HP says everything's great on financial slate
HP's customers push back on paid patches

HP scraps free-patch plan, demands support

Hewlett-Packard is ending a policy with decades of history for its enterprise computing users: The ability for anyone to download any patch for systems such as HP 3000s, HP-UX servers and other business critical systems. Free patches will be gone from HP's enterprise ecosystem by Sept. 17.

HP announced that a pay-only patch policy will begin on Sept. 17 "for Enterprise Servers, Storage, and Networking product lines. Products affected include Integrity servers, HP-UX, OpenVMS, Tru64 and any other products for which patches are available." HP's IT Response Center website will require a current HP support contract to download HP's repairs and enhancements for its systems.

The HP 3000 has no support contract option available from HP starting Jan. 1, so HP plans to make the system's owners deal with HP on a patch by patch basis. HP's been using the Time & Materials prices to make limited support services available starting next year. HP officials contacted for our story have failed to comment on how the change affects users of the server HP will not support in 2011.

An FAQ web page on the policy change mentions the HP 3000 in specific, but fails to offer detail except to contact HP.

Q. What happened to patches for OS releases which are no longer supported (MPE, HP-UX 10.x, etc)?

A: Patches for unsupported OSes are no longer offered via FTP. Please contact HP support for assistance (charges may apply)

Few customers who've weighed in on the change have been surprised at HP's intentions, but many don't see this as any good for a 3000 community just learning of the new patch practices. "This is not good," said Allegro Consultants president Steve Cooper, whose company supports HP 3000, HP-UX and Sun enterprise users, among others. "They are following Oracle's moves now, trying to put all third-party maintenance companies out of business. Starting a month from now, you have to have a current software contract with HP to obtain patches."

Cooper noted earlier this year that Oracle had turned the patch and software pricing model upside down, making the Sun Solaris environment free, but turning all patches into a paid-only commodity. HP explains its pricing change from all-free to all-paid by saying that it's moving to industry-standard practices.

This change brings HP in alignment with accepted industry practices for software patch delivery and ensures entitled customers and partners are provided with the most current software patches for their IT environment. In addition, standardizing on key patch availability services reduces structural cost and enables HP to provide better support on the standardized access points.

HP's policies cover all of its Enterprise Storage, Server and Networking product lines, including the HP-UX Integrity systems and HP ProLiant servers. The ESS group was the only HP business sector which continued to post lower sales in the company's latest quarterly report.

The revenue of a support contract has typically gone to HP's support divisions. HP 3000 customers complained to their vendor about this disbursement in the 1990s, when few HP 3000 problems generated a need for support expenditures, but the 3000 division had a severe need for enhancement and development funding.

HP is ending all FTP download access for the patches while it starts payment for access through the HP ITRC. "Customers should check their existing support agreements to confirm they are covered, or they may obtain a valid support agreement with software update support," it stated on the web page.

An email to users who get HP's critical and recommended patch notices says that "Patch access will be through the ITRC support portal. You need to have a valid ITRC user ID and password and will now also need an active HP support agreement that includes Software Updates linked to your ITRC profile to access Patch content and services. We urge you to review your current support coverage now to ensure you have valid coverage and can maintain uninterrupted access to Patch." A Web link takes concerned customers to a chat session with HP representatives.

A software media update level of support -- for the sites which can still order one for their server -- appears to satisfy HP's new need for support money.

Valid support agreements must contain at least one of the following Offers:

    • HP Software Updates Service
    • HP License Subscription Service
    • HP SW Media and Documentation Updates Service 

It's not clear right now if having an HP support agreement for any of the enterprise systems would enable a customer to gain access to HP 3000 MPE/iX patches. HP hasn't created a patch for the system in two years, and the company shut down its HP 3000 development lab at the end of 2008.