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HP stirs up hornet’s nest with new server firmware policy

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This is probably not the sort of server news Hewlett Packard (s HPQ) wants customers to focus on, but there you have it: Proposed changes to how HP will offer server firmware upgrades mean that customers who are out of warranty and do not buy support will have to pay for some important updates going forward. ZDNet’s Ed Bott spotted the changes outlined in an HP blog post Monday. The HP post was titled, some might say ironically, “Customers for Life.”

The crux, per Mary McCoy, VP of servers and support for HP:

“[E]ffective February 19, 2014, we will provide firmware updates through the HP Support Center only to customers with a valid warranty, Care Pack Service or support agreement.”

The response of commenters to her post was, to put it mildly, unenthusiastic. HP’s stance is that these updates represent significant intellectual property, so they’re worth something. Commenters, however, pointed out that some HP server competitors, namely Dell, don’t charge for firmware upgrades. (Ouch.)   It’s unclear whether IBM charges for firmware updates for unsupported servers,  Update: IBM’s policy is, in fact, similar to HP’s. But then again IBM is exiting the X86-based server business where Proliant plays.

McCoy subsequently issued a clarification that said the paid firmware decision applies to ProLiant system ROM and complex programming logic devices (CPLD) firmware. Security patches will remain free, as will upgrades to HP’s iLO server management, I/O and controller firmware.

ZDnet’s Bott warned customers there’s another wrinkle here to watch out for:

“End users who buy from resellers may find their warranties reduced without their knowledge. This server, for example, was purchased in August 2012, but the warranty clock started ticking when the reseller purchased the hardware from HP the previous month. It would not have been eligible for the firmware update that enabled an OS upgrade just over a year later unless the owner paid for an extended service agreement.”

Selling servers is an increasingly margin-stressed rough-and-tumble business — which is why IBM is bowing out and is also why HP is trying to push its higher-end, pricier entries, including converged hardware. It’s also why it’s trying to find some additional revenue from what had been freebie Proliant updates. Still, as we have learned in other contexts, taking away something that has been free is always risky and probably worth reconsideration.

Note: This story was updated at 9:17 a.m. PST February 12 with information on IBM’s firmware update policy.

7 Responses to “HP stirs up hornet’s nest with new server firmware policy”

  1. It is actually very simple. Every day I find whoever gives the most pain ( costs, headache, stuff not working, silly ideas, etc ) among my hundreds of vendors in my pretty expansive budget. Whoever ends up on the top is put in a cross hairs and our interaction of us with that business fundamentally changes. Typically it means that the vendors that we used to spend lots of money on get their piece of a pie decreased by 80-90%. Do I need *firmware* daily? Nope. Weekly? Nope. But would I ever buy anything from a vendor which makes me jump through hoops to get it when there’s anyone who exists that does not? The answer is no.

  2. Switching vendors only kicks the can down the road. The core problem is that manufacturers, HP mostly recently, have decided to use claims of “IP” on firmware to sell more services.

    The moment any hardware is linked to “IP” – the IP controls the asset. Even a tiny IP claim is like being “a little bit pregnant”.

    Since policies can change overnight, buying equipment with good policies today does not really protect anyone.

    The best long-term protection is to support legislation (State or Federal) that allows all buyers of digital electronics to repair and extend the use of their purchased assets. IP just has to be separate and it most certainly should not be claimed after the purchase is complete.

  3. The real problem is that any vendor can do this at any moment. It is a breeze to claim “IP” for firmware and overnight every customer sees their asset turned into a non-negotiable license.

    Better to get behind legislation that requires manufacturers to allow post-warranty support, including firmware access, to all customers as a right of ownership. Licenses have to be separate or IP on the chip will always trump asset value.

    This is exactly the agreement the Auto Industry announced in January ending a decade of domination pushing car owners into “Dealer-Only” repair. We need the same for all digital electronics.