Air Force Buys 2,200 PS3s. Sony Loses.

ps3 servers Air Force Buys 2,200 PS3s. Sony Loses.Ah, the Sony PlayStation 3. A Blu-Ray player, an online video player, a Linux box — it’s used as anything but what it’s supposed to be: a game console. Now the US Air Force is buying 2,200 PS3s to build a supercomputer.

No, I’m not kidding.

The U.S. Air Force is looking to buy 2,200 Sony PlayStation 3 game consoles to build out a research supercomputer, according to an document posted on the federal government’s procurement Web site.

The PlayStation 3s will be used at the Air Force Research Laboratory’s information directorate in Rome, N.Y., where they will be added to an existing cluster of 336 PlayStation 3s being used to conduct supercomputing research.

The Air Force will use the system to “to determine the best fit for implementation of various applications,” including commercial and internally developed software specific to the PS3′s Cell Broadband Engine processor architecture. The research will help the Air Force decide where Cell Broadband Engine processor-derived hardware and software could be used in military systems.

You might think that Sony’s the big winner in this deal, and that the Air Force is stupid for buying thousands of overpriced game consoles. You’d be wrong, on both counts. Sony sells PS3s at a loss, hoping to make their money in games and accessories. That means the Air Force is getting Cell hardware for a fraction of the cost.

Needless to say, the Air Force won’t be buying any PS3 games or accessories. That leaves Sony losing hundreds of thousands of dollars on this one purchase alone. If the Air Force’s research proves successful, and they decide to use the Cell Broadband Engine in even more military systems, they’ll end up buying more PS3s without games and costing Sony even more money.

The Air Force ends up flying high on subsidized hardware, and Sony ends up losing a whole bunch of money. Of course, Sony’s real nightmare begins once the military’s use of PS3 server clusters filters down to commercial applications. Then you’ll see millions of PS3s sold with absolutely no hope of ever making money on games or accessories.

Way to go, Sony. The raw computing power you packed into the PlayStation 3, the thing you trumpeted so much over actual user experience, could now become your console’s ultimate undoing. That’s what you get for losing consumer focus and diluting your brand.

(Story via J. Nicholas Hoover. Photo of a PS3 server cluster via Darren Murph.)

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