Mr. Ashby IM’d me frantically this afternoon to let me know about this little development, and I sent it along to BoingBoing with equal haste:
Last year, Khanna’s construction of a small supercomputer using eight Sony-donated Playstation 3 gaming consoles made headlines nationwide in the scientific community. On the consoles, he is solving complex equations designed to predict the properties of gravitational waves generated by the black holes located at the center of the galaxies.
“Science budgets have been significantly dropping over the last decade,” Khanna said. “Here’s a way that people can do science projects less expensively. This new web site will show people how to move forward.”
Typically, scientists rent supercomputer time by the hour. A single simulation can cost more than 5,000 hours at $1 per hour on the National Science Foundation’s TeraGrid computing infrastructure. “For the same cost, you can build your own supercomputer and it works just as well if not better,” Khanna said. “Plus, you can use it over and over again, indefinitely.” The cost for his initial Playstation grid was $4,000.
The guide is freely available to the public under an open source license.
Sit back and ponder this one for just a minute. It’s a supercomputer. That costs about four thousand dollars. That means that cities (and households, and farms, and convents, and schools) could each have one. It means the possibility not just of simulations being run everywhere, all the time, but of supercomputing in parallel. Further slashes to NASA’s budget? No problem — we can do the math ourselves. Problems estimating how avian flu will impact major cities? No more — we don’t even have to run it in Warcraft, any more. Want to know how smart grids would look in fifty, five hundred, five thousand years? Speculate on energy infrastructure, supply chain histories, availability of raw materials? Yeah, we can do that. Hell, throw in some variables: earthquakes, sieches, eruptions, plagues of locusts, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria. We can run that, and share the data with everyone we know — without government involvement, but with the possibility for everyday citizens to check the results against their own calculations.
This is, as Mr. Ashby said, “unconscionably cool.” Not least because right at this moment, we could afford our own supercomputer.