Gartner claims the move to multicore-chip architectures, virtualized hardware and utility computing threatens existing capacity-based, or CPU-based, licensing agreements offered by the major software vendors.
Andy Butler, a research director at Gartner, said the software industry is failing to reflect the hardware changes in its licensing policies.
"There is some movement on the part of vendors such as BEA and Microsoft to address multicore architectures, but generally there is no word from the software vendors on how to restructure their software licensing," he said.
Butler said that conversations with the likes of IBM and Oracle about licensing for virtual machines--where an individual server is partitioned into "virtual" machines--are met with "intransigence and inflexibility."
This means software prices could rise by at least 50 percent by 2006. An example of a user upgrading to dual-core chip hardware shows they would pay double the CPU fee, despite only gaining a 50 percent improvement in performance, according to Gartner.
Large corporations are likely to have more bargaining power with the software industry than small companies, according to Butler.
"The big organizations will be less exposed, but the ones really exposed are the small and medium businesses," he said.
The other two main hardware trends that will force software prices up are "capacity on demand" and "rapid provisioning" tools, which move software between servers with more or less capacity based on workload requirements.
Gartner warns that the convergence of these trends will accelerate the issue of software pricing and that end-user companies should initiate discussions with vendors now.
Andy McCue of Silicon.com reported from London.