Scientists Write Guide to Build Supercomputer from Sony Playstation 3

Dec 17, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- UMass Dartmouth Physics Professor Gaurav Khanna and UMass Dartmouth Principal Investigator Chris Poulin have created a step-by-step guide to building a home-brewed supercomputer that can reduce the cost of university and general computing research.

Found at www.ps3cluster.org , the resource fully illustrates how to create a fully functioning and high performance supercomputer with the Sony Playstation 3.

Last year, Khanna’s construction of a small supercomputer using eight Sony-donated Playstation 3 gaming consoles made headlines nationwide in the scientific community. On the consoles, he is solving complex equations designed to predict the properties of gravitational waves generated by the black holes located at the center of the galaxies.

“Science budgets have been significantly dropping over the last decade,” Khanna said. “Here’s a way that people can do science projects less expensively. This new web site will show people how to move forward.”

Typically, scientists rent supercomputer time by the hour. A single simulation can cost more than 5,000 hours at $1 per hour on the National Science Foundation’s TeraGrid computing infrastructure. “For the same cost, you can build your own supercomputer and it works just as well if not better,” Khanna said. “Plus, you can use it over and over again, indefinitely.” The cost for his initial Playstation grid was $4,000.

The guide is freely available to the public under an open source license.

The Cluster Workshop project is partially funded by the National Science Foundation and was first announced and demonstrated at the 2nd Annual Georgia Tech, Sony/Toshiba/IBM Workshop on Software and Applications for the Cell/B.E. Processor.

“This opens up a huge door to partnerships with industry and other universities,” said Khanna, noting that the UMass Dartmouth College of Engineering has an interest and focus in simulation sciences. Tyco Electronics (through the UMass Dartmouth Advanced Technology and Manufacturing Center in Fall River), Sony, Terra Soft Solutions and IBM are among the companies already involved with this effort. The scientists are seeking input from industry members and researchers to determine future project direction.

“We hope to continue to bring supercomputing to a broader audience by providing tools that simplify the use of these systems,” said Poulin, who specializes in distributed pattern recognition and artificial intelligence.

Provided by University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

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User comments : 17

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Corban
5 / 5 (3) Dec 17, 2008
Consoles are usually sold at a loss, and recouped through lucrative video games. If everyone gets on this bandwagon, isn't Sony losing out? There has to be a catch.
Quantum_Conundrum
3 / 5 (6) Dec 17, 2008
There is a much simpler way of preventing online hacking.

Use a "physical" locking mechanism in combination with a logon id and password, much like the "code cylinders" in Star Wars.


I have in my pocket a USB "Jump Drive" which is already several years old, yet it can store 64megabytes.

Here is what we do. When a network user logs in for the first time, they choose their own personal login and "password"(ideally 10-25 digits). In addition, they type a "seed" paragraph of 255 characters. The computer uses this "seed" plus one of like 10 algorithms the user chooses to generate a "randomized" string of characters to generate 64 megabytes of text which is stored on the Jump Drive and used as a second "password". This password is also encrypted and stored on the server.

Now, in order to log in, they must type their login, manual password AND load the 64megabyte code from the jump drive.


Nothing short of a Quantum Computer could ever possibly break this.
GrayMouser
4.2 / 5 (5) Dec 17, 2008
Anyone else thinking national security here?
You don't want 13 year old hackers or other wrong doers having the blue prints for supercomputers.


The only secure computer is one that is never plugged in and has no disk drives.
googleplex
3 / 5 (2) Dec 17, 2008
There is a much simpler way of preventing online hacking.

Use a "physical" locking mechanism in combination with a logon id and password, much like the "code cylinders" in Star Wars.


I have in my pocket a USB "Jump Drive" which is already several years old, yet it can store 64megabytes.

Here is what we do. When a network user logs in for the first time, they choose their own personal login and "password"(ideally 10-25 digits). In addition, they type a "seed" paragraph of 255 characters. The computer uses this "seed" plus one of like 10 algorithms the user chooses to generate a "randomized" string of characters to generate 64 megabytes of text which is stored on the Jump Drive and used as a second "password". This password is also encrypted and stored on the server.

Now, in order to log in, they must type their login, manual password AND load the 64megabyte code from the jump drive.


Nothing short of a Quantum Computer could ever possibly break this.


Is this software proprietary or open source?
thales
5 / 5 (2) Dec 17, 2008
Consoles are usually sold at a loss, and recouped through lucrative video games. If everyone gets on this bandwagon, isn't Sony losing out? There has to be a catch.


Nah, you know they're in there playing Crysis between simulations.
Flakk
4 / 5 (1) Dec 17, 2008
Consoles are usually sold at a loss, and recouped through lucrative video games. If everyone gets on this bandwagon, isn't Sony losing out? There has to be a catch.


ROFL!!!!!!!!

Nah, you know they're in there playing Crysis between simulations.
gopher65
5 / 5 (1) Dec 17, 2008
Corban: My thoughts exactly. The PS3 has been termed a "failure" even though it is selling *more* consoles per unit of time than the Xbox360. The main difference? Each Xbox has a huge number of games being sold with it, on average, whereas very few games are being sold per PS3. Games are where all the money comes from.

