New PS3 "Condor" Supercomputer Now Fully Online

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News Posted: Fri, Mar 25 2011 3:40 PM
We've discussed Sony's decision to shut down Other OS functionality and abandon the supercomputing market several times in the past 12 months. One of the expansions in progress even as Sony killed these programs, dubbed Condor, is now fully online for the first time. This new cluster is composed of 1,716 PS3s and, if it delivers as promised, will greatly enhance the quality of image processing available to the Air Force and Air National Guard.

The system has been some years in the building—the Rome NY-based research lab first began requesting additional PS3's back in 2009. Digital image processing has always been one of the PS3's greatest strengths, some of Sony's original demonstrations back in 2005-2006 focused on the Cell processor's ability to crunch simultaneous video streams. With 7 SPE's per PS3 (the eighth is deactivated), the 1,716 systems offer a total of 12,012 processors.


Morgan Bishop, surrounded by PS3's

The Condor is, according to the Air Force, one of the forty fastest computers in the world and will hopefully solve a pervasive problem for the modern military. Up until the last sixty years, the various branches of the military all suffered from a dearth of aerial data. Thanks to modern satellite communications and covert ops, the drought has become a glut. Getting information has suddenly become easy; determining at a glance what's important and what isn't has become extremely difficult.

The Air Force hopes to use the PS3 cluster to allow for real-time surveillance over large areas without sacrificing image quality. According to Mike Barnell, director of HPC at the Rome Research Lab, Condor will be able to keep 24/7 watch over a 15 square mile area. User control will be unprecedented; Condor's users will reportedly be able to turn and rotate the camera in a manner reminiscent of modern gaming. "You can literally rewind or predict forward (in the future), based on the information you have,” Barnell said.

 
'Condor' is a word that conveys a sense of majesty and flight—so why'd it end up slapped on one of the ugliest birds known to exist? Even worse—why do condors look like Skeksis?

What became the Condor  project began with just eight PS3s. Impressive results led to official approval for a larger cluster of 336 systems. Once the Department of Defense approved $2.5 in funding for Condor, the Rome Lab bought as many systems as it could then afford—a total of 1700. Barnell notes that an equivalent supercomputer would've cost his team at least 10x as much and claims that using off-the-shelf hardware allows for substantial power savings. When the machine's full capacity isn't needed, the lab can turn off hundreds of PS3s to reduce power consumption.

Condor is also doing fundamental research in compute intelligence. The Rome Lab states that the machine is capable of scanning up to 20 pages of text per second, during which time it also extrapolates missing words with a 99.9 percent accuracy rate. 
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Dark Crystal reference nice!!!! Love it. 1716 ps3's! that is crazy. I didn't want to pay for the one I have! I wonder if they are using fats or slims and how they cool the room. Mine gets warm with just one running.

Now you're just mashing it!

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Joel H replied on Fri, Mar 25 2011 4:15 PM

Drake,

Fats, no question. The PS3 Slim doesn't run Linux.

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Ah gotta love those fatties!

"Never trust a computer you can't throw out a window."

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Ha, good call about the Linux. Brain fart on my part. And yes those fatties are like mopeds, fun to ride until your friends find out!

Now you're just mashing it!

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My Gen 1 60gb is still running strong. And now with a 500 WD black drive. Big Smile

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jonation replied on Fri, Mar 25 2011 7:01 PM

thats crazy fun. very interesting way to make a supercomputer.

sorry to be that guy, but that seems like a mighty small budget they got approved.

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Inspector replied on Fri, Mar 25 2011 7:31 PM

Small but did the job :D, would be fun to play some games on that :P, it is built to game or at least built after gaming consoles... :)

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realneil replied on Fri, Mar 25 2011 8:13 PM

Thinking outside the box just may pay off for them. I think that if it works, then use it.

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AKwyn replied on Fri, Mar 25 2011 10:02 PM

Inspector:
Small but did the job :D, would be fun to play some games on that :P, it is built to game or at least built after gaming consoles... :)

I don't think any game created today could harness the power of Condor, maybe in the near future of 2025.

Also, 1000th post y'all!

 

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rapid1 replied on Fri, Mar 25 2011 10:38 PM

"Once the Department of Defense approved $2.5 in funding for Condor" Dang either something is really wrong with my head or the department of defense got a new budget coordinater and Sony just gave up the battle against Xbox and decided since they had so many PS3's left unsold they might as well give them away. Well that or there is a miswritten part to this statement and that was supposed to have been $2500 right, lol :)

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I think it is supposed to be 2.5 Million dollars. This is pretty sweet and distributed computing in the way of the world right now just look at the Folding@home project.

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jonation replied on Sat, Mar 26 2011 12:33 PM

$2.5 isn't enough to buy all those ps3's, it was my subtle hint at a typo.

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3vi1 replied on Sat, Mar 26 2011 8:17 PM

For most organizations, this would be A Horrible Horrible Choice. PS3's can't be updated with new firmware to fix bugs, because if they do they'll lose the ability to boot Linux. Same thing will probably happen if one of them fries or needs repair (It'll be sent back with the latest firmware).

Of course, they'll probably bend over backwards for the Air Force. Sony's riding high on the free publicity that their console powers a supercomputer, without mentioning that they took away the capability for anybody else to do this.

