A computer program product, apparatus and method for processing a variable length device command word (DCW) at a control unit configured for communication with an input/output (I/O) subsystem in an I/O processing system. The computer program product includes a tangible storage medium readable by a processing circuit and storing instructions for execution by the processing circuit for performing a method. The method includes receiving a DCW at the control unit from the I/O subsystem. The DCW specifies one or more I/O operations and includes a command, a control data count, and control data having a varying length specified by the control data count. The control data is extracted in response to the control data count. The command is then executed in response to the extracted control data to perform the specified one or more I/O operations.