Hewlett-Packard will, after all, provide security Relevant Products/Services and safety updates to all of its server customers. The turnaround follows negative customer Relevant Products/Services feedback after the company recently decided to limit all firmware updates just to those customers with warranties or a support agreement. However, HP will start charging for firmware updates for its ProLiant line of servers.

On Friday, Vice President for HP Servers/Support Mary McCoy announced on the HP Technical Support Services Blog that the company will “provide firmware updates through the HP Support Center only to customers with a valid warranty, Care Pack Service or support agreement.”

She said the decision was part of the company’s goal “to provide access to the latest HP firmware, which is valuable intellectual property, for our customers who have chosen to maximize and protect Relevant Products/Services their IT investments.” McCoy acknowledged the decision was “a change from how we’ve done business Relevant Products/Services in the past,” but added that it was the “right decision” and aligned with industry best practices.

‘Not in a Good Way’

Comments on HP’s own blog reflected customer outrage. A user posting as William Plein wrote that he found “this move amazing, and not in a good way.” He added that other major server vendors do not have such a policy, making “firmware and driver downloads available free of charge without requiring a service contract.”

Another user, Michael Graziano, posted that “IBM for example continues to make firmware updates available to the general public.” Yet another, Joe Belian, said that firmware is intended “to fix functionality over 90 percent of the time,” not to add features.

Dell provides unrestricted access to BIOS and software Relevant Products/Services updates for its entire line, and Cisco Relevant Products/Services requires only registration. However, in January, IBM began an “entitlement validation” for firmware on selected machines.

On Tuesday, McCoy posted again on the HP site. She noted that the firmware access changes to be made February 19 only apply to HP ProLiant servers, but added that “updates addressing security and safety are important for your business” and the company will “continue to provide those updates to all server users.”

‘Not Measurably a Difference’

No “entitlement requirements” will be put on iLO, I/O, or controller firmware, she said, with entitlement restrictions only for ProLiant system ROM and complex programming logic devices firmware. The ProLiant server line runs from low-end servers for small business to enterprise Relevant Products/Services-class products.

McCoy pointed out that a warranty “is our promise to correct issues for some period of time, including those that can be addressed with new firmware,” and added that sales of warranties and support services allows the company to make ongoing investments in product development and upkeep.

Some HP-watchers contend that the move was made to undercut third-party support providers, who can download firmware updates at no charge and undercut the pricing for support by HP or its official partners.

Charles King, principal analyst with industry research firm Pund-IT, told us “there is not measurably a difference” between security and safety firmware, and other kinds. “Both are still software for the system to operate in an optimal manner,” he said.