Sony to kill PS3 Linux Installations on Thursday

Recently, Sony announced that update 3.21 (being released on Thursday 1 April) to the Playstation 3 would remove the “Other OS” option – which means that not only would it become impossible to install Linux on the Playstation 3, but any installation will be inaccessible. According to Sony, this is to make the gaming console more reliable.

When the Playstation 3 was introduced, the company Terra Soft Solutions released Yellow Dog Linux for the PS3 and sold PS3 consoles with Yellow Dog pre-installed – including PS3 clusters. Groups at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth (with the Playstation 3 Gravity Grid), the University of California Berkeley, and North Carolina State University have all been using PS3 clusters to do computing. Sony Entertainment Spain assisted the Computational Biochemistry and Biophysics Lab in Barcelona, Spain, to create the PS3Grid (now rebranded GPUGrid).

As recently as January 2010, the United States Air Force Research Laboratory in Rome, NY, just announced that they are adding 1700 PS3s to go with the 300+ that they already have clustered (called the TeraFLOPS Heterogenous Cluster).

The PS3 was supposed to be an open platform, even supported by Sony. I wonder what happened. I can’t imagine that the USAF will be happy about this, and I can only hope that cluster administrators see this one coming and can stop it – or there will be some dead clusters.

I’ve been waiting for the prices on old PS3s to come down and my budget to go up just to run Linux on it – now the next update is to kill it. Not nice.

I suspect there will be some lawsuits if this update truly comes to pass.

UPDATE: The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a nice expansive writeup on this. One thing that they note is that a hacker recently discovered a way to crack the security on the PS3 hypervisor (using the OtherOS feature and some soldering), permitting full unrestricted access to the entire PS3 hardware environment. Secondly, the article also notes that Sony pulled something like this with the Aibo robot dog some years back.

Spacewalk (or Red Hat Satellite)

The code base for Red Hat Satellite was released as open source some time ago as Spacewalk, and the future looks quite bright. I am excited to see this, and am interested in the possibilities that it presents for Linux management.

There are two nasty drawbacks that aren’t mentioned up front (though are mentioned in the technical FAQ): first, it relies on an Oracle database rather than PostgreSQL or mySQL or other open source database; secondly, it will support Fedora clients or CentOS clients or Red Hat clients – only one of the three at a time. This also suggests that it will not support other RPM-based distributions such as Yellow Dog or OpenSuSE.

Presumably, it also will not work with APT – and not because APT doesn”t support RPM because it does (in the form of APT-RPM).

How much memory is in the box? (all UNIX, OpenVMS)

How much memory is in this machine?

It would seem that answering this question ought to be easy; it is – but every system has the answer in a different place. Most put an answer of some sort into kernel messages reported by dmesg (AIX apparently does not).

Most systems have a program for system inventory which reports a variety of things, including memory.

Rather than go into great detail about each one, we’ll just put these out there for all of you to reference. Each environment has multiple commands that give available memory; each command is listed below.

Without further ado, here are a few answers to this burning question:

Solaris

  1. dmesg | grep mem
  2. prtdiag | grep Memory
  3. prtconf -v | grep Memory

AIX

  1. bootinfo -r
  2. lsattr -E1 sys0 -a realmem
  3. getconf REAL_MEMORY

HPUX

  1. dmesg | grep Physical
  2. /opt/ignite/bin/print_manifest | grep Memory
  3. machinfo | grep Memory

Linux

  1. dmesg | grep Memory
  2. grep -i memtotal /proc/meminfo
  3. free

OpenVMS

  1. show mem /page

Update:

FreeBSD

  1. dmesg | grep memory
  2. grep memory /var/run/dmesg.boot
  3. sysctl -a | grep mem

Finding devices for your open source operating system

In a Windows environment, people have gotten used to just picking up any device (whether it is a CDROM, PCMCIA card, printer, or modem) and expecting it to work. While the concept of “plug and play” is not yet here, the fact is that when installed everything should work with Windows.

And it isn’t just Windows – other large commercial vendors have access that you and I do not. Apple comes to mind – MacOS X has much better support than Linux or FreeBSD, for example.

Open source operating systems rely on hardware manufacturers to make the details of their hardware available for free or low cost – and then for someone to come and craft the software drivers needed. Usually, the latter is not a big problem; the former is.

The problem can be deeper than that as well, since the label on the product is not the same as the label on the internal devices: so it is not possible to simply look for a brand and use it. Worse, manufacturers can change hardware vendors on the same model, so that discerning which model is which can occasionally be difficult – the revision becomes the determining factor as to which hardware was used.

First thing is to determine which devices are supported. Start with the release documents for the operating system and look for supported hardware. Another place to look is the man pages (or other documentation) for the drivers. Keep the list of specific hardware handy, on another screen or printed out.

Then, look for the device (or devices) at your chosen store. Write down what you find, even if it isn’t listed (and even if it is). Then look up the device on the Internet using your desired search engine. Pay attention to mailing list threads and watch what sort of trouble people had (or didn’t have). The mailing list threads should also help you identify the hardware sources used in otherwise unidentified products, and also will keep you up to date on people’s experiences.

Once you have a product chosen, given few problems on mailing lists and a well-supported and identified hardware chip set, then buy it. However, for best results, make sure there is a good return policy in case it doesn’t work – otherwise, you are taking a chance (albeit a very small one if you’ve done your homework).

I’ve gone through this with several wireless cards under FreeBSD. The first was the Netgear MA401 (researched as given here) – worked flawlessly until it was smushed. The second I received as a bonus with my laptop purchase was a Zonet 1502 (definitely a mistake, but it came with the laptop). I’m sure the Zonet works fine under Windows (and probably OpenBSD: they reverse engineered the driver). Currently, I’ve added a TP-Link TL-WN610G (again researched as described here) – also working flawlessly.

This isn’t just good practice for wireless cards, though – networking cards, mice, video – all benefit from this research. Even laptops: when I bought my laptop, I researched the two brands that were available (for sale used at my favorite local used computer store) and found that one had lots of difficulties and the other did not. Guess which one I bought?

Playstation 3 Compute Clusters

Have you heard about the Playstation 3 computing clusters that are starting to pop up? This is no game: it’s the real thing. Apparently the IBM Cell microprocessor (based on the Power architecture) is so powerful that it is leaps and bound above other desktop systems.

The Folding@Home protein-folding project (one I very much appreciate) uses idle computers all over the world to compute protein folding – which will aid in scientific research for cures for Alzheimers, diabetes, and others. This project came out with a client for the Playstation 3 for use in the Folding@Home project, which nodes now surpass all other computing nodes combined in sheer processing power.

On March 8, North Carolina State University announced that professor Frank Mueller had created the first academic Playstation 3 cluster (8 nodes). At the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, assistant professor Dr. Gaurav Khanna is running a cluster of eight Playstation 3s to analyze gravity waves from the stars. In Barcelona, Spain, a distributed computing project for biomedical research known as the PS3GRID uses the Sony Playstation 3 exclusively.

Terra Soft (the people behind Yellow Dog Linux, YUM, and the Briq) are now offering Playstation 3 clusters preconfigured in a 6- or 32-node cluster configuration. A single Playstation 3 with Yellow Dog Linux pre-installed is also available.

A Playstation 3 cluster built by Terra Soft was the cover story of the August 1, 2007, Linux Journal.

As might be surmised, Linux runs fine on the Playstation 3: Ravi has a fine summary of the possibilities.