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PlayStation (Games) Sony Supercomputing The Military Games Linux

US Air Force Buying Another 2,200 PS3s 144

Posted by Soulskill
from the quick-who-knows-a-good-ps3-flight-sim dept.
bleedingpegasus sends word that the US Air Force will be grabbing up 2,200 new PlayStation 3 consoles for research into supercomputing. They already have a cluster made from 336 of the old-style (non-Slim) consoles, which they've used for a variety of purposes, including "processing multiple radar images into higher resolution composite images (known as synthetic aperture radar image formation), high-def video processing, and 'neuromorphic computing.'" According to the Justification Review Document (DOC), "Once the hardware configuration is implemented, software code will be developed in-house for cluster implementation utilizing a Linux-based operating software."
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US Air Force Buying Another 2,200 PS3s

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  • Wow (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @05:07AM (#30223914)

    Maybe someone should tell them the new ones don't run Linux.

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Pretty sure the link in the OP should say 'grabbing up 2,200 *more* PlayStation 3 consoles', not new as in slim. Nowhere in TFA does it say they'll be buying 'new' PS3s.

      • Re:Wow (Score:4, Funny)

        by Jeremiah Cornelius (137) * on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @11:16AM (#30226150) Homepage Journal

        So. Just in time for Xmas. The Airforce of the United States is depriving children of consoles at the peak of season?

        That's 2,200 children who will wake up, sad and dissapointed - with a boxing day that brings only an electric train set, or an iPod touch.

        I weep for the dead children in Afghanistan and the empty stockings of children on the American home front.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by shivamib (1034310)
      So much for a Beowulf cluster, then.
    • Re:Wow (Score:4, Funny)

      by Rik Sweeney (471717) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @05:57AM (#30224168) Homepage

      They already know they don't run Linux, they just to play Uncharted 2 and Demon's Souls.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by AbRASiON (589899) *

      That's a genuinely good point, I wonder if Sony would help them out on this or if they are getting the old one or what?
      I don't have much of a use for linux on mine TBH, it was far too goddamn slow (and I'm no linux guru) it really does need 1gb or more of ram, then she'd be fine.
      That being said, sucks for researchers who wanted this.

      • by Nursie (632944)

        I think they want some of these [ibm.com] really.

        Well, I wouldn't mind one or two to play with.

        (For those not interested in following the link, it's a blade style pizza-box server with dual (next-gen)Cell and up to 32GB of RAM)

        • by jargon82 (996613)
          it's not a pizza box at all, it is an actual blade server and requires a bladecenter... specifically a BladeCenter H, HT or S. With the H, you can get 14 of these babies in 9U of rack space, though. Make sure your cooling is up to the task!
        • by afidel (530433)
          That's what I was thinking, WTF are they buying PS3's with all the associated gaming hardware when the QS22 blades offer better MIPS/watt and MIPS/dollar when you are buying at those kinds of quantity.
          • I am guessing you can't pick up a Blade less than $200.
            • by afidel (530433)
              Nor can you pick up a PS3 for under $200, the slim is $300. More info, the QS22 provides 3 TFLOPS of double precision performance, the PS3 only 15GFLOPS, so you would need 200 PS3's to equal one QS22 for double precision math. The QS22 lists for $10,000 so with standard discounts ~$5,000 for a savings of ~$55,000 per QS22 =) Now if they are using single precision math it's a different story, the PS3 is rated at 1.2TFLOPS and the QS22 only 6.4TFLOPS so it's cheaper to go the PS3 route, though the QS22 might
              • Something tells me if I were buying 2200 units, I would not be paying full retail price.
                • by afidel (530433)
                  Since people keep stating that Sony is selling the PS3 at a loss and hoping for game attach rates I think you would be.
                  • Really? Do you think retailers like Best Buy and the like are making $0 profit, or do you think possibly they are getting some volume discounts?
          • by NFN_NLN (633283)

            That's what I was thinking, WTF are they buying PS3's with all the associated gaming hardware when the QS22 blades offer better MIPS/watt and MIPS/dollar when you are buying at those kinds of quantity.

            Sony subsidizes the console. Last I heard they had to sell 4-5 games before they broke even on a system. So basically the Air Force to burdening the rest of the gamer pool by not buying the equivalent 9,900 games they should as well!

