PS3, the Newest Appliance?


When the news first started surfacing that some vendors were touting the Sony Playstation 3 as a networked server device, my first reaction was, "Why the hell would anyone want to do that?"


But like those Ginsu knife commercials on late-night cable TV, the more I heard about it, the more sense it started to make. After all, it uses a 64-bit Cell processor running at 3.2 GHz and sports 256 MB of main memory. That puts it at the level of a G5 PowerMac, which makes it a nifty little appliance.


But can even the most killer gaming system really play a useful role in the enterprise?


A German company called Helios thinks so. It just released a customized PS3 version of Linux that is powerful enough to run the Helios UB enterprise server, formerly reserved for the likes of the IBM Blade Server and Xserve. It achieved this feat using a stripped-down version of Yellow Dog Linux that provides extremely low overhead while still offering things like Java 1.5 and enhanced AppleTalk.


Already, there's a smattering of PS3s in professional settings. The University of Tennessee's Innovative Computing Laboratory, for one, has a four-system cluster offering 600 gigaflops at a cost of about $2,400. And Stanford University has networked more than 30,000 PS3s to crunch numbers when the gamer is idle.


I guess my initial surprise on hearing about enterprise-class PS3s was due to the fact that for years I'd been hearing about the prowess of gaming systems, but there was very little to show for it outside the graphics realm. Now, finally, there is a solid piece of hardware capable of handling enterprise-class applications. It may not be a universal solution, but it sounds like something that could fit right in with many established enterprises.