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.

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.