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Nicholas Carr’s Rough Type has a recent piece reporting on Sony’s move to get itself a little attention in the money for cycles crowd:

Sony is considering tying together gamers’ PlayStation 3 consoles into a global supercomputing grid that could be used for commercial applications, reports the Financial Times today. Sony has already teamed up with Stanford in the nonprofit Folding@Home initiative, in which PS3 users donate the spare cycles of their machines to analyze protein cells. Some 12,000 people have signed up for Folding@Home.

The PS3 console is based on the Cell processor, of course, which has a lot of potential but is still pretty unusable from a programmer point of view. It appears that Sony has some sort of value stream in mind for itself:

Sony’s chief technology officer, Masa Chatani, says that the company has already received inquiries from companies regarding using what I’ll call the PlayGrid for intensive computing jobs: “For example, a startup or a pharmaceutical company that lacks a supercomputer could utilize this kind of infrastructure. We are discussing various options with companies and exploring commercial applications.”

Which is weird, and will put Sony in the position of having to provide value to it’s product owners in exchange for making enough systems available often enough for there to be a “grid” to use.

Smells like PR to me, but I suppose it might work. Until the Cell processor presents a more robust development environment, though, adoption is going to be a tough move for users to make. Organizations looking to do supercomputing on the cheap using something like PlayGrid aren’t likely going to want to fork over big dollars for specialized HPC expertise to port and tune their codes for Cell processors.