After Hours

PS3 supercomputer illustrates innovative IT cost savings

During the current economic downturn, organizations are turning to IT for innovative ways to cut costs. Several computer scientists have developed a unique money-saving technique--cluster Sony PlayStation 3 game systems into cheap supercomputers.

During the current economic downturn, organizations are turning to IT for innovative ways to cut costs. Several computer scientists have developed a unique money-saving technique--cluster Sony PlayStation 3 game systems into cheap supercomputers.

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Back in 2007, Dr. Frank Mueller, an associate professor of computer science at North Carolina State University, created a supercomputing cluster of eight Sony PS3 systems. At the time, Mueller was quoted by NC State University's Engineering News as saying, "Places like Google, the stock market, automotive design companies and scientist use clusters, but this is the first academic computer cluster built from PlayStation 3s."

Computer scientists at The University of Alabama in Huntsville and the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, have taken the clustering idea a step further and recently published research using simulations run on the Sony game systems. Dr. Gaurav Khanna, an assistant physics professor UMass Dartmouth, and Dr. Lior Burko, an assistant physics professor at UAHuntsville, used a cluster of 16 PlayStation 3s, dubbed the PS3 Gravity Grid, to simulate a vibrating black hole and determine the speed at which it stops vibrating.

Why use PS3s and not a traditional supercomputing platform, such as the National Science Foundation's TeraGrid? Cost. In a PhysOrg.com article on the PS3 project, Burko was quoted as saying "If we had rented computing time from a supercomputer center it would have cost us about $5,000 to run our simulation one time." And, for their experiment, Khanna and Burko needed to run the simulation dozens of times. Considering a new 80GB PS3 retails for about $400, the 16 PS3s needed for Khanna's cluster would cost around $6,400. For just over the cost of a single run, researchers were able to build a resource that they could use over and over again.

For more information on the PS3 Gravity Grid, its limitations, and instructions on how to build your own PS3 cluster, check out the following resources:

Getting creative

With organizations freezing or reducing their budgets, IT departments are tightening their belts. Many are following tried-and-true cost-cutting measures--delaying or canceling projects, increasing the lifespan of hardware and software, and laying off staff. These techniques can be effective, but aren't the only ways to trim your budget--as illustrated by the clustering of PS3s into low-cost supercomputers.

Have you come up with an innovative solution that's saving your company money? Let us know about your ideas in this article's discussion thread.

About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

13 comments
salena.kutrova
salena.kutrova

Some financial institutions offer online-only savings accounts. These usually pay higher interest rates and sometimes carry higher security restrictions. Savings

salena.kutrova
salena.kutrova

Some financial institutions offer online-only savings accounts. These usually pay higher interest rates and sometimes carry higher security restrictions. Savings

PrinceGaz
PrinceGaz

Given that Sony are still more-or-less only breaking even at best on sales of the PS3 console itself, and rely on game sales for it to actually make money, the last thing they'll want are large numbers of PS3 consoles being bought which will never have a single game played on them. Serves them right really for using a chip which was ill-suited to gaming from the start. The Cell processor (even in its 6 SPE available version in the PS3) is a very good middle-ground for a cheap HPC, between pure CPU architectures which are more flexible but relatively slow, and GPGPU usage which is still quite limited in scope but blazingly fast with what they can be made to do. I suppose it isn't all bad news for Sony though. At least the sales figures for the PS3 won't be quite so bad as they are now, if they started being bought in bulk for HPC clusters. Even if they don't sell any games for them.

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

How is this different than a 16 core server? I would think that building a server with 4 quad core processors would be in the same price range, provide a similar processing capability and be easier to manage. Bill

pgit
pgit

A few years back I recall reading a shipment of PS2s had been intercepted on their way to Iraq. At the time it was violation of export law because they could be used in a "weapons of mass destruction" program. I recall the article mentioned they could be clustered to make a "supercomputer," but the story fell dead swiftly and there was no follow up on the idea of clustering cheap processors to manifest "supercomputing." Like a cat was let out of the bag but allowed to slink off quietly into the night. So this has obviously been doable for a long while. Why are we hearing of this "first" now? Is it because the bad boys are designing nukes with wirelessly clustered Blackberries nowadays? Are 50 clustered NVidia graphics adapters calculating missile trajectories in North Korea at the moment?

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

During the current economic downturn, organizations are turning to IT for innovative ways to cut costs. Several computer scientists have developed a unique money-saving technique?cluster Sony PlayStation 3 game systems into cheap supercomputers. Original blog post: http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/itdojo/?p=359 Have you come up with an innovative solution that?s saving your company money?

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

If you are into podcast or not, but Steve Gibson has all sorts of really good ones where he and Leo Laporte talk about SSL and all of its intricacies: http://www.grc.com/securitynow.htm As an aside, I don't miss one of these weekly podcasts.

---TK---
---TK---

I knew I saw it on here, I just couldn't remember where... Great read by the way... lol gave me a bit of a headache when I was reading about the "hash function background" (http://www.win.tue.nl/hashclash/rogue-ca/)... but I pushed through :)

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