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      My read on it is that the PS3 does not present a "boot other OS" option. That is different than "does not run Linux"

      • by PReDiToR (687141)
        You're right, but never let the truth stand in the way of a good old Slashbot whine.

        Sony deserves the moan though. Surely as time passes and parts get cheaper because they are still buying them in quantity the costs lower themselves. Sony (the arseholes) shouldn't need to keep taking parts out of their boxen and then selling them for the same price.

        DRM and this. Remind me why we bother with Sony at all?
    • by ciroknight (601098) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @06:37AM (#30224402)
      This is the US Government we're talking about. One of the few entities on the planet where "Budget" is virtually meaningless. Someone sneezes funny and a million dollars goes out the door. How much do you think it'd cost to financially compel Sony to enabling Linux installs on their machines? Exactly how much does a PS3 dev-kit license cost again? How hard to do you think it'd be to get a judge to sign some order compelling Sony to releasing the schematics to the US Government under NDA, so that they can write and maintain their own Linux loader for the machine?

      Even if the cost of the above was in the lower 8-digit range without the machines included, which I really doubt, it'd likely be cheaper to source these machines than it would be to develop your own hybrid compute node and software for it (or nVidia's crazy-expensive, less mature solution).

      Sony doesn't support Linux on these machines, which makes it practically impossible for the home user to boot Linux on them. (Well, tbh, 'improbable', look at how much reverse engineering has happened with the GameCube & Wii). But for someone with deep enough pockets, like say a government agency, it's almost trivial.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by DJRumpy (1345787)

        Sony is not an American company, but I'm sure they were more than happy offer up a boot loader considering how big a customer the the US government could become if they were given a little courtesy. I doubt the would have to resort to threats.

        As to the budget, it is not meaningless. They can be shut down without a proper budget, unless you missed the California meltdown, and all of the drama when it came to funding our troops. Budget and government are always very real hurdles.

        I think it's more likely that

        • They can be shut down without a proper budget, unless you missed the California meltdown, and all of the drama when it came to funding our troops. Budget and government are always very real hurdles.

          You're talking about the federal government and, technically, you're right. About every decade-and-a-half or so, Congress gets the budget so fouled up that the President refuses to sign a continuing order to keep the government working. At that point, the government technically stops. All non-essential person

        • by cusco (717999)
          US Gov't is already a big customer of Sony, they buy thousands of their p.o.s. security cameras a year, their even worse p.o.s. and gods-awful expensive DVRs, and a pile of their crappy wireless equipment. The Pentagram in particular seems to like their stuff, since it's designed to be used by the brain-dead.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jeffmeden (135043)

        If the budget really isn't in question, wouldn't they be looking into the blade server version of the cell processor, you know, the one that powers a good many of the supercomputers on the top500 list? As it is, this is PURELY a budget decision. Playstation 3 units at $300 per cpu node beats the HELL out of $1000-2000 or more per node for the conventional computing version. Add to that the fact that Sony still takes a loss on every PS3 unit that goes out the door, meaning it's basically a Sony subsidized

      • This is the US Government we're talking about. One of the few entities on the planet where "Budget" is virtually meaningless. Someone sneezes funny and a million dollars goes out the door.

        I'm a GS-12, I just sneezed funny. It was one of those "choo choo choo choo CHEEEEEEEEEEEEEESE" kind of sneazes. My boss, a GS-14 has put me in for a merit increase, I've been given 25 days of basket leave, and my budget for my new project was just doubled. Quick figuring...yes, a million dollars. I thank you for your tax

    • by Falcon4 (946292)

      They _will_ find a way. There's nothing the Air Force can't do. And that's not even including the "anything" that the US military can't do, either. With that many PS3's on their bill, paying a few hired-hacker Air Force guys to crack it open wouldn't be too hard.

      Then, they'll bring that capability to the masses as another "lol codmw2 suxx on pc give us DS" Airman drops the hack code onto the internet and everyone with a Slim benefits.

      Anything can run Linux. But the real feat would be seeing it run Windows!

      • by macshit (157376)

        Then, they'll bring that capability to the masses as another "lol codmw2 suxx on pc give us DS" Airman

        They want a DS port of codmw2?!

        Hmmm.... I'd buy that!

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by TheDarAve (513675)

      I just had a scary thought of instead of using linux, they just program a "UAV flight game" and leave them in various Air Force recreation centers.

