Formula 1 racing changes pose big data challenge

You’d be hard pressed to find a better use case for big data number crunching than Formula 1 racing, where the cars blasting around the track are largely designed, simulated and built on computer screens. There’s a reason for that: as expensive as all that compute fire power is, it’s still cheaper than doing it all manually. Every day the real team spends testing a car out on track costs $400,000 to $450,000, said Patrick Louis, CEO of the Lotus F1 Team. 

For that reason, with its use of advanced computational flow dynamics (CFD) and CAD/CAM operations, Formula 1 racing is a demanding test case for compute and storage infrastructure. When the real cars do hit the track, each vehicle runs 240 sensors which generate 25 megabytes of data per lap driven. That data is uploaded via satellite link to the factory — the engine data is split from the chassis data and each stream is analysed for performance and wear and tear.

While the rules change every season, the Formula 1 racing circuit is navigating a more massive mandated change this time out– from V-8 engines with 2.4-liter displacement to more gas-efficient V-6 engines with 1.6 liter displacement. And they have to do that with no loss of speed. That means there are plenty of design challenges ahead, Louis acknowledged.

The upcoming Lotus F-1 car will look like this -- complete with EMC, Microsoft and Symantec decals.

Photo shows the position where the EMC logo will be placed in 2014.

F-1 design draws on big data, big time

As a friend (thanks Rochelle!) who is a huge F-1 fan explained to me, the race’s governing body (the FIA) lays out detailed rules about how cars can be built. It mandates, for example, that a flat plank on the underside of the carriage must be X centimeters above the ground and no car can benefit from “moveable aerodynamics.”

Each car maker — companies including Lotus F1 Team, Ferrari and McLaren — interprets those rules for its own design and spends what some estimate to be hundreds of millions developing cars for each season. Yikes. Each car — an intricate combination of 85 percent carbon fiber composites and 15 percent metal — can cost upward of $2 million.

EMC jumps aboard Lotus F-1 Team bandwagon

The fact that the whole deck gets reshuffled this year in an effort to cut energy costs means more change than usual because it means new engines and new transmissions. EMC(s emc) put me on the phone with Louis because Lotus F1 Team will be using an array of EMC gear, including Vblocks (actually bundles of EMC storage, VMware(s vmw) virtualization and Cisco(s csco) servers) for its back-office functions that run on Microsoft(s msft) Dynamics AX.

The team is building two projects running in parallel, Louis said. One is a factory where one section is dedicated to the aforementioned Microsoft Dynamics business functions and the second for all the Catia CAD/CAM design applications. The second is tasked with equipping the racing team — which obviously travels from track to track — with the same software and content.

Louis wouldn’t detail what hardware is being displaced but it’s safe to say it’s non-EMC servers and storage. EMC’s CMO Jeremy Burton (who likes to race Mazda Miatas in his spare time) said aspects of the this deal could also include EMC’s Atmos for storage and managing content; Syncplicity to sync and share files across sites; and Data Domain for backup and recovery.

The massive computational fluid dynamics (CFD) applications that simulate how airflows will impact speed and performance, and how the hot exhaust of the car can create more downforce, are not part of this deal, Louis said.

This is a big, high-profile multi-faceted job — one that any tech vendor would kill to be part of. So brace yourself for a wave of promotions from EMC, Microsoft, Symantec(s symc) (judging from the decals plastered on the car above) and whoever else is involved.