basically, what McCoy said is that customers were going to have to pay for support that had previously been free, and if they don't like it, too bad. And oh, by the way, those new charges start this week, long before you have time to consider them in your IT budget.

Much of the reason is because HP customers had assumed that support for actions such as firmware upgrades would continue to be free because they always had been free. To some customers it was a significant reason for choosing HP over IBM. For others it's a change of policy for support of an asset that they purchased with different assumptions. Either way, it smacks of unfairness.

This is not to suggest that HP shouldn't require a support agreement of some kind for things like firmware enhancements. There are good reasons why it's actually a good idea. But customers are outraged not so much because it costs money, but because of the way it was handled.

Perhaps a better way would have been to change the warranty language on all new HP ProLiant servers to reflect the new policy, and then make sure that the changes were highlighted. That way customer may not love the new costs, but they won't feel that HP is pulling a fast one.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...