Some new games require the new firmware. So, Sony has now put me in the spot of losing Linux on the system or lose the ability to even play games (like Dragon Age II) OFFLINE. They can get bent, in my humble opinion.

What part of "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn" don't you understand?

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3vi1 replied on Sat, Mar 26 2011 8:23 PM

>> The PS3 Slim doesn't run Linux.

Depends on if they're running "standard" systems or not.  It's not like Sony's going to sue the Air Force for doing what they want with their own hardware (they reserve that for civilians who don't have an entire army of JAGs that also happen to know how to kill).

The PS3 Slim is perfectly capable of running Linux - it's just not enabled in their firmware. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gItOpt81UnI

 

What part of "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn" don't you understand?

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Joel H replied on Sat, Mar 26 2011 9:05 PM

We've hacked over the nature of Sony's Linux stupidity on more than one occasion; it's nothing that needs to be addressed here. As far as I know, Sony doesn't provide any type of specialized support in terms of firmware updates or guaranteed replacement parts—but then, that doesn't mean such agreements don't exist. Intel, after all, continued to build specialized hardened x86 processors for the space shuttle decades after the original chips had been antiquated.

It's also possible that the work the lab wants to do simply doesn't require much in the way of patched firmware.

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3vi1 replied on Sun, Mar 27 2011 12:18 PM

>> It's also possible that the work the lab wants to do simply doesn't require much in the way of patched firmware.

Which is fine until you find out that it has a bug that causes the clock to randomly reset after the next leap-day (in 2012).

If you don't have complete control and/or support for hardware you're deploying, you're doing it wrong.

>> We've hacked over the nature of Sony's Linux stupidity on more than one occasion; it's nothing that needs to be addressed here.

My intent is simply to inform any company that might read this and say "Hey, that's a great idea!  We can do that!".that there are major Sony-added-post-sale drawbacks that now make this an idiotic approach to building your own supercomputer.  And, that there's no guarantee Sony won't sue you if you download/use the tools that are needed to work around those drawbacks.

It's my opinion that Sony removed Linux in the Slim specifically to stop people from doing this, since they were selling no games for consoles purposed in this manner.  They'd rather the consoles be sold to the users that are going to drive up game-attach rates, rather than have to warranty consoles that make them little to no money.  When people started hacking the Slim to run Linux, they removed Linux from everyone in an attempt to drive the community of developers to another platform.  So, I'll probably never stop addressing Sony's anti-consumer actions when I feel it's relevant to the story.

What part of "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn" don't you understand?

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KAdair replied on Mon, Mar 28 2011 12:15 PM

That's nuts lol using ps3's I guess if it works more power to them lol thats prety sick tho

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leave it to the AF to be resourceful. It would cost them exponentially more to build a cluster with IBM lets say. however, the use of IBM would grant them access to a warranty. I wonder if sonys factory warranty covers blowing up a node(ps3) due to extreme overuse. Also it is likely cheaper b/c they do not have to purchase racks or apparently any cable management system, ie paneled floor. It looks like the went to walmart and said "Give me all the cheapest racks you got, I need them yesterday." The cooling is probably not the same as a server room either given that a ps3 to my understanding is built to withstand a beating in closed entertainment heatboxes. Whereas alot of the cooling of servers comes from monster airconditioners located to the front of the server so that hot air filters out the back and up to the ceiling through the vents where the air is cooled and sent back through the cycle. You could probably leave the windows open in the room with the ps3's and throw a couple of $10 fans in the windows to circulate air and call it a day, obviously not but you know what I mean.

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fat78 replied on Wed, Mar 30 2011 8:56 PM

Next up 3000 ps3s.

I wish i could head over to rome and see it, but i'm pretty sure griffiss air force base doesnt let any one in.

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Joel H replied on Thu, Mar 31 2011 7:14 PM

"It's my opinion that Sony removed Linux in the Slim specifically to stop people from doing this, since they were selling no games for consoles purposed in this manner. They'd rather the consoles be sold to the users that are going to drive up game-attach rates, rather than have to warranty consoles that make them little to no money. When people started hacking the Slim to run Linux, they removed Linux from everyone in an attempt to drive the community of developers to another platform"

That wouldn't explain why Sony spent significant effort talking *up* the supercomputing angle. They drove the story in that direction at a time when the gap between console price and loss-per-unit was at its height. If Sony had gotten into the business of providing Cell server blades, it would help explain their flip-flop.

Check the timeline of these events. The PS3 Slim came out first. It was followed by news of a partial PS3 hack. *That*'s when Sony closed ranks and refused to allow fat PS3s to run OtherOS--and it's that decision that sent Fail0verflow looking for a way around it.

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DRivera replied on Fri, Apr 1 2011 2:12 AM

Who's job is it to manage all those  PS3's?

Oh number 582 just went out...
..I got it!!!!!

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Thanks for the update Joel.

While I would have to agree Sony is not a customer service oriented company at all they used to build their products to fail shortly after the warranties were expired. It would be nice to seem them put the cell technology to use in blade servers or at least license out the technology so that others can use it. In many ways they are similar to Apple in how they view customers as criminals first.

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This was actually done for the Air force to play SOCOM 4

Rig:

under construction

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