US Air Force: “Sony Has Abandoned Us”

air-force-ps3-cluster

The US Air Force is less than pleased with Sony for removing the PS3’s Linux support, although unlike most Sony critics it does actually use the OtherOS feature, in a supercomputing cluster of PS3s which it complains is now doomed by a lack of replacement units.

The US Air Force Research Laboratory built a 53 teraflop cluster of 336 PS3s in 2009 by way of a test, and then added a further 1,700 PS3s in early 2010 after being satisfied with the results. It claims the PS3 cluster solution is much cheaper than the conventional alternatives.

The Air Force Research Laboratory now publicly laments the decision by Sony to remove Linux support, as although it does not connect to the PlayStation Network or use games, it does make it impossible to replace broken units:

“This will make it difficult to replace systems that break or fail. The refurbished PS3s also have the problem that when they come back from Sony, they have the firmware (gameOS) and it will not allow Other OS, which seems wrong.

We are aware of class-action lawsuits against Sony for taking away this option on systems that used to have it.”

Sony’s supposed advertising of such alternative usages of the PS3 has been mentioned in the lawsuit, so the Air Force may yet find itself drawn into the fray.

Sony for its part is probably happy to be rid of its research customers – console hardware is usually sold at a loss, with profits coming from software sales, so from Sony’s perspective cluster users are little better than parasites taking advantage of its subsidised Cell processors.

The PR benefits of such usage may well be vastly outweighed by the cost of such subsidies.

Equally, cheapskate research institutes cobbling together supercomputers from subsidised home consoles are hardly in a position to complain – on the contrary, the Air Force appears happy to suck up the loss and has no intention of stopping with the PS3:

“The gaming and graphics market continues to push the state of the art and lowers the cost of High Performance Computing, FLOPS/WATTS per dollar. This is important for embedded HPC, our area of expertise.

The HPC environment is rapidly changing; leveraging technology that is subsidized by large consumer markets will always have large cost advantages.

This gives us the experience (lesson learned) to develop HPC with low-cost hardware, benefitting the tax payer, Air Force, Air Force Research Lab while utilizing limited DoD budgets.”

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122 Comments

  • Anonymous says:

    That was the first thing that came to my mind when they announced they were taking out the OS ability.

    Oh well, every employee gets a PS3?

    It’s still funny how the machines are good for everything except gaming.

  • They could buy cell blades and simply move the software over with few changes.

    The bad part they are much more expensive though they have 8GB of ram each.

    Really Sony should just enter the super computer market and sell an expandable version of the PS3 hardware with an unlocked hyperviser ,8 ddr2 dimm slots and PCI-e X16 slots.
    Sell it for $2000 and they could crush Dell and Apple in the HPC market.

    They also could sell a $500 to $800 version with expandable memory running yellow dog or ubuntu as a home computer/media center.
    Pit it against the Mac mini.

    The share holders should pressure to have the morons behind the removal of linux support fired maybe even have the CEO step down.
    What they could make in the HPC/server market dwarfs any loss linux might cause from piracy since cell beats X86 so badly in performance per watt.

  • Uh, that’s the entire point here. The USAF is using PS3s for their hardware. Sony is now making it impossible to replace or repair failing hardware. They can make all the software they want, but that won’t fix broken hardware.

  • UncommonOtaku says:

    The Air Force's Birds are in their 30's they need the money to buy new ones.

    Air Frames have a limited service life, there are only so many upgrades you can make to any kind of machine and when you have a fleet of them. Redundant maintenence and upgrades take their toll on their budget.

    Sooner or later they have to get new birds. With their budgets being trimmed here and there, they have to be more efficient and responsible now-a-days.

    Its more cost effective for their pilots to train in a simulator. But to have a ready aircraft to go at a moments notice,… It isn't something to have to depend upon if its an obsolete deathtrap that could come down on your house just because of a mechanical problem from old age.

    This ain't the 70's – Govt's have to be more fiscally responsible for what they spend their monies on. They can't just keep on adding to the national deficits like there is no tommorow.

