Last month, Sony pushed out an update to the PlayStation 3 that among other things, allowed PS3 owners to use their spare Cell CPU cycles for the well-known [email protected] distributed computing project. As it turned out, the PS3 is a [email protected] monster. As a result, Sony is pondering how to commercialize the CPU power of the PS3s it has shipped so far.
The idea is similar to [email protected]: take advantage of idle Cell CPUs and harness them to form a supercomputing grid that it could then market to interested businesses. The infrastructure is certainly there: as of the end of March, Sony had planned to ship 6 million PlayStation 3s worldwide. Each one of those consoles has a very powerful CPU and an Internet connection, which opens the door to any number of grid computing applications.
Institutions and business looking to lease spare PS3 cycles from Sony are looking at the console's [email protected] performance, which has been impressive to say the least. As of April 15, the 31,761 PS3 CPUs were churning out 416 teraflops. In contrast, the 184,134 active Windows machines were producing 175 TFLOPS. When Jon Stokes crunched the numbers a couple of weeks ago, he figured that the PS3 was seeing 0.0159 TFLOPS per CPU, compared with 0.00095 per CPU on Windows boxes. (If you're interested in the nuts and bolts of the PS3's [email protected] performance, check out Jon's article.)
Unlike [email protected] and other nonprofit distributed computing projects, Sony would be looking to earn a buck or two from a supercomputing grid made out of PS3s. The company would likely have to provide guarantees in the form of a minimum number of CPU cycles or consoles available per hour—some metric that would assure its customers that they are getting most bang for the buck.
That leads to Sony's biggest challenge: convincing PS3 owners to play along. [email protected] is arguably an easy sell because it's an altruistic project, one that hopes to find cures for devastating diseases. "Let Sony make money off of your PS3 when you're not using it" is a tougher sell. Leaving it running costs money—the [email protected] FAQ says that the PS3 uses about 200W while running the client—so Sony is going to have to offer incentives to PS3 owners to get them to play along.
Incentives could come in the form of discounts on PS3 games, free or reduced downloads from the PS3 Online Store, or discounted Sony merchandise. Here's a question for those of you who have PS3s:what would it take to get you on board with a Sony PS3 supercomputing grid? Would discounts be enough or would you be looking for cash money?
In the meantime, if you're running (or even thinking of running) [email protected] on your PlayStation 3, Ars Technica's own Team EggRoll would love to have those Cell CPUs cranking out work units on its behalf.