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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...

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