    We're in a tough economic era now because of those free spending times of the past.

    o.o

  • Anonymous says:

    Whatever you think of the USAF, if you are going to say it’s just capitalism and Sony’s good right to do whatever they want in terms of features, you shouldn’t grieve over research customers busting Sony’s pricing model. It’s not like customers have some kind of obligation to bring them profits.

  • Its all USAF’s fault. US government has too many contractors such as IBM, Cray and Lockheed, and so they decided to take on the product of a market oriented company. They have no right to complain.

  • Anonymous says:

    Yeah, because it’s not like the USAF has a 160.5 billion dollars for their budget, which goes towards aircraft which cost 150 million dollars.

    Clearly, Sony is abandoning them when they decide to limit the ability for research companies to be subsidized by Sony’s sales division. Simply put, buying a console that costs $500 to make and paying $300 at 2,000 consoles means that while yes, you paid $60,000, Sony paid $40,000 for your shiny new supercomputer.

    Which you will never pay them back through the sale of games for their console.

    Is it any surprise that Sony sees money being hemorrhaged by console sales not backed by software sales and does something to close that gap?

    • Anonymous says:

      It does not matter. Sony offered a product for sale. They promised a certain level of performance. Now they want to back out of the contract they created when they sold that product. TFB.

  • Anonymous says:

    Fuck the USAF. Sorry, Sony has not abandoned you. They, a legitimate business, closed a door which you, personally, exploited to cost them as much as $60,000 in lost revenue which will never be made up because you are not subsidizing the cost of their hardware through the purchase of their software.

    You also had a budget of $160.5 billion (that’s with a B, folks) and are complaining about the cost of building a supercluster which, if it cost $200,000 to create from scratch, would be 0.000001246% of your allocated funding or 0.0013% of the cost of a single F-22A.

    And you’re seriously complaining about a business taking steps to protect an investment and prevent piracy of games?

    Get over yourselves.

    • Anonymous says:

      The USAF never said sony had abandoned them, thats just Artefacts added spin to the article.

      Sony did not close a door anywhere. It was Sony’s decision to subsidise their PS3s, no exploitaion was going on, its perfectly legal.

      The entire airforce has a budget of 160.5 billion, not some random division of it. They didnt complain about the cost of building the supercluster, they were in fact happy that with the PS3 method, they got to save taxpayer dollars.

      They did not seriously complain about a business taking steps to protect an investment. They complained about a business removing an advertised feature that now prevents them from replacing units in their supercomputing cluster.

      You get over yourself, shit happens, neither side is at fault.

  • Anonymous says:

    They don’t really need to sell gutted PS3s, but they can justify the R&d costs on the cell a bit if they start making low cost modular supercomputing clusters with it. I’d say design a small box that stacks with its brethren kinda like a lego brick, and lets you treat the whole cluster as one machine.

  • Anonymous says:

    not just corporations…

    Try the US government on that deal.

    Case in point. in the 1930s (FDR – democrat) a farmer had a small field, most of the time he grew wheat, he didn’t sell the wheat, or even give it away, he grew and ate it. then comes the us government, they say he can’t do that, they say he’s impacting interstate commerce, and sue the guy for growing his own wheat. since congress can regulate interstate commerce, they can regulate farms and the like, and they say he’s impacting commerce, because he’s not selling the wheat, or that he’s not buying other peoples wheat, so he’s impacting interstate commmerce, and the Governement Wins! he can’t grow his own wheat!!!! Fuck mega corperations, and Fuck governments that screw u over for making your own shit!!

  • Anonymous says:

    thing is a dam super computer is really an oversized computer with multiple cpus. It is much cheaper with the same results to get multiple computers and connect them together (aka large server).

  • Anonymous says:

    well.. sony will just have to re instate the damn other os option and put all this behind them.. sent up the flag… got shot down… now re instate the darn thing and move on to better things.. like realistc boob shakeing!

  • Anonymous says:

    I get the feeling they’re just using them to play games.. why the hell would the air force use PS3s when it’d be far more better to have sony just design a super computer like this that would probably run a lot more faster..?

  • Anonymous says:

    @ denn 03:25 :

    As with any organization, some sub-groups are better funded than others. It’s all internal politics.

