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Superdome service is mandatory, admits HP

Just like we told you...

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Superdome, Hewlett-Packard's new top-of-the-range 9000 series servers, will come with a mandatory service contract, as we reported on Tuesday.

That isn't quite how HP's promotional video for Superdome presents it, however. "For those customers choosing [our emphasis] to partner with HP for operational excellence, two additional configurations exist," runs the commentary, "adding the support and services in high-availability mission critical environments."

But that choice doesn't really exist.

Services are part of the "complete solution", says HP. And Nick van der Zweep an executive with the company's business critical division tells us "we will not allow a Superdome to be sold by a contract to unbundle some of these services". HP will sell the new servers directly or through channel partners, he says, "but one of the minimums is that we deliver the service with Superdome".

"Choice is a good thing," noted IDC analyst Dan Kusnetzky when we ran the details past him on Monday, hours before the official Superdome launch in New York.

Mandatory service is bound to conjure memories of the bad old days of IBM and the dwarves, when such contracts were routinely used to inflate vendors' margins and prevent customers themselves from opening the box to perform upgrades. Several adopted the ploy of including next year's upgrade in the box, pre-installed but disabled, which could only be activated by an "authorized service engineer". In the case of EMC in fact, those bad old days are still around.

Given these connotations, HP's choice of phrase here - "closed loop solution management" - is um, a bit unfortunate.

Van der Zweep says the service bundle is no different to what rivals IBM and Sun demand, this ain't always the case, and in fact isn't what other parts of HP have been telling us, as we noted on Tuesday.

In fact for Superdome's high end customers this loss of choice may well go unnoticed. As befits its reputation as one of Silicon Valley's more ethical companies, HP enforces its services policies pretty rigorously, adheres to a chip-swap rather than box-swap upgrade strategy, and adds Van der Zweep, customers must sign off to indicate that they're satisfied with an installation before HP's sales force is paid.

But if the company forces mandatory service contracts for other servers further down the range, it would need to tread carefully to avoid complaints from customers who are already happy thank you, with their own third-party contracts, and HP's own channel.

All of which detracts from the fact that Superdome really looks like very nice kit indeed, but more of that tomorrow. ®

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