Department of Defense Buys 2,200 PS3s to Upgrade Supercomputer

Illustration for article titled Department of Defense Buys 2,200 PS3s to Upgrade Supercomputer

Apparently the Department of Defense believes that PS3s are a better value when it comes to supercomputers than IBM products specifically designed for the purpose. Granted recent price drops probably didn't hurt in justifying a 2,200 console order either.

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This isn't the first time that the DoD is using PS3 consoles for supercomputing. In fact, these 2,200 units are going to be added to an existing Linux cluster of 336 PS3s used by the United States Air Force. According to Justification Review Documents, the purchase is all about getting the best value out the DoD's budget:

With respect to cell processors, a single 1U server configured with two 3.2GHz cell processors can cost up to $8K while two Sony PS3s cost approximately $600. Though a single 3.2 GHz cell processor can deliver over 200 GFLOPS, whereas the Sony PS3 configuration delivers approximately 150 GFLOPS, the approximately tenfold cost difference per GFLOP makes the Sony PS3 the only viable technology for HPC applications.

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I'm all for balancing cost and features, but isn't it just a bit curious that someone thought to save on upgrading the supercomputer just after Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 was released? [Ars Technica via Boing Boing]

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DISCUSSION

There's certainly some questionable logic in that justification, while I have no doubt that buying a PS3 is cheaper than buying an equivalently configured server with CBE processors the economic comparison is flawed. First off in a brief search I can find nobody making 1U rack mount servers with CBE in them, the only option seems to be the IBM QS blades which are 7 blades to a 9U chassis, but each blade has a minimum of 2GB RAM (vs 256MB in the PS3) and a LOT more I/O bandwidth. I'd be willing to bet that most of what they save in hardware acquisition costs they turn around and lose in extra spend on custom made racking and on network switches and power distribution. Not to mention that 2200 PS3 are going to run WAY hotter than 1100 QS22 blades.