    Procurement Group: “We want XX billion dollars for the new super-secret ultra-stealth Gigafighter 3000 program.”

    People-in-Charge: “Okay.”

    Training/Research Group: “We’d like half a million dollars to develop a computer-simulated immersive environment, which will more effectively, and more cheaply, train our pilots who are responsible for aircraft costing upwards of one hundred million dollars apiece.”

    People-in-Charge: “Are you fukkin’ nuts?! Do you think money grows on trees?! Here’s $50K. Be glad we don’t take it out of your salaries!”

  • ChaosAngelZero says:

    “unlike most Sony critics it does actually use the OtherOS feature.”

    lol. And most Xbox Live mass ban critics don’t even use it.

    As for Sony selling each PS3 unit below its actual manufacturing cost, we need a new component price analysis. They’ve probably broken even by now.

  • Barbarian of Gor says:

    Too bad most of you have been spoon fed “Right Wing” corporate propaganda since the 80s, it’s destroyed critical thinking skills. And this goes all the way to the top: The big companies think they can dictate value, but things are only worth what another person is willing to place in them. And that they are anything but inflated pigs that feed off the labor of others.

    Now, let’s say we could turn back the clock a few centuries and I was an apple grower. I owned an orchard that had several types of apples which I both had deals with other tradesmen (like wine/cider makers and dining clubs) and of course sold in the market.

    Perhaps I’d have just ‘released’ a ‘special’ type of apple from a few trees I’d grown from apples taken from many miles away on a trip/pilgrimage when I was a lad so I had a tree no one else had yet and given the time to maturity would have that for a while to come…

    Well, I might say “These apples are better suited to make pies, to use in baking” but that’d be it. Anyone who wants them, can afford or trade with me for them, or I’m feeling generous, can have them. I’ll certainly market them the way I see fit, but it’s in my best interest to as much as is reasonable sell as many as possible to anyone and everyone.

    If someone buys an apple and carves it into a “Bong” then later likes this so much he dries then resins it so it’s permanent, frankly I’ll give him a few more apples and look at his handiwork and might ask for one myself suggesting he sets up a stand at the market. Perhaps I might even loan him the table, chair, apples on trust that he’d pay me back (no interest!) and become a permanent trade partner, my ‘baking’ apples much better suited for that craft than softer ‘eating’ ones. That’s an if, there might be a “Pipe Carving” guild, but in that case I’d refer him to them to handle that also. Unlike stereotypes, they’d not suppress him, they’d probably like it and if his idea takes off incorporate him into their guild.

    Now, someone who behaved like businesses today:

    1. They’d inflate the price using any and every means possible, including burning orchards of rivals and when the law would stop that buying up to let go fallow orchards.
    2. They’d work together to form a “Price fixing” conspiracy when #1 failed.
    3. They’d try to get the law to make it illegal to grow apples from seeds, calling it “Theft of intellectual Property”.
    4. And, coming back to my issue, they’d try to force people to only use the product the way they said it was meant for. Just eating ‘baking’ apples you’d be harassed and the already inflated prices would go up. Mr. Johnny Mary Jane bong apple smoker would get sued for “Degrading our Intellectual Property”.
    5. The pipe maker’s owners, a LLC. would try to get the Apple bong maker killed, even with pipes made in a different land under slave labor not selling well and falling apart. Perhaps he might “Luck out” and they’d just buy his idea for a pittance, then again export it to the slave labor market to avoid paying any guildman a living wage for making them, at the cost of quality and safety.

    —-To cite another article here this day, perhaps the pipes would be so shoddily constructed they’d find ways to catch fire in people’s hands -or- some of the resin would end up explosive and they’d explode in people’s faces…!

  • Anonymous says:

    All the nuke labs (LANL, LLNL, Sandia, Oak Ridge etc) dominate the world in supercomputing power and eat up most of the government’s supercomputing budget.

    No wonder the Air Force has to resort to buying off-the-shelf PS3’s…..

