UMass Dartmouth Faculty Builds Supercomputer to Study Black holes and Cybersecurity Using 176 Sony PlayStation 3 Consoles

Physics Associate Professor Dr. Gaurav Khanna Builds Low-Cost Supercomputer, Performance Comparable to Nearly 3000 Processor-cores of Typical Laptop or Desktop

UMass Dartmouth Associate Professor Dr. Gaurav Khanna has built an extremely low-cost supercomputer using 176 Sony PlayStation 3 (PS3) gaming consoles installed in a refrigerated shipping container "reefer" of large cooling capability located conveniently on the University's campus. This system's performance is comparable to nearly 3000 processor-cores of a typical laptop or desktop. 

"High-performance computing or 'supercomputing' by linking together a large number of computer processors in order to build a large parallel computer cluster is currently the most common approach towards solving complex computational research problems in nearly all areas of science and engineering," said Dr. Khanna. "The largest supercomputers on the planet today that achieve petascale performance - several thousand trillion calculations in one second - have all been built using such a parallel cluster approach." 

The PS3 cluster is currently being used by UMass Dartmouth's Center for Scientific Computing and Visualization Research (CSCVR) to perform large and complex calculations in the context of black hole astrophysics, and also explore vulnerabilities in cybersecurity. Most of these research projects are funded by the National Science Foundation. Its application to other areas of science and engineering will be explored and implemented over the next few years. 

The novel approach that was developed involved the purchase of a refrigerated shipping container, or "reefer", of adequate size and cooling capacity and locating it conveniently on campus with power and network drawn from a nearby building. Such an approach is extremely low-cost given the abundant availability and high cooling capacity of these containers. 

The concept of using consumer gaming hardware, such as PlayStation 3 consoles, to build low-cost supercomputers has been appreciated and implemented for several years now at various locations around the world. The approach was pioneered by Dr. Khanna back in 2007 when he built a small eight PS3 cluster and was able to perform research grade simulations of black hole systems with it. The Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) in Rome, New York, implemented the same approach at a very large scale in 2010, using 1,716 PS3s and was able to demonstrate ten-fold cost effectiveness of such a system over traditional supercomputers. The AFRL has now granted a significant chunk of their cluster to CSCVR. 

The CSCVR promotes the mission of the UMass Dartmouth by providing undergraduate and graduate students with high quality discovery-based educational experiences that transcend the traditional boundaries of academic field or department, and foster collaborative research in the computational sciences within the University and with researchers at other universities, National Labs, and industry. Dr. Khanna serves as Associate Director of the Center. 

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