PS3 Cluster of Air Force Research Labs

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is a scientific research organization operated by the United States Air Force Material Command dedicated to leading the discovery, development, and integration of affordable aerospace warfighting technologies.

In November 2010, AFRL decided to use a cluster of Playstation 3s for advanced research such as synthetic aperture radar image processing.

While the PS3 is a very popular gaming console (selling more than 50 million units worldwide) it is also a high performance computer equipped with a multi-core processor, the Cell Broadband Engine (Cell/B.E.). In order to utilize PS3s as part of their high performance computing (HPC) system AFRL contacted Fixstars, who has been providing Cell/B.E. solutions from the early stage.

AFRL purchased 1,700 of 2,016 Playstations from Fixstars in early 2010, and selected Yellow Dog Enterprise Linux as the OS and cluster management tool for the system. In addition, Fixstars visited the Rome Research Site to assist with the first stages of software deployment as well as to provide training for AFRL personel.

AFRL managed to keep their entire budget for the project under $2.0 million by adopting a low-cost consumer gaming machine and together with Fixstars created a top-level system. This has been widely reported in the news, and has made a significant impact on the HPC industry.

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