Many organizations choose not to buy extended warranty coverage on HP server hardware due to cost. But, despite the warranty expiration, server customers have still been able to still obtain hardware fixes in the form of firmware updates and service packs, freely downloadable from the HP web site. As of February 2014 HP has changed who can access the supplied hardware fixes. Now, to get access to firmware updates and Service Packs for ProLiant (SPPs), customers must have an active contractual support agreement, HP Care Pack service, or warranty.
Many customers were caught by surprise, receiving emails directly from HP to communicate the changes. The email linked to a Firmware Update Access for HP ProLiant Server web page HERE.
HP has created a new categorization in their downloads center called "Firmware (Entitlement Required)" and when customers attempt to access the updates, the web site will first verify that customer's HP Support Center User ID is linked to an existing contract or the registered equipment is under warranty.
There are many vendors who do something similar, so the practice is not unusual. However, what is unusual is how many customers were caught unaware. And, also disturbing is that this seems to be just a first step. The fine print suggests this is just the beginning and that more product categories will soon also require paid contracts for support:
Over time, more areas in the HP Support Center will be similarly changed so that access to support materials is co-extensive to your warranty or support agreements entitlements.
HP suggests that the change is to bring the company more in line with current industry practices for support and that the support modifications are to provide customers with better service. To me, this stinks more of cost-cutting than improved support services. Many are aware that the PC market has shrunk over the past couple years, but so has the server market. Fewer server sales mean less opportunity to keep free support services. It's obvious.
The Cloud is somewhat to blame for decreasing server sales, so in a way, HP is a victim of its own direction. Those companies that are virtualizing more, need fewer servers, and those that are moving to the Cloud for apps and services don't need to buy new servers at all. HP has been in a major push to sell its "Converged Cloud," Cloud management infrastructure, and Cloud OS for a couple years.