  • Anonymous says:

    Console hardware is usually sold at a loss, true, but from what I can tell, Sony is now breaking even with PS3 production, and the originally fatty that was capable of running Linux isn’t in production anyway, so Artefact’s point is moot.

    • Anonymous says:

      Even if the consoles were sold at a loss, it isn’t the job of the government to support dysfunctional business models, especially not when that involves turning a blind eye when companies break the law.

  • Anyway, what the hell are they process with those? What calculations need such processing power? Calculating gazillion of possible trajectory deviations and it’s probabilitys when laucnhing a rocket?

  • The Cell processor on it’s own is not much better than any other processor of similar performance class. What makes this clusters work is the price of a whole assembled architecture. Even GPU can be used solely for math calculations, with the right programming skills.

    • and that’s what they should use from now on… with the availability of a common supercomputing api (opencl), it will even be relatively easy to port their numbercrunching software to a new platform.
      just rewrite the glue code that exchanges data between cpu and gpgpu, and you’re done.
      but maybe it’s true and a bunch of ps3s really are cheaper than the equivalent in 5870s or gtx480s. those beasts still cost close to 400/500$.

  • Anonymous says:

    I read the original Ars Technica article a few days ago. Then I read the Sankaku rewrite. Its amazing how the choice of words in each respective article influences the tone of each article so greatly.

    I especially liked how it is said that ‘cheapskate research institutes cobbling together supercomputers from subsidised home consoles are hardly in a position to complain’ instead of something like ‘economical research institutes that assemble supercomputers in novel ways by taking advantage of subsidies by technology companies still have a legal right to complain even though they stand to be criticised on their frugality’.

    Still, as always, I enjoyed reading the article. Somewhat in the same way some people enjoy FOX news.

  • [quote]Does Sony sell Cell processors?[/quote]

    Yes, I remember a video card for PC with a Cell processor. Using a cluster of consoles is way cheaper than developing a multiprocessor hardware platform from scratch, though.

  • echelon64 says:

    The tone of this article indicates some extreme hate for the U.S. Air Force. Well, if it take the Air Force to bring some kind of resolution to the PS3 Linux debacle then I am all for it.

  • “console hardware is usually sold at a loss, with profits coming from software sales”

    Than just make softare cheaper, while increasing the price of the hardware. Silly Sony. ;D

      • If they price the games accordingly, like 5$ per game and say you plan on buying 30 games,… do the maths.

        What does it matter if you pay 1000$ for the console or spend it with time on the games? Well, there is in fact an easier way. Just skip a generation and buy the games later on. Next week or so my DS will come and most games are available for 5 to 10$. Who needs cutting edge games anyway?

  • Anonymous says:

    I would like to see the rack of atari 2600s they used back in the very early 1980s. It must have been full of more than 1,000,000 of them. Awesomeness extreme Air Force computer system.

    • Anonymous says:

      I’m pretty sure they don’t. At least not directly. Cell isn’t their technology; it’s licensed from IBM and is also used in the Xbox 360, so if anyone’s going to be selling Cell processors, it’s IBM itself, since it holds the patents.

    • UncommonOtaku says:

      HELLO?
      Anybody home????

      This is exactly the case of your complaint.

      Instead of buying some overpriced super computer from some mega corporation. They are using alternatives to do their own research on projects for their interests.

      If the USAF’s researchers can build their own supercomputer from the ground up. Why are you complaining?

      Its the R&D people that make advances without them, the gaming industry would be stuck with boring graphics and lame stories that make your games so interesting.

      -geez wut a fuktard
      o.o*!!???

      • Well, isn’t cheap at all.

        An expensive i7-980X costs $999 and is capable of 107.55Gflops, so to get it to 53Tflops you need 493 them, this makes it $492K.

        Adding $150 (MB+Integrated GPU+NIC+PSU) * 493 = $74K

        $492+74 = $566K

        Using EXPENSIVE hardware! And they burned $611K on ps3 begin uber limited for other things (thanks to hypervisor) than game!

      • Anonymous says:

        You know. I wonder… why doesn’t Sony just enter the whole Super Computer sales market? It’s one that I imagine isn’t heavily populated, they could easily dominate judging from what they’ve got.

