Air Force Not Happy With the PS3

Remember back a few updates ago when Sony issued a required PS3 firmware removing the Other OS feature from PS3s new and old? A few were disgruntled at the time but for the most part it seemed like a minor loss to gamers in the name of protecting copyrighted materials. This was especially true in the light of the infamous DRM practices companies like Ubisoft and Electronic Arts have begun including in several of their PC titles. Well, while the Other OS feature hasn’t been missed all that much by most PS3 owners, there are some who look to lose on the decision, namely the U.S Air Force.

Back in 2009, the Air Force purchased and used a combined 336 PS3s to create a 53 teraFlop cluster for processing purposes. Impressed by the capabilities of that construct and moreover by the cost effectiveness of the linked PS3s, they went and bought another 2200 consoles to link into an even more powerful unit. The whole project cost a mere $663,000, which was peanuts considering the cost of modern warplanes.

These PS3s were configured with the Other OS feature, and while Sony can’t force anyone to get rid of Other OS that really doesn’t want to, replacing the machines in use may pose a problem in the future. “We will have to continue to use the systems we already have in hand,” said an Air Force rep speaking with Ars Technica. “This will make it difficult to replace systems that break or fail. The refurbished PS3s also have the problem that when they come back from Sony, they have the firmware (gameOS) and it will not allow Other OS, which seems wrong. We are aware of class-action lawsuits against Sony for taking away this option on systems that used to have it.”

While their frustration is a bit understandable, one has to wonder if this may be an inevitable consequence of trying to save money by relying on consumer electronics. The military is of course free to buy and use PS3s as they see fit, but it isn’t as if they ever signed a contract with Sony guaranteeing that Other OS would be eternally available. Sony is entirely within its rights to stop producing machines using that firmware. Furthermore, logic dictates that eventually they’d have to replace these machines with something else. Sony may be touting its ten year PS3 plan, but one can’t expect them to produce them forever. An alternative for the Air Force may be to build a few less bombers this year and invest in some real computers. Granted, that may not be favorable for them, but generally when you try to cut corners it tends to come back and bite you later, as they’re learning now. Then again, this is the Air Force, chances are they have enough pull to work something out with Sony. Or they could threaten them. They do have a lot of guns after all.