When Sony issued a recent PlayStation 3 update removing the device’s ability to install alternate operating systems like Linux, it did so to protect copyrighted content—but several research projects suffered collateral damage.
Air Force may suffer collateral damage from PS3 firmware update. The Air Force Research Laboratory in Rome, New York picked up 336 PS3 systems in 2009 and built itself a 53 teraFLOP processing cluster. Sony’s decicsion had no immediate impact on the cluster, but what happens when a PS3 dies or needs repair? Tough luck. A similar issue will confront academic PS3 clusters.
Such are the dangers of relying on consumer-grade hardware sold with a very different set of concerns from those that bedevil the scientists, especially in an era where firmware updates routinely alter functionality.