        They’d just need to alter one of their production line. Make fats or slims without an HDMI output, without Blu-Ray reader and maybe without built-in wifi and it’d certainly cut back on more then enough.

        Keep the price the same, and they’d certainly be making profit like fuck.

        Seriously, someone up at Sony better get their brains working right and go please the many scientists on a budget ready to buy hundreds if not thousands of them PS3’s to chain up into a supercomputer… Hell, they could probably bump the price up by another 100$, scam the scientists and still be a thousand times worth it in comparison…

        (For exemple, an article once stated that the use of a supercomputer for one calculation was roughly the same as building your own supercomputer out of 16 PS3s… Seriously. Just sell them overpriced emptied out PS3’s with Other OS enabled, you’ll make so much profit you could buy Bill Gates)

        • Anonymous says:

          Supercomputing is a very niche market with a tiny audience. The only people who buy them are basically government organizations, defense contractors, and a few well-funded scientific initiatives. Major big-name supercomputers are built maybe once a year globally, usually in some sort of competition between campuses of the US National Laboratory system.

          Plus, entering the supercomputer market would put Sony directly at odds with their chip supplier, IBM. Sony doesn’t make any of the components that actually go into the PS3 save the Blu-ray drive. The important part, the CPU, is made by IBM, which is one of the biggest names in the supercomputer market alongside Cray and HP.

          The only reason why the USAF bought them from Sony rather than directly from IBM was to take advantage of Sony’s hardware subsidies. Thus, Sony takes a big loss in this deal since it normally only makes a profit from games and peripherals, which the USAF isn’t going to buy. So if Sony increases the cost, the USAF will just cut them out of the deal and go straight to IBM to buy the chips, which I’m sure Sony would be fine with since they’d rather not have people take advantage of their subsidies without giving back profits in other areas.

          So in short, it’s not a profitable market for Sony to bother entering. IBM and Cray have brand-name recognition, plus good political connections. They also have the experience making these massively parallel machines since they’ve been doing it for decades. Sony doesn’t have any of this experience, and the supercomputer market isn’t one that’s friendly to learning curves. Governments expect their multi-million dollar supercomputers to work right off the bat, and experience is the most important component in making that happen.

      • Anonymous says:

        You misunderstand. He wasn’t referring to the PS3 being a $300 toilet seat, but the fact that the USAF has actually purchased toilet seats for $300 and if they want to be economical, they should by $30 toilet seats like the rest of us.

        • Anonymous says:

          I feel the need to comment on this ancient urban legend the “toilet seat” in question was actually a injection model plastic housing something like four feet wide that covered all the internal workings of an airplane toilet. If one actually went out and priced it on the open market the price paid was competitive.

          It wasn’t the flip up seat you put in your house and people that keep talking like it is are merely further stupid ignorance. There are plenty of examples of government waste, but this one is BS.

        • Anonymous says:

          Actually, fudging costs like that prevents enemies from discovering what equipment we’re actually having issues with.
          That $300 toilet seat may actually be a jet engine part that has to be replaced, and is currently keeping an entire squadron of aircraft from flying. It keeps the enemy from knowing exactly when we are most vulnerable.
          It’s all a part of Operations Security.

          Wikipedia link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opsec

        • CoreFlood says:

          Just kind throwing this into here as a second thought…

          What happened to the idiot that proposed removing linux support anyway?

          well i mean it’s not hard to guess but i can’t help but be curious

        • Anonymous says:

          The toilet seat was $5. However, it was part of a project, and that project’s labor was spread across the other costs as the contract was mandated to have a set labor cost— so the politicians that signed off on the contract (that DIRECTED the contract) wouldn’t be embarassed at paying so much money for labor.

          Almost everything the government does, its costs is 99% labor, 1% other. It has to “disguise” that labor as other things, hence, $300 toilet seats, $1900 hammers, $999 nails, etc

        • Anonymous says:

          Does anyone seriously think they purchase 300$ toilet seats? I think it would be difficult to find 300$ toilet seats for one, I suspect that most of those expenses actually go to “black” projects in order to make it harder for foreing agents to trace the funds.