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PlayStation (Games) Sony Supercomputing The Military Games Linux

US Air Force Buying Another 2,200 PS3s 144

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.

  • 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.

  • Re:Wow (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @05:36AM (#30224050)

    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.

  • 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: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 ?


  • by AlecC ( 512609 ) <> on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @06:00AM (#30224172)

    Because at this scale, buying mass market complete systems is much cheaper because of the economies of scale. Parts sold as spares and replacement are priced much higher than complete systems.

  • 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:Wow (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @06:23AM (#30224320)

    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 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:Loss for Sony? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @09:05AM (#30225010)
    The PS2 hardware became profitable at the point they integrated the EE and GS into once chip. That was long before the PS3.
  • by DJRumpy ( 1345787 ) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @09:20AM (#30225078)

    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 someone at Sony saw the potential for a very large customer and supplied it without the need for any threats.

  • by jeffmeden ( 135043 ) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @10:15AM (#30225520) Homepage Journal

    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 supercomputer for a fraction of what a legit one would cost. This is nothing more than a well publicized exercise in unconventional supercomputing on a shoestring. Hats off to the Air Force, I for one am looking forward to some nice pictures of row after row of glimmering black PS3s with heat ripples coming off of them.

  • Re:Loss for Sony? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DJRumpy ( 1345787 ) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @11:11AM (#30226096)

    And yet not one of these Links is based in fact. They are all best guesses.

    Just because something sounds good doesn't make it fact.

    The FACT is that Sony doesn't release their Production costs and never has. They could be getting substantial savings in bulk (or not). Quoting someones best guess isn't good enough and shouldn't be presented as fact.

  • Re:Loss for Sony? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Wednesday November 25, 2009 @11:36AM (#30226396)
    [Citation Needed] "Since Sony's strategy (like Microsoft's) is to sell the consoles below production costs and make money on the games..."

No problem is so large it can't be fit in somewhere.