The main reason why this plan is even feasible is because Sony is taking a big loss on every console sold, which means that these people can buy PS3 hardware for a fraction of the price that they'd pay for regular computing hardware. (Because hardware companies depend on hardware sales for profit, and can't sell them at a loss.)

If a large number of consoles were to be sold for this use it would be a colossal financial disaster for Sony.
ryuuguu
4 / 5 (1) Dec 17, 2008
The Wii is sold a large profit but it is the eexception. After a few years think consoles start selling at profit as manufacturing prices come down and design costs are covered, although with the Wii depressing console price not sure that happend with the PS3. Either way I think they need 10,000~100,000s in sales for the cost to outway the marketting gain. They did donate the first 8 so Sony like the idea.
KBK
5 / 5 (2) Dec 17, 2008
Methinks even if there was a total rash of console buying, this would do nothing less than elevate Sony in the eyes of the public. This has to do with the idea of academia celebrating the PS3 as useful and constructive in the extreme.

Sony cannot BUY that kind of advertising-and it is not for sale.

A 'rash' of console buying by academia might amount to 10k consoles, max. This would amount to over $1M in value of decent advertising. Think about it.
WolfAtTheDoor
not rated yet Dec 17, 2008
Anyone else thinking national security here?
You don't want 13 year old hackers or other wrong doers having the blue prints for supercomputers. The ability to decrypt security codes is probably the primary concern.
Perhaps it will just push encryption from 128 and 256 bit to a higher level.
For the research community it is profound e.g. folding@home.


Our National Security Policy in the cyber world must not depend on the lack of technology. The technology will come into homes eventually, whether it's in the form PS3 or some more overtly packaged technology.
Seomanifest
5 / 5 (2) Dec 18, 2008
Just the other day they presented a supercomputer that was made in Japan using a cluster of nvidia GPUs I wonder how the two would compare
holmstar
5 / 5 (1) Dec 18, 2008
Corban: My thoughts exactly. The PS3 has been termed a "failure" even though it is selling *more* consoles per unit of time than the Xbox360. The main difference? Each Xbox has a huge number of games being sold with it, on average, whereas very few games are being sold per PS3. Games are where all the money comes from.

The main reason why this plan is even feasible is because Sony is taking a big loss on every console sold, which means that these people can buy PS3 hardware for a fraction of the price that they'd pay for regular computing hardware. (Because hardware companies depend on hardware sales for profit, and can't sell them at a loss.)

If a large number of consoles were to be sold for this use it would be a colossal financial disaster for Sony.


I doubt that the loss they are taking on the PS3 is very large at this point in time. I wouldn't be surprised at all if they are even making a profit now. They were definitely loosing money on them early on, but it was released almost two years ago. I'm sure economies of scale have kicked in by now, along with a drop in component costs.
Noumenon
not rated yet Dec 18, 2008
Your right holmstar, manufacturing costs are half of what they used to be for the PS3.
anonperson
5 / 5 (1) Dec 20, 2008
What is probably lacking are the tools to use the 'big iron' of super computers. For the most part, these will probably be used for video renderings not so much simulations... unless someone here can tell us of a tool(s) that allows us to build, for example, complex chemical, physical, architectural, etc. simulations that would require super computing. In the meantime, Folding at Home should benefit greatly I'd think...
l_g
not rated yet Mar 02, 2009
What is probably lacking are the tools to use the 'big iron' of super computers. For the most part, these will probably be used for video renderings not so much simulations... unless someone here can tell us of a tool(s) that allows us to build, for example, complex chemical, physical, architectural, etc. simulations that would require super computing. In the meantime, Folding at Home should benefit greatly I'd think...


Umm... did you READ the article above? The PS3 supercomputer IS being used to run simulations. For any supercomputing job, you have to write your own code, then run it on the processor. Doctor Khanna adapted the code that he had been using on traditional supercomputers for use on the one he made from the PS3's.

He isn't doing imaging or video rendering of black holes. That would be pointless. He's doing simulations of what happens when black holes swallow stars.
mmstick
not rated yet Mar 06, 2009
PS3's have a better hardware capabilities than a Xbox 360. Wiki the hardware stats of the PS3 versus the Xbox. The Xbox360 has a crappy CPU. They need a lot of high powered CPU's for a cluster and the PS3 gives that.
gopher65
not rated yet Mar 06, 2009
mmstick: The PS3 also has an inherent flaw in its CPU design. That's why the "revolutionary" cell chip design that "everyone was going to use" was dropped like a rock. Even Sony rid themselves of that stinker (cept for the PS3, where they are unfortunately stuck with it).

That's also why the Xbox 360, with it's less powerful CPU, gives a better gaming experience than the PS3.

And just so you know: I don't own an Xbox 360, and I have no plans to ever buy one. But other than Sony fanbois, no one, not even Sony itself, is still trying to claim that the PS3's hardware is better than the 360's when it comes to a gaming or multimedia experience (except for the bluray capability of course, which counts as a significant advantage for the PS3).