a super computer under your TV?

April 12, 2007

Distributed or Superpersonal Computing in the news again 

Way back in Feb I suggested the idea of a internetwork of connected gaming consoles ( Xbox 360 in my own thumb rending world)  which could act as a single gigantic pool of processing power and that someone may pay me to use my little bit of it .

When those enterprising chaps at Sony announced they were going to enable their customers  to assist Stamford university’s folding@home project with their spare cycles my ears pricked up.

In the PS3 model the console needs to be left on when not using it where as my idea was to slurp a proportion of the spare cycles when you were playing a game ( a bit more Carbon friendly ;)  ), however there’s no real reason why both could not be the case.

Now it seems that certain bigwigs in the commercial world also had  aural extensions as in an interview with and subsequently reported by ft.com 

Masa Chatani, chief technology officer at Sony Computer Entertainment, said in an interview with the FT on Tuesday that the company had received numerous inquiries regarding this “distributed computing” model.

(via Engadget)

now there will be some resistance to this as there’s a great deal of goodwill to worthy causes but less to commercial enterprises.

the FT.com article claims that:

A network of just 10,000 PS3s would have as much power as a 200,000-strong network of personal computers.

so would you be comfy with that idea? another example posed by Mr Chatani   might soften your heart

a start-up or a pharmaceutical company that lacks a super-computer could utilise this kind of infrastructure.

Yeah yeah I hear you say pharmaceuticals are as bad if not worse than other commercial entities  but what if that request for your cycles to support their research was accompanied with a commitment to use the savings that they had made to subsidise the cost of the developed drug in developing countries?

Mr Chatani  exposed the potential

At any single moment, there are 11,000-12,000 PS3 users participating in Folding@Home. The number of contributors is far greater than we had anticipated.

I bet it was :)

whilst Engadget suggests that Sony might shower freebies on participants Mr Chatani also seems to pass that responsibility up the food chain 

One scenario……would be for a company to offer each of its PS3 users incentives such as free products, or points, in exchange for their participation in distributed computing.

not sure how many of the companies from which I might want freebies would use this kind of model but if they were offering nectar points I might be interested.

Many contributors to Engadget suggest that this is selling your soul however as I commented over there this isn’t selling your soul, it’s recouping some of the cash  you’ve outlaid on a machine that spends a great deal of time idle – in some
ways it’s no different to google adsense on a blog and few people  bemoan that if it’s done properly. 

I suppose it does makes more sense that Sony would do this than Microsoft erode their own revenues but anyone taking up this model could even give you a choice – donate CPU power to worthwhile projects like folding@home; donate your earnings to charity or accrue cash yourself.

I like it….. more please

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superpersonal computing ?

March 20, 2007

distributed computing a step nearer?

back in February I posted about the  future or lack thereof of the personal computer, prompted by Mark Cuban‘s  musings (before he was consumed by his crusade against YouTube). I suppose what I’m hankering for is  the concept of superpersonal computing, clustered processor cycles across many machines,  allowing you to tap the unused processor cycles or FLOPS across the pool when you need them.   in my fantasy world it was Xbox 360’s  (prompted by my recent purchase) but back here in realworld 1.0 Sony plan to offer their PS3 customers the option of extending the wasted flops in their processors to the Stanford university folding@home project. at the moment this is another SETI alike project installing an client application to run in the background, but it’s the first time the concept has been extended to the world of consoles. I’m looking forward to the day when I can sell my FLOPS back to some national supergrid of computing.

does personal computing have a future?

February 19, 2007

Mark Cuban asks an interesting question over at blog maverick, what is the future of personal computing?

I have to ask if truly personal computing has any future?  to illustrate the point a few years ago my sister asked me what the Internet would be like in the future, not in a web 1.0 v web 2.0 kind of way but in a how we use it kind of way, and I thought about it for a moment and then said the Internet doesn’t have  a future. 

now before I get shot down in flames let me explain, what I meant was that the idea of the Internet as a place I go, somewhere I squirrel myself away at a console ( at the time playing Half-Life ) some ethereal  location I log into had no future, the future was web ubiquity.  

it’s nearly here, for the geeks at least, I’m almost permanently connected, whether through 3G on my SPV M3100, or via my BTOpenzone account, in fact I’m pretty much only disconnected when I want to be like here for instance. I don’t connect to the web I’m literally in the web.

So for personal computing (and I don’t believe it’s a straight Google v Microsoft  Battle) I Look to my recent experiences.

Mark talks about the power of consoles,  and I’ve recently joined the Xbox360 crowd,  I have to say the power of the thing is immense,  Xbox Live is fantastic and a really simple way of connecting to the world.

having been a PC gamer all my adult life I’m struck by just how easy and smooth the whole Xbox live experience is.

on my PC the process can be tortuous:

  • Install the game
  • download and install the patches
  • install teamspeak to chat to my buddies
  • install Xfire and or Gamespy to catch up with those same buddies
  • find a  server
  • log into that server
  • finally play the game.

even the boot process takes minutes

the Xbox live experience is :

  • pick up the controller
  • power on the  console
  • insert the game
  • connect to Xbox live, find the server  and I’m away.

patches are installed automatically and all is hunky dory I can be being sworn at by a teenage American in seconds.

no server crashes, if the gamer hosting the game leaves the game transfers to another console host without a flicker.

now this ease of connection also throws up a rich source of processor cycles, Gears of War is allegedly the first game that uses two of the three Xbox processors, I have to admin it’s pretty special for a console game. but it also illustrates that there are literally billions of unused processor cycles going begging, even when the gamer is playing another game.

the worlds biggest super computer in fact.

Now imagine something like windows home server technology being rolled out to all those boxes tied in with something like crashplan, and steam I don’t need massive personal storage at home, I have a huge vault I can store my data on – secure because it’s split across millions of partners, accessible because I can log into the live service anywhere and access it.

Now I don’t need apps, I rent them, and if I’m not using my own box maybe I can sell the processor cycles back to the corporate world, like I can sell surplus electricity to the national Grid here in the UK.

now that’s what I call the death knell for personal computing.