    • The air force can get around that or they can get Sony to unlock that as well as giving them full gpu power as well.

    • What no legal action. Companies get pissed when we the users change hardware we buy to better suite our needs. I wonder if anyone will go after them for modding their devices. I want to hear no more complaints about modded devices such as my jailbroken iPhone. On another note thats such a waste of 2500 Blue ray drives.
    • by furby076 (1461805)
      So what? Just cause it ain't linux doesn't mean it won't do well.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by wagnerrp (1305589)
      If you check out the fbo.gov link in the article, it says they are purchasing units of the CECHP01 SKU, which is a 160GB/65nm variant of the old style which still offered OtherOS support.
    • Re:Wow (Score:4, Informative)

      by kriston (7886) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @02:03PM (#30228266) Homepage Journal

      Did we read the proposal linked from the article? It specifies PlayStation 3 model CECHP01 which does, indeed, run Linux. I wondered, though, how successful they are going to be at finding 2,200 units. Distributors are running out of new/old stock of this model, as many compute cluster builders are trying to get them before they're all gone.

      Here is the proposal for those who didn't actually bother to RFA:
      https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&mode=form&id=bac60f8808fa1e221597573901a7cd6b&tab=core&_cview=1&cck=1&au=&ck= [fbo.gov]

  • Does this mean that they'll be running Linux on the Slim?
    • by hcpxvi (773888)
      Does this mean that they'll be running Linux on the Slim?
      Neither TFA nor the justification document says explicitly whether they are buying slim or original, but I get the impression that they will be using the original (non-slim) PS3s.
  • Loss for Sony? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SlothDead (1251206) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @05:14AM (#30223948)

    Since Sony's strategy (like Microsoft's) is to sell the consoles below production costs and make money on the games I guess that they are now pretty angry about organizations buying PS3s solely for computing...

    • Re:Loss for Sony? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by RogueyWon (735973) * on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @05:32AM (#30224032) Journal

      This is only true for the start of a console cycle. By this point, Sony and MS should at worst be breaking even on console sales and probably having a bit of profit. Component prices fall dramatically over the course of the typical 5-year console cycle.

    • by cpscotti (1032676)
      OTOH, 2,200 consoles are really not a big issue for Sony and this really goes off as a GOOD publicity campaign!
      Like those kids discussing at the school:
      Harold: "My console is better than yours coz cheaters/modders can't play live!!"
      Kumar: "No! mine is better!! It is so much more powerful that the air force is using fields of those to kill the 'bad' guys!!"
    • Not only is this good publicity for Sony, but it boosts their sales numbers which makes the PS3 more attractive for planners at game dev houses scoping out which projects should target which consoles. That is small cash for big returns, as I'm guessing at this point Microsoft and Sony are far more concerned at winning game deals from each other than selling a few extra finished games.
    • I was wondering why they buy Japanese and not American hardware, thanks for providing this explanation.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by blind biker (1066130)

      Except that Sony is not selling them below production costs. It costs them about $250 apiece to produce.

      Also, if Sony wanted to be angry, "now" is too late already, because the Pande Group (home and founders of Folding@Home) has bought thousands of PS3s for running their protein folding algorithms.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by DJRumpy (1345787)

        [Citation Needed] "Except that Sony is not selling them below production costs. It costs them about $250 apiece to produce."

        • [Citation Needed]

          Some dude on /. wrote this [slashdot.org].

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by timeOday (582209)
          [Citation Needed] "Since Sony's strategy (like Microsoft's) is to sell the consoles below production costs and make money on the games..."
    • Since Sony's strategy (like Microsoft's) is to sell the consoles below production costs and make money on the games I guess that they are now pretty angry about organizations buying PS3s solely for computing...

      Ahhh, but Sony sold them at government rates [thefreelibrary.com].

    • It's very good publicity for the computing power of their console. It's probably better than any lame ad campaign they could do -- natural marketing. "Hey look, our game consoles are being used as a supercomputer by the most advanced military on Earth!" Then it's talked about on all the tech sites, and probably in some magazines and newspapers. That's certainly worth the bit of money they could lose.

      Besides, who knows what price they're actually paying? As a previous poster pointed out, current retail PS3'
    • by hmar (1203398)
      I'm not sure that this is the case. The marketing possibilities of the US Air Force using PS3s must be worth more than the hardware. I doubt anyone at Sony is particularly upset.
  • In the future... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Braintrust (449843)

    ...processing power will be purchased in units of physical volume.

