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HELIOS Helps Turn the PlayStation 3 (PS3) into a Linux Server

Using Yellow Dog Linux, HELIOS has turned the PS3 into a low-cost Linux server

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PlayStation 3 Console (60GB)

PlayStation 3 Console (60GB)

© SCEA
HELIOS has managed to turn your everyday, off-the-shelf PS3 into a commercially viable Linux server. They've designed it so that the Linux server suite will not only run on the PS3, but also to take advantage of the power of the Cell processor. Now your PS3 not only runs games and movies in hi-def, but it also can be a full fledged Linux server.

The free installer will be available from the UK distributor's website (www.jpy.com) from June first. It uses Yellow Dog Linux v5.0 as its operating system. It also includes a demo version of HELIOS UB, an enterprise client server application. HELIOS has stated that it believes that this is the first time a game console has been for a business server solution. This is not, however, the first time someone has realized that the PS3 delivers more bang for your buck than current-gen PCs do. Dr. Frank Mueller built a supercomputing cluster capable of high-performance computing using eight retail PS3s.

HELIOS built the PS3 port not only to show off but to deliver a cheaper alternative to standard server solutions. According to HELIOS:

It is of course more usual to have the enterprise software running on much more expensive platforms, such as IBM blade servers or Apple Xserves. But the PS3 is capable of lighter duties, and will be used by the HELIOS sales team to demonstrate the software to customers. With fully loaded servers running into multiple thousands of pounds, a compact demonstration server for under £500 makes perfect sense.

The HELIOS bundle included on the demo disc image is limited in that it will only run for four hours at a time, allowing users to see what HELIOS can do and decide if a purchase is worth it or not. Dr John Yardley, MD of HELIOS distributor JPY Plc, said:

It might seem like a crazy idea, but pound for pound the PS3 offers amazing power. I expect plenty of Linux enthusiasts will find good uses for the installation, which includes powerful tools like EtherShare and WebShare. Getting HELIOS running on the platform is akin to cramming a Spitfire engine into a Mini!

The Linux installer is customized to make the best use of the limited memory available in the PS3. According to HELIOS, the disk image installs Yellow Dog Linux in under 10 minutes, with a configuration designed to offer 40% more memory than the standard config.

When HELIOS saw the PS3's tech specs, they knew turning it into a server was not beyond reach. The PS3 uses a 64-bit Cell processor that runs at 3.2 GHz, is PowerPC compatible with 256 MB of main memory, and has performance comparable to a G5 single CPU. The PS3 comes with the NVIDIA RSX Graphics Processing Unit, has a 60 GB 2.5" swappable serial ATA disk and offers WLAN and Gigabit Ethernet for network connectivity. Terra Soft's Yellow Dog Linux v5.0 is binary compatible with its release for the former Apple PowerPC product line and concurrent support for the Mercury Cell products and IBM Cell and pSeries servers.

HELIOS claims the advantages of its PS3 Linux installation are:

  • Free download from HELIOS web site
  • Easy installation, ready to run in a few minutes
  • Excellent Linux on PS3 documentation from HELIOS
  • Dedicated server operating system with optimized performance (40% more memory available)
  • Java 1.5 runtime is pre-installed
  • Easy maintenance shell from CD
  • HELIOS services are pre-installed as a test drive

Sony has yet to respond to the announcement. I think that applications like these put Sony in a very difficult place. There is not denying that every time a novel use for the PS3 is announced it not only generates good press, but also proves that the PS3 is an incredibly powerful machine. However, the PS3 itself is a loss leader, meaning Sony loses money on each PS3 sold. It makes up that loss on games, which are very profitable for the company. So, when someone buys a PS3 and uses it as a dedicated server, or any other use that does not include the purchase of PS3 games or Blu-ray movies, Sony never recoups their investment. Like I said, a tricky place indeed.

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