Feature

Case Study: Hewlett-Packard’s SureStore DAT drives

One of the leading teams in the Formula One motor racing have opted for the HP SureStore range of DAT drives - a complete ‘straight out of the box’ solution

Formula One Backup

The name Damon Hill should need no introduction, even to those of us who aren't fans of Formula One Grand Prix racing. He and fellow team mate, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, get behind the wheel for the Jordan Grand Prix team, one of the leading teams in the ultra-competitive world of Formula One motor racing. The team compete in a gruelling sixteen races across five continents, in addition to the twenty weeks of track testing they put in annually. It's a tough game and success or failure depends as much - or more, perhaps - on the vehicles, as it does on the skills of the drivers.

The cars are completely computer-designed - designed and re-designed, in fact - in a constant quest to produce the fastest and most reliable Formula One cars in the world. In this environment, IT becomes central and the infra-structure required to support it, critical. As Aubrey Mitchell, IT manager at Jordan, explains: "Our engineers are continually designing new parts and refining existing designs on their workstations."

The workstations in question are Hewlett Packard (HP) Kayak XU and XW machines, running under Windows NT. "We run 2D and 3D CAD software on the workstations," Mitchell adds. "They are also used for engineering calculations such as Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) for aerodynamics. This needs serious horse-power, so Jordan always tends to use the latest available models they can get their hands on. We selected the HP Kayaks because of their excellent processing power and graphics ability."

In such a dynamic and pressured environment, data backup is imperative. The data is so important that no chances can be taken on losing it. "As Jordan is in such a time-critical and competitive industry, usually with only two weeks between each race, it is essential that our 150-strong team of engineers and designers have instant access to all of our historical design and performance data," says Mitchell. "It's no exaggeration to say that losing a file could easily be the difference between winning and losing a race for us...We can't ask to have a Grand Prix delayed if our car isn't ready in time!"

Jordan have opted to stick with HP for their backup as well as workstation requirements. The HP SureStore range of DAT drives was chosen by Jordan because they wanted a complete 'straight out of the box' solution.

To avoid any chance of data loss, Jordan protects its data by conducting daily backups onto the DAT drives. Most of the design files are stored on a central network server and so the DAT drive is connected to that directly. However, there are cases where it is essential that backup is not compromised by network bandwidth or physical location. Consequently, Jordan has installed DAT drives in selected workstations to enable data to be backed up locally as well as centrally.

With so many other technologies available, such as Quantum's DLT products, Tandberg's MLR drives or even OnStream's ADR products, why did Jordan go for DAT technology? DAT was chosen because it was felt that the combination of price and performance was right and for the compatibility benefits offered by a widely accepted open standard. Jordan has recently moved to HP's DDS-3 tape drives from the previous generations of DDS, primarily to obtain the 24 GB and 2 Mbs transfer rate (12 GB native capacity and 1 Mbs native data transfer rate - 24 GB capacity assumes an ideal compression ratio of 2:1). This additional capacity is certainly a key requirement. As Mitchell explains: "Typical hard disk capacity ranges between 4 - 18 GB on workstations. The team expects hard disk size to grow in future, so DDS-3 provides the right capacity."

HP SureStore also had the advantage that it was easy to install, easy to manage and comes from a company that provides expert support. This latter point is emphasised by Mitchell. "HP is basically our most important supplier after Mugen-Honda's engines."

Jordan Grand Prix operates at four separate sites: the main office and factory is at Silverstone, the wind tunnel is five miles away at Brackley and then there are the two race and test teams that are constantly on the move as they travel the world from race to race. Given this dispersed organisation, backup could be even more of a problem than it would for a static, centrally located organisation.

There are several areas where local backup is the preferred solution. The first of these, surprisingly, is at the central site. "We use a distributed computing model to run CFD calculations over-night, which required network bandwidth," Mitchell explains. "Backing up locally, rather than over the network, reduces network traffic, enabling CFD operations to be finished quicker so engineers now don't have to be sitting around waiting for their results in the morning. When we used to perform CFD operations and backups over the network, the processing and backup time was much longer, delaying the time when the design process could start the next day. This put extra time pressure on our designers - far from ideal in a time-critical business like Jordan. This solution also avoided the expense of upgrading the network."

A rather more obvious case for local, rather than central, backup is dealing with remote users. Technical director, Gary Anderson, takes a HP Kayak XU workstation with him to the various Grand Prix races around the world. This is backed up using an internal SureStore DAT24 drive, together with Seagate Software's Backup Exec software package. This ensures that Anderson's design work is always backed up, even when he is not connected to Jordan's central network.

"This is essential," says Mitchell. "Such a large hard disk cannot be conveniently backed up to CD or other medium capacity removable media. Also, usability tools such as TapeAlert, which prompts Gary should any backup problems occur, ensure that he can back up easily and with the minimum of problems."

Finally, another area in which local backup is used is at the wind tunnel, five miles from the main site at Silverstone. The wind tunnel is controlled by two more HP Kayak workstations, which are also used to analyse the resultant data streams. Although the machines are connected to the main site, the sheer volume of data produced by a run through the wind tunnel means it can take around 40 minutes to transfer a typical 120 MB data set.

Furthermore, the company hires out the wind tunnel to other organisations. In this situation the network connection to the main site is disabled as a security measure and so the wind tunnel operates as a stand alone site.

For all of these reasons, local back up is essential and again HP SureStore technology is the solution. A SureStore DAT24 drive is used, which means that the tape cartridges can also be used to transfer information between sites should there be a network connection problem. The wide acceptance of DAT means that the external companies who use the wind tunnel can take their data away with them on DAT tape without having to worry about data incompatibilities.

Tape isn't the only storage solution that is in use at Jordan. CD-R is increasingly being used as a means of transferring data from the main factory to the race and test teams wherever they might be around the world. On the whole, the company uses HP CD-Writers to achieve this. With practically every PC having a CD drive, it makes sense for small to medium data transfer tasks. "Our designers and engineers can access data written onto CD from their HP OmniBook laptops at the track side, on a plane or wherever they are," says Mitchell.

From the outside it may seem that cost has not been an issue when making the decisions on which backup solution to adopt. Mitchell is keen to point out that this isn't the case. "Although we are at the forefront of motor sport, we still have to operate within budget constraints like any other business. Contrary to what people might think, we are not a 'money-no-object' operation and any piece of equipment has to justify itself," Mitchell remarks. "We've found that HP's range of data protection solutions has been an excellent choice and Jordan has every confidence that HP storage will continue to play a crucial role in our mission to win the Grand Prix."

And, at the end of the day, is this investment paying off? The latest set of results (May 1999) look promising. Damon Hill stormed into a strong fourth place at San Marino, pushing the team into a third place position in the constructor's league and confirming them, once again, the strongest of the British Grand Prix teams.

Geoff Marshall


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This was first published in July 1999

 

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