    These units will be named something clever. They will come in different flavors.

    They will be designed as components; primarily used to comprise a greater whole.

  • Setting up a wickedly awesome lan party for Bad Company 2 [ea.com].
  • by Anonymous Coward

    were the 2,200 copies of the new Guitar Hero.

  • Why do they need the whole PS3.. why don't they just buy the individual components that they need rather than wasting money on all the useless stuff like controllers etc?
  • Cell processor (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Xest (935314) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @05:37AM (#30224054)

    We keep hearing these stories, and the reason is that the Cell processor is awesome for this type of work.

    Are we still at the point where we can't get hold of Cell processors for machines specifically designed for this sort of task? Isn't the PS3 a rather inefficient way of doing this rather than a purpose built system or grid of systems, or does it come down to cost in that a purpose built system would just cost far more than a bunch of PS3s? 2200 PS3s is still going to cost, what, half a million?

    Presumably it's not because they use the GPU as well because AFAIK Linux on the PS3 doesn't allow access to use the graphics card, or are they getting custom PS3s?

    There does certainly seem a big market for Cell systems so the future of Cell certainly seems promising in this respect.

    • Re:Cell processor (Score:4, Informative)

      by huge (52607) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @05:49AM (#30224124)

      Are we still at the point where we can't get hold of Cell processors for machines specifically designed for this sort of task?

      I haven't checked the details yet, but I was told that IBM QS21 [ibm.com] is Cell based blade system

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Nerdfest (867930)
        Nearest I could to a price find on that is about $7000. That will buy more than 20 PS3's. (Although the QS21 is a more powerful machine, with 2 cell processors).
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by STFS (671004)
        I'm not sure this data is valid still but according to http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2008/11/putting-the-ps3s-brain-to-work.ars [arstechnica.com] there is a huge difference between a PS3 and a QS21 blade in terms of price/performance... in favor of the PS3!!!

        Since most academic research groups are not overly flush with cash, the authors put these results in terms that someone holding the purse strings would understand. It terms of computing power per cost, the PS3 delivers 50,000 LUPS/dollar, the super high performance IBM QS20/QS21 runs at 3500 LUPS/dollar, while a quadcore desktop machine is capable of putting out 17,000 LUPS/dollar.

        However, there seems to be the issue with the memory though:

        The researchers point out that LB simulations take a large amount of RAM and, when moving to a three-dimensional simulation, the amount of RAM will become very important. Since the PS3 has only 256 MB of RAM, even moderately sized 3D grids could end up being written and read into swap memory, which would be a significant performance bottleneck.

        • In other words, if Sony would make the PS3's ram upgradeable, they could seriously enter the server market...?
    • Re:Cell processor (Score:5, Insightful)

      by emilper (826945) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @05:50AM (#30224132)

      They would buy Cell processors, but then then it would take an year and a half for the papers to be processed, six month for IBM and Dep.Def. to spec the systems, and about two years while competitors contest the order ... everything costing about 10 times as much for one half of the computing power, and would not be able to run much else besides floating point calculations.

      BTW, has anybody tried DwarfFortress on a PS3 ?

       

    • Re:Cell processor (Score:5, Insightful)

      by umghhh (965931) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @06:11AM (#30224238)
      I suppose if they ordered a system designed specifically for their purpose it would cost a dozen millions more on top of this half that you mentioned and then they still had to do in house software stated in the summary. So indeed they saved some - even if you consider all the military expense a nonsense anyway it was still half a mil wasted instead of a dozen.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Didn't you hear? IBM have effectively killed the Cell.

      End of the line for IBM's Cell
      IBM has revealed that the Cell processor line is an evolutionary dead-end. Some of the ideas behind it will live on, but the Cell family itself will not
      Ars Technica [arstechnica.com]

    • by khallow (566160)

      We keep hearing these stories, and the reason is that the Cell processor is awesome for this type of work.

      I think part of the reason for developing a machine with PS/3 units is simply to see what it can do. Both to compare it to other architectures like one using the Cell processor and to figure out what sort of computing power potential adversaries would have access to.

