Youd think that the deep-dyed techies of eWeek Labs would have been pleased by Novembers mainstream media coverage of popularly priced desktop supercomputing. Unfortunately, the supercomputer in question was Sonys PlayStation 3, and that coverage had more to do with stalled waiting lines outside big-box stores than with stalled instruction pipelines in the Sony game consoles Cell CPUs.
Its bad enough to see this kind of computer power reduced to playing games to generate enough production volume to cover its costs of development. The folks at iSuppli, in El Segundo, Calif., have termed the PS3 "an engineering masterpiece." iSuppli Teardown Services Manager and Senior Analyst Andrew Rassweiler has said, "If someone had shown me the PlayStation 3 motherboard from afar without telling me what it was, I would have assumed it was for a network switch or an enterprise server."
But mere tech incongruity isnt the worst part of seeing those waiting lines. The people in those lines were making much the same choice as a too-large fraction of enterprise IT buyers, letting themselves be driven by want rather than need. Theyre looking at the top line of computational performanceor maybe the ratio of computational price-to-performancerather than looking at return on investment, the ratio that matters.
If youre not getting $600 worth of entertainment out of a high-end PS3, did you really get a bargain just because thats $240 less than the cost of its components? Even more to the point, is incremental investment versus other modes of entertainment yielding attractive returns at the margin? In your enterprise data center, are incremental investments translating into incremental improvements of performance and customer satisfaction? Does every increment meet the test of marginal return on capital?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, then someones in the wrong line, seeking fulfillment of an irrelevant promise.
Technology Editor Peter Coffee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.WWWeb Resources
The high-priced internals of the PS3 www.isuppli.com/news/default.asp?id=6919
An engineers-eye view
IEEE contemplates the "Multimedia Monster" www.spectrum.ieee.org/jan06/2609
Will tools sell the Cell?
The power of PS3s Cell processor craves code to match
Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at salesforce.com, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developers' technical requirements on the company's evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter company's first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.