Case Study: Hewlett-Packard Information Storage

The data generated by a Formula One design team creates its own storage problems. It needs to be backed up securely and swiftly,...

The data generated by a Formula One design team creates its own storage problems. It needs to be backed up securely and swiftly, yet be readily accessible from a broad range of locations. DAT coupled with CD-R solves these problems and more for Jordan Grand Prix

As one of the leading teams in Formula One motor racing, Jordan Grand Prix competes every year in 16 races spread across five continents, and carries out an additional 20 weeks of track testing. The team runs two racing cars driven by 1996 world champion, Damon Hill and by Ralf Schumacher. To help meet its goal of winning a Grand Prix within the next three to five years, Jordan has committed to a continuous focus on IT. Since its cars are completely computer-designed, the information stored in Jordan's IT systems is critical for the team's success.

All of this data must be backed up, and must be available to Jordan as quickly as possible in the event of data loss. "It's no exaggeration to say that losing a file could easily be the difference between winning and losing a race for us," says Aubrey Mitchell, IT manager at Jordan. "As our engineers are continually designing new parts and refining existing designs on their workstations, losing this information would be disastrous for us."

Jordan places a very high importance on its relationship with HP and the data storage solutions that HP provides. "HP is basically our most important supplier after Mugen-Honda's engines," says Mitchell.

"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. "We can't ask to have a Grand Prix delayed if our car isn't ready in time!"

To design the cars, the team uses HP Kayak XU and XW workstations running Microsoft Windows NT. "We run 2D and 3D CAD software on the workstations," says Mitchell. "They are also used for engineering calculations, such as Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) for aerodynamics. This needs serious horsepower, so Jordan always tends to use the latest available models they can get their hands on - we selected the HP Kayaks for their excellent processing power and graphics capability."

To avoid this, Jordan protects its data by conducting daily backups onto DAT drives. The majority of the design files are held on Jordan's central server, and the designs are backed-up on the server's DAT drives. However, in instances where it is essential that backup performance is not compromised by network bandwidth or physical location, Jordan has installed workstations with their own DAT drive, to enable data to be backed-up locally.

DAT was chosen over other tape technologies for its combination of price and performance, and for the compatibility benefits offered by a widely accepted open standard. Jordan has recently moved to HP's DDS-3 tape drives from previous generations of DDS, primarily to obtain the 24Gb capacity and 2Mbit/s transfer rate (assuming a 2:1 data compression ratio). "Typical hard disk capacity ranges between 4-18Gb on the workstations, and the team expects hard disk size to grow in the future, so DDS-3 provides the right capacity", explains Mitchell.

The HP SureStore brand was chosen as Jordan needs a complete solution in the box, a product that is easy to install, easy to manage, from a company that offers expert support.

"For workstation backup, we had to think carefully about our choice of technology ( as the workstations could be backed up centrally by a server, the investment in local backup had to justify itself in the benefit it gave us." Mitchell explains.

Jordan Grand Prix operates four separate sites: the main office at Silverstone, England, a wind tunnel five miles down the road in Brackley, and the two race and test teams that travel the world. There are several key areas where local backup is the preferred solution:

Networked users: reducing traffic

Mitchell: "We use a distributed computing model to run CFD calculations overnight, which requires network bandwidth. Backing up locally rather than over the network reduces network traffic, enabling the CFD operations to be finished quicker, so engineers now don't have to sit around waiting for their results in the morning. When we used to perform CDF 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 our network infrastructure."

Remote users

Another area where local workstation backup is used is the HP Kayak XU workstation that technical director Gary Anderson takes with him to the races. An internal SureStore DAT24 drive in Anderson's workstation, together with Seagate Backup Exec software, ensures that his design work is always backed up when he is not connected to Jordan's 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 and guides Gary should any backup problems occur, ensure that he can back up easily and reliably with the minimum of problems."

A remote site: The wind tunnel

At its wind tunnel site, five miles away from the main factory, Jordan uses two Kayak workstations to control the tunnel and to analyse the resultant data. These machines are connected to the main factory's network, but the relatively slow connection means it takes 40 minutes to transfer a typical 120Mb dataset.

Additionally, the wind tunnel is sometimes hired to external companies. In this situation the network connection is disabled to maintain data integrity, and the wind tunnel is operated as an isolated remote site.

For both these reasons, an external SureStore DAT24 drive is used to backup the wind tunnel data locally. As well as backup, the cartridges are used to transfer information to or from the main factory if there are network problems. The wide acceptance of the DAT standard means that external companies can also take away cartridges with their wind tunnel data, without interchange or compatibility problems.

To move data files between the main factory and the race and test teams around the world, Jordan primarily uses HP CD-Writers. The benefits of portability make the CD an ideal solution for many applications at Jordan. "Practically every PC now has a CD-ROM drive, so 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.

"Although we are at the forefront of motor sport, we still have to operate within budget constraints like any other business," concludes Mitchell. "Contrary to what people might think, we are not a "money-no-object" operation, and any piece of equipment has to justify itself. 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."

Compiled by John Sabine

Read more on IT risk management