The U.S. Air Force is looking to buy 2,200 Sony PlayStation 3 game consoles to built out a research supercomputer, according to an document posted on the federal government's procurement Web site.The thing to note is that the PS/3 costs about $250 online, so the cost of buying all these boxes is under ½ a million dollars.
The PlayStation 3s will be used at the Air Force Research Laboratory's information directorate in Rome, N.Y., where they will be added to an existing cluster of 336 PlayStation 3s being used to conduct supercomputing research.
The Air Force will use the system to "to determine the best fit for implementation of various applications," including commercial and internally developed software specific to the PS3's Cell Broadband Engine processor architecture. The research will help the Air Force decide where Cell Broadband Engine processor-derived hardware and software could be used in military systems.
The Air Force has used the cluster to test a method of processing multiple radar images into higher resolution composite images (known as synthetic aperture radar image formation), high-def video processing, and "neuromorphic computing," or building computers with brain-like properties.
That's less than most missiles out there, and by fusing the data, you can get a much more accurate picture of position and heading, probably close enough for a targeting solution.
If you assume that each one of the data centers costs about $1 million, even a relatively poor nation could deploy dozens of centers around the country, and use them to detect stealthy attack.
Heck, with a size of 12.8"(W) x 3.8"(H) x 10.8"(L), 0.304 you could fit 2200 PS3s in a box 8¾ feet on a side, so, if you assume that putting them and a rack and cabling them together increases the required volume by a factor of 5, you can fit the system on about 4 flatracks (picture).
If you were just to buy the boxes, and extract the electronics, you might be able to fit this in one flatrack, though at that point, power and cooling get iffy.
Still, the technology for ganging the PS3's cell processors into a massively parallel supercomputer is very much public knowledge, with most of the requisite software being GPLed open source.