    • by furby076 (1461805)
      Ps3 is a rather efficient system and works well together on a network. They also want the high-res output and this thing has built-in blu ray. Couple that with the fact that Sony sells these systems below production cost and it becomes cheaper to buy these WORKING systems then to build your own.
  • The non-slim PS3s could run linux, but it was crippled you couldn't access the RSX directly. I'd say that these PS3s would be cheap slim models. At the very least, the USAF would have PS3 dev kits to let them write code that would access the RSX directly (not through some silly hypervisor). They probably even pulled a few strings and got Sony to change the PS3 system software to let them do what they want with the hardware.

    Some people have said that Sony must be pissed as they lose money on each sale, but 2

  • by upto0013 (1144677) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @06:11AM (#30224232)
    They should wait for Black Friday, nobody is going to fight the Air Force for a doorbuster...
  • Mon-tage...
  • by Anonymous Coward

    These systems are basically guaranteed to not have any software sales attached to it. The USAF is paying retail price, the $300 price tag per.

  • "Neuromorphic engineering is a new interdisciplinary discipline that takes inspiration from biology, physics, mathematics, computer science and engineering to design artificial neural systems, such as vision systems, head-eye systems, auditory processors, and autonomous robots, whose physical architecture and design principles are based on those of biological nervous systems." from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuromorphic [wikipedia.org]

    Anyone got any more links?
  • by Niubi (1578987)
    That's a lot of Playstations. I hope they bought them cheap from someplace like DubLi.
  • I don't know much anything about neuromorphic computing and synthetic aperture radar image formation etc, but wouldn't it be cheaper to use GPU's instead? Is there something about these type of computations that make the Cell a better fit? Or maybe it's that PS3s are easier to attach to the existing infrastructure?
    Someone please explain.
    • Take Folding@Home for example. While the GPU clients are very powerful, they are limited in the kinds of work units they can do. The PS3, however, while being less powerful is much more versatile in the kinds of work units it can do well.

  • I mean, where are they putting them all? Are they actually using them as PS3s (case, PSU and all), or are they ripping the motherboards out and shoving them in a rack of some kind? The former does sound like a rather romantic hack, but surely it is terribly inefficient with power requirements, cooling, cabling, etc?
     
    Or do they just not care because the project was such a bargain (compared to the alternatives)?

  • Amazing! (Score:3, Funny)

    by bytethese (1372715) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @09:53AM (#30225314)
    I didn't know Skynet was made of PS3's...
    • And the kicker: Terminator 2 was distributed by TriStar Pictures, a Sony company. The first Terminator was distributed by Orion Pictures, part of MGM, part of Sony.
    • Were there any hacked PS3's included. That could be part of the problem.

      For some reason, that weird robotic hand, that we found in what looked like a battle field, has also started acting odd. Almost like it has a mind of it's own. We better check the reverse engineered drivers when we get a chance. Maybe we'll find something useful to do with it, instead of just having it make rude gestures..

  • So they need a few boards with Cell processors, some memory and probably a NIC. But instead they buy a box, that contains also a blue-ray drive, a hard drive, WiFi, Audio subsystem, Graphics acceleration, a couple of fancy dual-shock 3 controllers, etc...but...oh...yes, they get all this things they don't need with a discount. Cool! Who knows, maybe some day they can use this dual-shock 3 controllers to control their UAVs...
    • And, having purchased the complete system instead of the board, they save $6300 on each CPU included in the cluster. Plus, when they are done with the system, a lot of Air Force kids are going to have a great Christmas.

  • ...unless that research is playing Tekken 6 in the barracks.
  • Doesn't Sony have some terms of agreement that would prohibit the use of their console for things not related to gaming? I mean, isn't there some form of reverse engineering happening in order to write software using all these PS3s? I'm pretty sure if any normal Joe decided to use 4 or 5 PS3s for something other than it was meant to, there would be a lawsuit coming up so fast.....
    • by FlyingGuy (989135)

      US Air Force - Uhmm Hey Sony, we will by 2,200 of these baby's from you cause we think they can really do the thing we want. If they really really does the thing we want we will by 220,000 of them next cycle.

      Sony - Ohhh thank you very much!

      US Air Force - Now about that pesky EULA?

      Sony - What is this Eee You La you speak of?

      US Air Force - Thank you very much

  • I can't wait to see a Beowolf cluster of one of these... oh wait...
    Sorry.

    Couldn't help it.

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