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IBM this week reached out to customers and reminded them that its software pricing model is bat-shit crazy.

In a letter to customers, IBM detailed the software pricing scheme for its new Power6-based servers. We're going to do our best to walk you through the pricing structure. Please remove all sharp objects from your desk and pull out your abacus.

Power6 server software will require 120 Processor Value Units (PVUs) per core. That's up from 100 PVUs per core with the dual-core Power5 chips. In something resembling humanspeak, this means you'll have to pay for 1.2 software licenses per core, which is great if you buy software by the fifth.

IBM has assured customers that the .2 premium is worth their while. After all, the Power6 obliterates most of the software tested so far. So, you pay a bit extra for a whole lot more horsepower.

What IBM doesn't assure customers is that its pricing model looks more outdated than Loni Anderson spread across May in a pin-up calendar. Per core? Per socket? Forget that. IBM talks only in PVUs.

IBM concocted the PVU concept last July, after struggling for years to come to terms with multi-core chips. The giant is not about to sacrifice lucrative software revenue just because improvements in chip making let vendors squeeze more cores on every CPU.

These days, most of the high-end server chips such as IBM's own Power5s, Sun's UltraSPARC and Intel's Itanium count as 100 PVUs per core. Meanwhile, the x86 crowd comes in at 50 PVUs per core. Then, you have odd-balls like Sun's eight-core UltraSPARC T1, which counts as 30 PVUs per core.

Most software vendors have had the decency to settle on a per-socket basis for their pricing schemes, ignoring the number of cores per chip. Meanwhile, IBM and Oracle, the vendors with the most to lose, prefer to keep you in a state of pricing confusion.

To its credit, Oracle in March went the per socket route with low-end software, hoping to remain competitive with Microsoft. Sadly, Oracle still uses a Processor Factor metric sort of similar to IBM's model for most of its products.

With a little more work, IBM and Oracle should be able to make it near impossible to compare their software costs against each other, which would be a real win-win for the vendors.

You can see all of IBM's PVUs here. ®

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