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IBM shifts software price for dual-core x86 chips

Big Blue says dual-core processors count as single CPU in software licensing--but only for x86 systems, not for IBM Power5-based ones.

IBM is a dualist when it comes to software licensing and dual-core processors.

The same week that Intel and Advanced Micro Devices introduced dual-core processors, IBM said that it will price its server software as if these x86 dual-core chips were a single processor. Until now, IBM has said that a dual-core processor would count as two CPUs (central processing units) when calculating the cost of server software.

For IBM's own dual-core processors for servers, however, the company will continue to charge for software as if each core were a separate processor. That's because IBM servers based on its dual-core Power5 processor are more sophisticated and customers have optimized their software to take full advantage of the Power5, an IBM representative said Thursday.

"Technically our definition remains the same--two cores (are) two processors--but we?re coming at it with a performance-based approach," the representative said. "With the x86, while customers get a boost in power, for right now the advances are incremental, and we will license accordingly."

And while the dual-core processors from Intel and AMD are coming out now, IBM's dual-core Power5 is a "third generation" chip that has been out for a few years.

The change in IBM's licensing practices demonstrates the variety of licensing practices among companies when it comes to multicore processors.

Chip manufacturers endorse the idea that multicore processors--which place more than one processor on the same piece of silicon--are just the latest advance in chip technology and that licensing practices should not change.

Back-end server software, such as databases, is often priced on a per-CPU basis, which means that customers could end up paying significantly more in software licenses for servers with dual-core processors.

Microsoft weighed in on the debate last year, saying that a dual-core processor will count as a single chip for its server software products. Oracle, meanwhile, says that customers need to pay for two licenses for server software that runs on a dual-core processor.

IBM's Power5 is used for high-end servers. For lower-end servers, it also has a Power processor line optimized for running Linux that is called OpenPower. Server software for dual-core OpenPower processors will be priced as if they were a single processor.