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  • Keegan Van Maanen

What the U.S. Air Force and a truckload of PlayStation 3's taught me about innovation.

A few years ago, we underwent the process of re-evaluating what our core values are as a company. At the time, management had the wisdom to notice that most organizations only had corporate values to “check-the-proverbial-box” of the long unquestioned tradition. Not only that, but it seemed that every company shared the same indistinct principles of integrity, accountability, and loyalty — to name a few.


Think to yourself. How many times have you walked into a stuffy office and seen these values plastered behind the front desk? Did you ever stop and think, “Shouldn’t all companies operate according to these ethics? Why does integrity need a special plaque to remind us that honesty is a virtuous trait?”


In truth, most corporate values are completely banal. That’s why we knew that when reinventing our values, they had to mean more than your typical clichés. For the most part, I think we succeeded in that mission. However, there is one of our values that sounds a bit more trite than the others.


Innovation.


As an IT company, I doubt that the value of innovation is the revolutionary brainchild of ICE Technologies. A quick Google search revealed that some of the largest tech companies in the world (including IBM, Tesla, NVIDIA, Adobe, and Intel) all list innovation as one of their corporate values. I suppose it’s no surprise that technology organizations would strive to innovate — but I can’t help but feel that this value is a little void of context.


A few weeks ago, I was busy working through an ongoing development course for marketing professionals when I happened to stumble on a rather amusing story. In 2010, the United States Air Force was faced with the unique challenge of building a supercomputer on a limited budget. The now extinct behemoth known as the “Condor Cluster” was capable of performing over 500 trillion floating point operations per second. But what made this machine truly impressive wasn’t just its compute power.


The real marvel? Its system’s core was built using 1,760 Sony PlayStation 3's.


That’s right. The U.S. Department of Defense relied on the same unit used to “pwn noobs” in Call of Duty Black Ops II.


Why would a government agency use a consumer-grade gaming console for satellite image processing and artificial intelligence research? It turns out that comparable CPUs at the time would have cost as much as $10,000 per unit — while a PS3 will only set you back a paltry $400.


The processors in the Sony PlayStation 3 are the only brand on the market that utilizes the specific cell processor characteristics needed for this program at an acceptable cost.  — Mark Barnell

While the Air Force could have certainly coughed up the MSRP for the dedicated hardware, this clever (dare I say it, innovative?) usage of the PlayStation’s processor was only 5% of the cost of the off-the-shelf parts, while also consuming 90% less power. Taxpayers everywhere should be proud!


This story is certainly an extreme example, but I think it perfectly encapsulates how we as a company use practical innovation to deliver IT solutions in a smarter way.


Consider our approach to cybersecurity for example. Rather than forking out a small fortune for an expensive SIEM solution, we layer Zero-Trust, MFA, and managed EDR solutions for robust protection that more of our mid-sized clients can afford.


Or perhaps this type of practical innovation is reflected in how we conduct risk assessments. Rather than shocking our clients with a laundry list of vulnerabilities that demand immediate action, we provide an ordered checklist to help prioritize the most important fixes first and budget for the future ones.


It’s even evident in our tailored backup offerings — allowing our hospital clients to truly have a disaster recovery solution for a cost that isn’t in the stratosphere.


When most people think of innovation, they tend to think of the latest technological breakthrough or cutting-edge software advances. But if you step back and think like Mark Barnell and the Air Force Research Laboratory, you might just find that the smartest solution isn’t always the most obvious — but it is the most practical.


Keegan Van Maanen, Marketing & Public Relations Manager

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