Big data crunch pushes Formula One into supercomputer frenzy

Lotus F1
It is often said that Formula One cars are works of art, with lines and curves that flow like the wind. The creation of such art requires not only a dab hand but also a vast IT back end, something with which today's F1 teams are constantly playing catch-up.

Grame Hackland is overseeing Lotus' IT restructuringAs the hunger for data ramps up, the Formula One racing teams have a choice: run more efficiently or overhaul their systems. And that's a significant undertaking.

At the factory
This year, the Oxfordshire-based Lotus F1 Team decided to tackle the problem head on and made the decision to refit most of their IT infrastructure in the middle of the season. Graeme Hackland, Lotus' IT director (pictured left), told V3 that it was becoming a necessity. "At the factory we don't have the capacity we need for the next couple of years. The data is growing by a huge amount due to the new regulations," he said.

Indeed, as the calendar pages are turned ever closer towards 2014, the problem of IT infrastructure is only looming larger for top-level teams. Next year, Formula One undergoes its biggest ever rule change with electrical energy playing a much greater role in the amount of power the engines produce.
Not only is designing a car for next year an enormous task, Lotus is a front-running team in the 2013 championship, so downing tools for an IT refit is a big decision. "It's not like we can say we can forget about this year," said Hackland, acknowledging that the development phase of a car can't end while it is winning races.

The Lotus team aren't strangers to winning in the face of rule changes: they took back-to-back championships with Fernando Alonso in 2005 and 2006 after a new set of regulations were enforced. Preparation is key. As such, ahead of the latest reshuffle, the team have signed deals with EMC, Juniper Networks and Avanade, the latter of which has handed over 20 employees to work in Lotus' Enstone factory with the team's other IT staffers.

These staff will be crucial as Lotus has an impressive IT estate to its name. Most notable is its supercomputer, built in partnership with Boeing, which is used for simulating the 420 new aerodynamic parts that are designed every day using computational fluid dynamics (CFD) software. This machine, which runs at 32.5 teraflops, is limited in power because of regulations relating to aerodynamic research. Without these, it could run at 45 teraflops.
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