Last year I talked about how the PlayStation 3 could be receiving some high marks after the Air Force purchased 2,200 of the consoles for their Research Laboratories. Well, it looks like just the opposite may happen.
As we know, the recent PlayStation 3 update removed the ability to install a secondary operating system like Linux, which Sony claims is to protect copyrighted content. That's fine and all, but using that feature is the exact reason the Air Force purchased all those Cell processors!
Why did the Air Force purchase them and why this many? We have learned that this was the most cost-effective hardware option for them to move forward with several projects using a 500 TeraFLOPS cluster built entirely out of PS3s.
So, they have all the hardware and now it appears they won't be able to use it, right? Not so fast. The update is only downloaded when the console is connected to the PlayStation Network. Because of this, there is no direct, immediate impact on the cluster of consoles that the Air Force has concocted. But what happens when one of the PS3s dies or needs repair? Sad story.
The Air Force Research Laboratory talked about its disappointment in Sony's decision-making:
We will have to continue to use the systems we already have in hand...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 use to have it.
In a related story, several colleges have built themselves PS3 clusters to perform several data-intensive tasks, such as a North Carolina State professor who rigged up eight machines together and the students at the University of Massachusetts who use sixteen of them to look at gravitational waves and black holes.
We'll see if Sony will make exceptions to these government and state organizations who have invested thousands and even millions into these projects. It is very possible for them to not install the firmware updates on a small reserve of these consoles.