Case study: IT the driving force behind Team Lotus Formula One racing

From designing race cars to supporting track-side communications, Team Lotus set up its entire IT infrastructure in six months to meet a Formula One race deadline.

From designing race cars to supporting track-side communications, Team Lotus set up its entire IT infrastructure in six months to meet a Formula One race deadline.

Norfolk-based Team Lotus believes its IT environment and eight-strong IT team is crucial to climbing the Formula One grid and making its cars race faster.

Bill Peters, head of IT at Team Lotus, says: "On race day, we're entirely reliant on our trackside IT. Quite simply, if it fails, we can't race."


Building IT infrastructure

Team Lotus started setting up its IT infrastructure in September 2009 using Dell's IT infrastructure hardware and services. The team was given six months to prepare for the 2010 Formula One season, after being out of the race for 16 years. As a result it chose to speed things up through using a sole supplier. "We wanted a single source of supply for our technical infrastructure," said Bill Peters.

Team Lotus started ten major IT projects to set up servers, storage, networks and client-side technology. The project included building an Intel high-performance computer cluster (HPC) and deploying engineering, design and manufacturing systems as well as data acquisition analysis tools, storage and communication network.

Track-side IT equipment must be particularly robust, says Peters. "Taking servers up and down means there's an inherent risk of hardware failure," Peters adds.

"The biggest single issue is the environment we have to work in. One weekend we're working in a desert with sand and dust getting into systems. Next, we're in Singapore in very humid and high temperatures. Our servers are often operated at the limits, as we have limited cooling in garages."


Approaching a refresh cycle

Having installed the hardware in 2009, Peters says keeping its IT up-to-date is essential to remaining competitive. Peters says elements of the infrastructure will have to be refreshed at the end of the racing season.

"As long as it's controlled and done out of season, it won't be a huge job. We need to make sure everything is tried and tested. Often, the only way to test kit is to do it track-side when running cars."

Team Lotus refreshes its client-side laptops for track-side and factory-based staff every two years.

Another risk is ensuring a guaranteed link between the racing track and the factory to analyse data.


Data collection

Team Lotus collects huge amounts of data during races, from data on the pressure of the tyres to positions of every part in the gearbox. Wherever in the world the car is racing, data is sent back to the UK for analysis within five minutes using a 4Mbps MPLS link and broadband connection.

Peters explains solid state drives are used to store data due to the vibrations of the race track, which would destroy a spinning HDD.

Team Lotus's super computer creates huge amounts of data when it's used to run complex software, for example, to simulate wind tunnels to help design car aerodynamics.

"We have varying categories and hierarchical archiving cycles. We have to keep the live data and historical data," explained Peters.

Peters believes the most important software application is its data acquisition, which captures real-time analysis and compares incoming data to historical information.


Virtual environment

The team also use virtual servers alongside physical services in the factory and track-side using VMWare and Windows Server 2008 R2, as well as cloud-based back-up services.

Moving to the cloud for continuity services has been essential to deal with regular power failures in Norfolk.

"It is critical to have a cloud-based e-mail service. Should we have a power failure in the factory or track-side, we can still access e-mail."

Bill Peters is now considering cloud-based encryption for mobile data and cloud-based device control to manage USB ports for data loss prevention.

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