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Volta Data Centres Blog

Data centre speed critical to race track success - by Phil Alsop, Editor, DCS Europe Published

Posted by Volta Newsroom on 18-Oct-2017 09:26:39

Rather more years ago than I care to remember, as a member of a sports quiz team, one of my favourite questions that used to pop up every now and then was “Can you name all the individuals who have won the Formula One Drivers’ Championship on more than one occasion?” Pretty sure that, at that time, there were 10 or 11 answers to this. Now, I believe that total has gone up to 16. So, while you are reading this blog, or straight afterwards, see how many of the 16 you can remember – and try not to google them until you’re really stuck!

Formula one .jpg

Anyhow, while technology has always played a part in the construction of fast cars, I’m sure many of us are fed up hearing the pub bore telling us that, back in the day, the best driver won the F1 Championship, whereas now it’s whichever team has the best car that tends to supply the champion driver. I suspect that the truth now lies somewhere in between these two extremes – at least until the F1 championship consists of autonomous vehicles racing against each other! So, driver skill is a major factor in the difference between winning and losing, or at least obtaining the best possible finishing position. Equally important is the construction of the car which, crucially, relies on information technology for the optimisation of its original design, its performance on the track and, perhaps most significant of all in the modern era, the continuous improvement process, whereby the post-race analysis can highlight areas for modifications in the car’s build and set-up for any particular race circuit.

High performance computing (HPC) is very much the order of the day when it comes to F1 in the 21st century. First up, is the vital car design phase, without which everything that follows would be all but pointless. Wind tunnelling, combined with Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD), is the bedrock of any F1 team. As such, the time and money spent on such testing is subject to strict regulation, to ensure as level a playing field (or should that be tarmac surface?!) as possible. It follows that this testing process, and the subsequent data analysis, needs to be as optimised as possible, to ensure that the maximum amount of information can be extracted by the team. This information then dictates the car’s construction.

Once the car has been built, then it’s off to the test track. A modern F1 car could have as many as 200 sensors monitoring many different aspects of performance, creating a wealth of data that is then passed back to the design team. Car modifications will follow. Clearly, the speed at which the data is obtained, and then turned into meaningful information, can be critical. While teams might be lucky enough to have a test track and the data centre in one and the same location, the chances are that there’ll be a track-side ‘mini data centre’ receiving the data from the car’s sensors. Once upon a time, this data would have then had to be stored on to a hard disk and physically shipped back to the team’s main data centre. Thanks to the feeds and speeds of modern networks, this test data can be sent back to the tea’s main data centre in near real time.

Pre-season testing complete, and the car’s final design decided upon, then it’s on the road for the Championship race series. In 2017, the Australian Grand Prix started the season, from 24-26 March, and F1 fans will know that tension has been building all season between Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Mercedes-Benz AMG’s Lewis Hamilton. As with the pre-season testing, the build up to each race features a track-side data centre receiving the car’s sensor data, which then needs to be viewed back at team HQ, and the final set-up of the car for any particular race is then formulated. Outside of the car’s ‘controllables’, factors such as the predicted weather and the likely performance and tactics of the other teams’ cars, are also considered ahead of the race.

And I suspect many of us enjoy those one or two races a season when the weather does not behave predictably and it’s very much ‘seat of the pants’ stuff as teams try and adapt to the new conditions!

During the race itself, the car’s sensors will be reporting back on such critical things as engine and brake component wear. This real time information may well confirm the pre-race strategy (tyre pressure, car weight and the like), or it could mean that someone has to make the brave decision to change tactics – take a pit stop earlier than planned, maybe. Clearly, there are plenty of mechanical failures which lead to cars dropping out of a race, but there will also be plenty of ‘unnoticed’ times when the real time monitoring avoids such a disaster.

Finally, when those on the podium are enjoying the buzz of a top three finish, all the teams will already be busy sending back the sensors’ data and the race video footage to enable the post-race analysis. The remoter the grand prix, the more time retrieving this information could take. And with the pressure of some back to back races, time is critical. Traditionally, the data and video footage would have to be transported back to HQ –and getting back from, say, Brazil, could take as much as 36 hours. And when it was first possible to send back the video footage over a network, it could take several hours to complete the task. Thanks to the explosion in growth of Cloud and connectivity across the globe, this time window can be shrunk significantly to well under an hour.

A thousandth of a second can mean the difference between winning and losing a Formula One race. And with teams generating as much, if not more, than 45-50 terabytes of data a week, it’s not surprising that data centre infrastructure plays a crucial role in helping to provide the optimum decision-making conditions.

Plotting the fastest route for car data to move from track side, to be uploaded to a local colo data centre or Cloud and then back to team HQ is as skilful and important as is plotting the car’s driving line around any particular F1 circuit.

Don’t forget to try and remember the 16 two times+ F1 World Championship winners and how else could I end this blog than by putting a smile on your face with a quote from the legendary Murray Walker:

“Do my eyes deceive me, or is Senna’s Lotus sounding rough?”

Topics: Volta News

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