Consisting of 1,716 PlayStation 3 consoles linked together and utilizing OtherOS, the Rome Research Lab has announced the completion of their new PS3 Condor Supercomputer, which is now fully online and claimed to be in the top 40 most powerful supercomputers.
Currently it is being loaned out to universities so they can crunch slightly less dangerous data, and the system is also intended to provide analysts with new levels of detail from pictures gathered from spy planes.
The Condor will enable 24-hour real-time surveillance of a roughly 15 mile-wide area, allowing video processed from radar signals to be viewed in real-time or played back.
Such a system can help to investigate the moments before an event such as an explosion or an ambush on military units. It is part of military developments aiming to achieve constant and detailed surveillance over a wide area.
To quote from HotHardware.com (linked above): With 7 SPE's per PS3 (the eighth is deactivated), the 1,716 systems offer a total of 12,012 processors.
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.
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.
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