Suppliers love user stories involving Formula 1 Grand Prix racing teams, particularly the winners, like Vodafone McLaren Mercedes. However, we need to separate the race track glamour from the IT reality and ask if the storage example, use case in the modern jargon, is relevant.

This SGI case study is interesting because it is a different way of managing multi-tiered storage.

It's to do with the McLaren Mercedes team and their hot new driver, Lewis Hamilton. So let's assume the hot news glamour - innovative technology, etc, etc as read and look at what is actually going on.

Jonathan Neale, McLaren Racing MD, sets the scene: “We’re competing for first place in an environment where the difference between first and tenth is about 0.6 seconds, so we’re constantly seeking fractions of a second in performance improvement. On average we’ll make a change to the car every 20 minutes during the course of a season, and to do that, simulation is vital in making efficient changes to the car.

Simulation needs data and simulation needs to run quickly so as not to slow down race car development.

In particular, McLaren is looking at the car's aerodynamics and optimising the use of wind tunnel testing through simulating wind tunnel scenarios beforehand.

Neale says: “One of the key parameters in differentiating a Formula 1 car is its aerodynamics. The car with the driver in it weighs about 600kg, and at speeds over 150mph the car generates enough downforce to be able to run it upside-down. To optimise the aerodynamics we do a lot of design work and track testing, but computational fluid dynamics (CFD) in particular has been an area of major advance for us in recent years.”

This is where the SGI storage has had an influence.

Dr Mark Taylor, Head of CFD, McLaren Racing, said: “The biggest impact that CFD has is on our wind tunnel testing programme, where the expansion of the SGI platform over the last few years has meant that the quality of components we send to the tunnel is much higher.”

The SGI kit

Like many Grand Prix racing teams, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes has been using CFD for a number of years. Fro 2005 it has used SGI for CFD supercomputing, storage and visualisation equipment. The SGI kit includes Altix supercomputers, visualisation solutions, InfiniteStorage, the InfiniteStorage shared file system CXFS, and the InfiniteStorage Data Migration Facility (DMF).

There is a need for multiple tiers of storage because of the sheer mass of data involved.

We need to go back to the scenario to illustrate this: Taylor said: "When we design parts in CFD and they go to the tunnel, if they’re positive they go to the car. But sometimes we don’t get the feedback we expect from the track. The drivers may tell us that a particular component isn’t working quite the way we expected, or could be made to work in a better way. This feedback then comes right back to CFD, where we explore it to see if we can understand and relate what the drivers are saying to what we’re seeing in CFD. When that happens, we design a new solution based on the drivers’ input."

"Frequently, if we can prove the concept works in CFD, we’ll have the part made and sent to the track straightaway, while sometimes it will go through a wind tunnel test and then a track test. This is how we’re able to maximise the impact of the aerodynamic simulations we’re carrying out in CFD on what actually happens at the track.”

The data mesh

McLaren Mercedes applies CFD to very large meshes, of the order of hundreds of millions of cells, and this creates very large data files. The issue then is how to handle all of the data. McLaren wanted a facility that would ensure that all the data for an entire year’s car programme would be available at all times, without clogging up its scratch storage facility. The Data Migration Facility (DMF) does this and was introduced in January 2007.